Jack Teagarden

Photo of Jack Teagarden

Trombonist Jack Teagarden was one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 1920s and 1930s. 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 being compared to African-American singers of the day.

Born into a musical family, Teagarden began to learn the piano at age five and later switched to the trombone. While in his teens, he played with local and regional outfits before ending up in Chicago, where he worked for Red Nichols and Mal Hallett. In 1927, he arrived in New York and joined Ben Pollack’s band. With Pollack, he cemented his reputation as a top sliphorn player.

In 1933, Teagarden joined Paul Whiteman. Though Whiteman’s band was the most popular white orchestra in the nation at the time, 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 out in 1935, Teagarden was forced to watch from the sidelines, and when a group of disgruntled Pollack musicians formed their own band that year he had to turn down their offer of leadership. Bob Crosby ended up with the job instead.

Bandleading Years

It was 1939 before Teagarden could finally break free of Whiteman and form his own orchestra. His new band featured such top sidemen as Ernie Caceres, Charlie Spivak, and Alex Fila, with Teagarden’s brother, Clois, on drums. Teagarden himself sang, with a revolving door of female vocalists joining the band over the next seven months. Meredith Blake served as the orchestra’s first girl singer, staying into April. Jean Arnold replaced her but remained less than a month. Linda Keene was vocalist in early May, leaving in July, with Dolores O’Neill taking her place. As an experiment, Teagarden also brought in Kitty Kallen to share female vocal duties. O’Neill disliked the arrangement and left before the end of the month, with Kallen remaining as sole girl singer. Kallen billed herself as 16 years old when she joined Teagarden, though she was actually 18.

The early band first recorded on the Brunswick label, switching to Columbia mid-year. By late 1939, the group also included Lee Castle, with Davey Tough taking over on the drums. 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 declared bankruptcy in February 1940 and reorganized the band, hiring lesser-paid musicians.[1] 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 group recorded on the Varsity label.

In early 1940, Kallen married Teagarden clarinetist Clint Garvin and left the group in March to join him in Nashville, where he had gone to take care of his sick parents. According to one newspaper article, Kallen’s marriage and departure upset Teagarden, and he enacted a new rule that girl singers could not date members of the band. To replace Kallen, Teagarden chose Marianne Dunne, whom he heard while in Akron, Ohio. Shortly after joining, Dunne began to be billed simply as Marianne. When Marianne left around the first of September, Hildie Simmons was announced as her replacement, however Judy Marshall ended up as the new female vocalist.

Teagarden began to hire male vocalists in 1940, starting with balladeer David Allen, who had joined by mid-year. Saxophone player and specialty singer Butch Stone joined the band in September 1940 but left near the end of the year. Allen remained with the band until December 1941, when he was let go. Billy Usher sang in mid-1941 and may have been a substitute for Allen.

Jeanne Carroll was female vocalist in early 1941. In April of that year, the band worked with Bing Crosby in the Paramount film The Birth of the Blues, and Carroll stayed on the West Coast when the band went east after filming. Marianne returned to take Carroll’s place but left in July. When Teagarden played Nashville that month, Kallen and Garvin arranged for their return to the band, starting in August. Down Beat featured Kallen and Teagarden on the cover of their January 1, 1942, issue. She remained with Teagarden until March 1942 when the bandleader fired Garvin during an economic purge.

To replace Kallen, Teagarden hired Betty Van, who toured with the orchestra before retiring in July to marry. Esther Todd took her place. By the first of 1943, Dottie Reid had joined the band. Tired of losing male vocalists to the draft, Teagarden decided to repeat his failed 1939 experiment and forego having a boy singer and instead use two females. It went about as well as it did the first time. Phyllis Lane joined the band mid-July at the Orpheum in Los Angeles. Reid was less than thrilled with the arrangement, and she quit the band at the end of its stay at the theater, telling journalists that the experiment “didn’t work out very well.” Only one of the boy singers lost to the draft is mentioned in the press. Bill Reynolds sang with the band in November 1942.

In February 1942, Teagarden’s trumpet playing brother, Charlie, joined the band. Charlie had previously led his own orchestra but had recently disbanded and had joined Jimmy Dorsey. Charlie stayed with the elder Dorsey only one week before walking out after Jimmy insulted him over an open microphone during a show, telling Charlie, “I can play more horn than you any day.” Jack and Charlie claimed that Dorsey had only hired Charlie so that he could cut Jack. Jack didn’t get along with either of the Dorsey brothers, telling Down Beat, “This isn’t the first time they did things to me. I don’t like either of those Dorseys and they don’t like me.” Charlie remained with the band until he was drafted later that year. Jack’s sister, Norma, played piano for the band at one point.

Later Career

1943 was a tough year for Teagarden’s orchestra. From October 1942 to February 1943, he lost seventeen men to the draft. The band kept plugging along until October when Teagarden temporarily disbanded after contracting food poisoning while playing in Texas. During the time-off, he also underwent an operation. When Teagarden finally reformed his orchestra in November, it was a shell of its former self. The group stayed afloat until 1946 when it, like so many other orchestras, fell victim to the dropping popularity of dance band music. Teagarden’s later orchestra did not record.

In the late 1940s, Teagarden kept busy working with various other artists and taking part in Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars, leaving the group in 1951 to form his own, a Dixieland sextet that sometimes featured his brother, Charlie, and his sister, Norma. He also co-lead an all-star group with Earl Hines. Teagarden continued playing up until his death from pneumonia in 1964.


  1. When Teagarden filed for bankruptcy, he owed Arthur Michaud, his former personal manager, $4,500. The musician’s union threatened to take away his card if he didn’t pay Michaud, telling Teagarden that the union didn’t recognize bankruptcy. Teagarden’s lawyer went back to court and secured an injunction against them, with the judge reminding the union that the laws of the United States superseded union regulations. ↩︎

Vocalist Timeline

Note: Dates may be approximate. Some vocalists may not be listed due to lack of information on their dates of employment.


  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. Becker, R. Whitney. “Jack Teagarden's New Orchestra is Comprised Only Of P.T. Musicians!!” Down Beat Mar. 1939: 4.
  3. “Sidetracked.” Down Beat Mar. 1939: 4.
  4. Advertisement. “Orpheum.” The Wisconsin State Journal [Madison, Wisconsin] 1 Aug. 1939: 10.
  5. “Drama in Madison.” The Madison Capital Times [Madison, WI] 3 Aug. 1939: 8.
  6. “Orchestra Personnels: Jack Teagarden.” Down Beat Aug. 1939: 25.
  7. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 2 Sep. 1939: 10.
  8. “Sweet 16.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1939: 21.
  9. “Who's Who in Music: Presenting Jack Teagarden's Band.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1939: 13,19.
  10. “Union Can't Seize Jack Tea's Card.” Down Beat 1 Apr. 1940: 1.
  11. “Tied Notes.” Down Beat 15 Apr. 1940: 10.
  12. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 20 Apr. 1940: 10.
  13. Jovien, Harold. “8-Note Scale is On the Way Out.” Down Beat 15 May 1940: 6.
  14. “On the Stand: Jack Teagarden.” Billboard 27 Jul. 1940: 12.
  15. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 7 Sep. 1940: 18.
  16. “Art St. John to Train Airmen.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1940: 2.
  17. “Teagarden In Movie With Crosby.” Down Beat 15 Apr. 1941: 1.
  18. “Quigley for Feller in Teagarden Ork.” Down Beat 1 May 1941: 20.
  19. “On the Stand: Jack Teagarden.” Billboard 31 May 1941: 12.
  20. “Joe Mooney To Teagarden.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1941: 1.
  21. “Kallen and Garvin Back With Big Tea.” Down Beat 15 Aug. 1941: 5.
  22. “'Blues' Pic Full Of Tunes, Gags, And All Are Old.” Billboard 25 Oct. 1941: 22.
  23. “Vaudeville Reviews: Central, Passaic, N.J.” Billboard 25 Oct. 1941: 22.
  24. “On the Stand: Jack Teagarden.” Billboard 15 Nov. 1941: 14.
  25. “On the Cover.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1942: 1.
  26. Schurrer, Lou. “Little and Big Tea Unite.” Down Beat 1 Mar. 1942: 8.
  27. “Betty Van Joins Big Tea; Kallen Set for Screen.” Down Beat 15 Apr. 1942: 12.
  28. “Stars to Shine at Nat Park Opening.” The Spokesman-Review [Spokane, WA] 13 May 1942: 5.
  29. Hallock, Ted. “Man, Tatum IS Jazz.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1942: 11.
  30. “Ester Todd is New Tea Chirp.” Down Beat 15 Aug. 1942: 6.
  31. “Big Tea Packs Shangri-La in Philadelphia.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1942: 23.
  32. “Dottie with Tea.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1943: 15.
  33. “Teagarden Loses 17 Men In Four Months to Uncle.” Down Beat 1 Mar. 1943: 13.
  34. “Dig Dottie.” Down Beat 15 May 1943: 11.
  35. “No Sinatras for Teagarden.” Billboard 24 Jul. 1943: 18.
  36. “Teagarden Loses One Canary But Adds More Family.” Billboard 7 Aug. 1943: 13.
  37. “Jack Teagarden Ill; Ork Will Disband Temporarily.” Billboard 2 Oct. 1943: 16.
  38. “Big T Disbands Temporarily.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1943: 1.