King of the Blues Trombone

The great jazz trombonist and singer Weldon Leo "Jack" Teagarden had a musical career that spanned decades. His technical skill and the lyrical quality of his playing set the standard for jazz trombone in his lifetime and since, and he is equally celebrated for his easy and laconic singing style. His playing was so good that he is said to have struck fear into the heart of other trombonists, who are rumoured to have contemplated switching instruments or retiring after having heard him. The great jazz trombonist Tommy Dorsey apparently refused to play a solo when he found himself in a recording date with Teagarden. And bandleader Paul Whiteman, with whom Teagarden played for a time, had this to say about him:

They talk about hot jazz and cool jazz but when it comes to Jack Teagarden there's another phrase that fits his music - warm jazz. He has an emotional and yet always controlled way of playing - full of meaning and compassion.

Born in Vernon, Texas in 1905, Teagarden came from a musical family: his dad and one of his brothers played trumpet, his mom and sister piano, and his other brother drums. Teagarden himself began playing piano at age five; when he was seven his father presented him with a baritone horn, and by ten he was playing the trombone. It's thought that his adult playing and singing style was influenced by the gospel and blues sounds he heard from blacks during his southern childhood. As a teenager his family moved to Oklahoma and the lad began to play in theatres, accompanied by his mother on piano. He received his nickname Jack from drummer Cotton Bailey, whose band he played in from 1920 to 1921.

In 1921 the tall, gangly youth walked into a club where Peck Kelly was rehearsing, his trombone wrapped in newspaper. The musicians thought it was a joke when he asked for an audition, but their amused smiles quickly faded when they heard him play. He played with Kelly for a year, then with several other bands, including Ben Pollack's and Paul Whiteman's. His recording career began in 1927, and he played as a sideman with Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Red Nichols, and many others.

Finally in 1939 he started his own band. Though musically successful, financially the venture was a bust - Teagarden's easy-going manner, lack of business sense, and problems with alcohol didn't help - and the band was forced to disband it in 1946. After gigging around for a while, he joined Louis Armstrong's All Stars in 1947. Many feel that he reached the peak of his career during his years with Armstrong, for here he performed to his full potential as a great jazz soloist and singer. When he left Armstrong in 1951 he formed his own All Stars which lasted until 1956; he co-led another group with Earl Hines which toured Europe in 1957, and in 1958 he led yet another group on a State Department-sponsored tour of Asia. In Thailand he had the good fortune to jam with Thai saxophonist (and king) Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Jack married Ora Binyon in 1923, and the couple had two sons before divorcing. In the 1930s he married twice more, and finally in 1942 got hitched for the last time to Addie; they had three children of their own and one foster child. Jack Teagarden loved to perform and would play even when he was very ill, refusing to disappoint his audiences. In 1964 he was playing a gig at The Dream Room in New Orleans, even though he was suffering from bronchial pneumonia. He played the show, returned to his hotel, and in the morning was found dead on the floor, still wearing his dress shirt. He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles; his headstone reads "Where there is hatred, let me sow love." Yes please.

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