Jack Teagarden

Photo of Jack Teagarden
  • Birth Name

    Weldon Leo Teagarden
  • Born

    August 20, 1905
    Vernon, Texas
  • Died

    January 15, 1964 (age 58)
    New Orleans, Louisiana

Jack Teagarden was one of the most beloved and ad­mired jazz mu­si­cians of all time. His cre­ative and unique trom­bone style set the stan­dard by which his con­tem­po­raries were judged and still pro­vides a foun­da­tion for to­day’s mu­si­cians. Heavily in­flu­enced by the blues, his warm, re­laxed sound and per­sonal style im­pressed and in­spired all who heard it. He was also lauded as a vo­cal­ist, his de­liv­ery of­ten be­ing com­pared to the black singers of the day.

Born August 20, 1905,[1] into a mu­si­cal fam­ily, Teagarden be­gan to learn the pi­ano at age five, later switch­ing to the trom­bone. He started play­ing pro­fes­sion­ally while in his teens, work­ing with sev­eral lo­cal and re­gional out­fits, most no­tably with Peck Kelly in 1921-22. He also briefly led his own out­fit in Kansas City.

In 1927, he ar­rived in New York as a mem­ber of the Doc Ross Band and found work with a Dixieland out­fit that was part of the Elizabeth Bryce Show. He recorded with Roger Wolfe Kahn, Red Nichols, Louis Armstrong, and Sam Lanin, mak­ing his vo­cal de­but on the 1928 Eddie Condon record­ing Making Friends.” That same year, he joined Ben Pollack’s band, where he earned his rep­u­ta­tion as a trom­bon­ist and vo­cal­ist.

He left Pollack in 1933, briefly work­ing with Mal Hallett be­fore join­ing Paul Whiteman. Teagarden’s trom­bone magic was lost in Whiteman’s mu­si­cal style, and his ca­reer suf­fered. Unfortunately, he was locked into a con­tract that gave him no av­enue of es­cape. When swing broke onto the scene, Teagarden was un­able to take ad­van­tage of jaz­z’s new com­mer­cial suc­cess. When a group of dis­grun­tled Pollack mu­si­cians de­cided to strike out on their own and form a band in 1935, they of­fered Teagarden the chance to front the group. He was un­able to ac­cept and Bob Crosby ended up with the job. Teagarden’s only out­let was with a Whiteman side group, the Three T’s, which also fea­tured his brother, Charlie, and Frank Trumbauer.

In early 1939, he was fi­nally free of Whiteman and able to form his own or­ches­tra. Its ini­tial in­cep­tion fea­tured such top side­men as Ernie Caceres, Lee Castle, Charlie Spivak, and Davey Tough. Female vo­cal­ists were Dolores O’Neill and Kitty Kallen. Though it was suc­cess­ful mu­si­cally, fi­nan­cially it was a dis­as­ter. Teagarden’s easy-go­ing man­ner did­n’t trans­late well into the busi­ness world, and he had also de­vel­oped a drink­ing prob­lem. He was forced to re­or­ga­nize the group in 1940, hir­ing lesser-paid mu­si­cians. Those lesser-paid mu­si­cians, how­ever, worked hard and the group man­aged to main­tain its sound, though Teagarden’s trom­bone was mys­te­ri­ously less pre­sent. The new line-up fea­tured David Allen on vo­cals. Betty Van also sang.

The group stayed afloat un­til 1946 when it, like so many other or­ches­tras, fell vic­tim to the drop­ping pop­u­lar­ity of dance band mu­sic. Teagarden then joined Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars, leav­ing in 1951 to form his own group, a Dixieland sex­tet that some­times fea­tured his brother, Charlie, on trum­pet and his sis­ter, Norma, on pi­ano. He also co-lead an all-star group with Earl Hines. Teagarden con­tin­ued play­ing up un­til his death from pneu­mo­nia in 1964.

Notes

  1. Some sources list August 29, 1905.

Music

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  • Jeepers Creepers
    Paul Whiteman (The Four Modernaires and Jack Teagarden), Decca (1938)
  • I Want a Hat with Cherries
    Jack Teagarden (Kitty Kallen), Columbia (1939)

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