Jazz Legend Jack Teegarden -
Texas trombone player & bandleader
Extravagantly praised by some critics as the greatest jazz trombonist to date, Jack Teagarden was a legend from the time he emerged as a recording artist in the twenties until his untimely death in 1964. Famous for a relaxed and easy style that belied his formidable technique, Teagarden's playing was admired by all but seldom imitated.
Weldon Leo "Jack" Teagarden was born into a remarkable musical family that produced three other noted jazz musicians, brothers Charles (trumpet) and Cub (drums) as well as sister, Norma Teagarden (piano). The Teagarden family was exceptional in jazz history, as all four children become professional musicians. Jack's father worked in the oilfield and played cornet as an amateur, but Jack's mother, Helen, seems to have conveyed the musical spark to all her children. As a piano teacher and church organist, she started all off with piano instruction at an early age. Jack switched to the trombone by the age of 7, however, and soon he and his mother were playing duets to accompany silent movies at the Vernon Theatre.
After the father's death in 1918 the family moved first to Nebraska, then Oklahoma City. Three years later Jack Teagarden left home at the age of 16 and moved to San Angelo, to stay with his Uncle Joe Teagarden. His uncle, also a musician, took Jack into his band, and both became members of the San Angelo municipal band. Eventually Teagarden realized that the nightlife in nearby San Antonio held a lot more excitement than that of the small town band in San Angelo, and it wasn't long before he took up residence in San Antonio.
Jack Teagarden led a quartet in a roadhouse on the outskirts of San Antonio known as the Horn Palace Inn. The Horn Palace took its name from the large collection of big game animal horns displayed throughout the establishment. It was during this time that Teagarden would meet an older musician who would influence the future of his musical career. Peck Kelley, a piano player from Houston found Jack and their musical interests brought them together immediately. After Joining Peck Kelley the band worked the summer of 1922 at the Garden of Tokio Ballroom in Galveston, Texas. Teagarden worked on and off with Kelley from 1921 to 1925 and the admiration, respect and friendship they felt for each other lasted for the rest of Teagarden's life.
In 1924 Jack met Doc Ross, an orchestra leader filling an engagement in Wichita Falls, Texas. The Doc Ross orchestra was very popular in the southwest and this gave Teagarden an opportunity to join a larger and more professional dance band. His stay with the Ross band would be brief, but after unsuccessful attempts at leading small bands of his own, Jack returned to the Doc Ross orchestra in 1926 and stayed until November 1927.
That month, Teagarden had an opportunity to drive a fellow member of the Ross band to New York City. This would be a major turning point in his career. Upon his arrival in the city, and experiencing the nightlife, he was convinced this was where he wanted to stay. It wasn't long before his presence in town reached the inner circle of established New York musicians. He had been in town for only five months when the Ben Pollack orchestra came into New York from Chicago and opened at a nightclub known as The Little Club.
The Pollack orchestra was an instant success in New York although their engagement at The Little Club was brief. But news of Jack's talent reached Pollack, and by June of 1928 Teagarden was asked to join the band. The Pollack orchestra took up residence in the Park Central Hotel on 28th September, 1928, and stayed until August of 1929. Shortly after their departure Jack's brother Charlie arrived in New York and was also made a member of the Pollack orchestra. During this time the Teagarden brothers made records on a freelance basis with Red Nichols and his Five Pennies and they were both firmly established among the elite of the New York musicians.
Numerous recordings with such greats as Red Nichols, Benny Goodman, and Louis Armstrong followed, and in 1933 Teagarden signed to play with Whiteman for five years. Critics note that Teagarden's jazz feeling brought a fresh sound to Whiteman's rather stodgy style of white jazz. With that obligation behind him, Teagarden organized his own band in 1939, which struggled financially through the war years before folding in 1947. In the late forties he recorded with Louis Armstrong's All-Stars some of the cuts that form the basis for his continuing reputation. From 1951 on Teagarden led small groups that often drew on the talents of his other family members Charlie and Norma.
In addition to his trombone solos, Teagarden also sang in a sleepy blues style that is immortalized in such classics as "Stars Fell on Alabama" and "The Sheik of Araby."
Teagarden spent years on the nightclub circuit, once again covering the United States and Canada coast to coast. But bookings became a problem. The new music, Rock and Roll, had captured the musical interest around the world and the appeal for legendary jazz musicians had begun to wane. This, in addition to his age and health and return to a heavy consumption of alcohol began to show their effect on Teagarden. He opened at the Dream Room, a nightclub in New Orleans on Christmas Eve 1963, but overweight, ill health and bronchial pneumonia finally took him. Jack Teagarden died in New Orleans, the city he loved, on 15th January, 1964.