THE MYSTERIES OF JACK TEAGARDEN

Although he would have been astonished if you had told him he was in any way mysterious, Jack Teagarden is difficult to unravel.  For one thing, Jack (or Big Tea or Mr. T.) was regarded as perhaps the finest trombonist of his time by musicians in and out of jazz: how about counting as your fans and colleagues Coleman Hawkins, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mercer, and Louis Armstrong? 

If you go by the rules or the expectations that lead people to create them, Jack should have sounded and played differently.  A White musician of German ancestry born in Texas in 1904 could have been a trombone virtuoso, but one you would have expected to have come to jazz through the side door.  Other White musicians heard their jazz from recordings of the ODJB or the NORK, but Jack seems to have been improvising at an astonishing level before he heard jazz in any “official” fashion. 

Teagarden astonished all the musicians who heard him uptown in 1927.  And he kept astonishing them, including Bob Brookmeyer, until his death in 1964. 

Teagarden came up in a “hot” tradition, where you were supposed to raise the temperature of the dance band recording with your eight-bar bridge (safely hidden in the last minute of those grooves).  And he was a superlative stimulus to musicians as secure in their own identies as Benny Goodman, Pee Wee Russell, and Bix Beiderbecke. 

But Teagarden never seemed to work hard: his playing and singing looked as if anyone could do it.  Other musicians of his generation and beyond who sweated and strained dramatically got more attention and accolades.  Because Jack had a half-dozen “hits,” he became identified early on with that narrow repertoire.  He now often seems like a man imprisoned by BASIN STREET BLUES in front of a fairly well-behaved small group.     

How did he become Jack Teagarden?  What was it like to be Jack Teagarden?   

A variety of scholars, including the late Richard M. Sudhalter, have nibbled away at these mysteries, but they are being taken up again by the young jazz scholar and trombonist Alex W. Rodriguez. 

And Alex will be sharing his insights at Rutgers University on Wednesday, April 21, 2010, during a “Jazz Research Roundtable” sponsored by the Institute of Jazz Studies: WHITE AND BLUE: THE JAZZ LEGACY OF JACK TEAGARDEN.  

The Roundtables have been going on since 1995, with many distinguished musicians and scholars as guests, including Gary Giddins, Stanley Crouch, Richard M. Sudhalter, Joe Wilder, Richard Wyands, Remo Palmier, Lawrence Lucie, Grachan Moncur III, Randy Sandke, Marty Napoleon, Larry Ridley, Nicki Parrott, and Kenny Washington.

All programs are free and open to the public, and take place Wednesday evenings from 7:00 to 9:00 pm in the Dana Room, 4th floor, John Cotton Dana Library, Rutgers University, 185 University Ave., Newark, New Jersey.  Refreshments will be served.  For more information, call (973)353-5595.

To read more about Alex, check out http://www.npr.org/blogs/ablogsupreme/2009/09/jazz_now_alex_rodriguez_lubric.html.  And, better yet, visit his intriguing blog: http://lubricity.wordpress.com/about/

I hear you saying, “LUBRICITY?  What in the name of Tricky Sam Nanton is LUBRICITY?”  Alex can tell us:

“Lubricity is the quality of shiftiness or slipperiness, the ability to resist definition, and the capacity for reducing tension.  To me, it’s a perfect descriptor for jazz as it lives in our world today.  It’s also a tribute to the bebop musicians like Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk who had a fascination with obscure multisyllabic words like “Epistrophy” and “Ornithology”.  Finally, it’s a tip of the hat to my instrument, the trombone, which requires a lubricious slide in order to be played effectively.  Join me in discussing the definition-resistant musical tradition we call jazz through my perspective as a young trombonist and aspiring jazz historian.”

That fellow Rodriguez has a voice, doesn’t he?  An encouraging sign in anyone, scholar, musician, or not.

2 responses to “THE MYSTERIES OF JACK TEAGARDEN

  1. Hi,

    As I understand it, one of the reasons for Jack Teagarden’s virtuosity is that, as a child, he learned to play on a full-sized trombone and, because his arms weren’t long enough to get past the third or fourth position, he learned alternative ways of playing the whole range of the instrument.
    The result was colossal mobility on the instrument without the need to move the slide very much, so increased accuracy resulted too. Of course, there was also a huge natural musical talent at play, but perhaps he wouldn’t have become such a massively influential player had he been given a reduced-sized child-learner’s trombone to practice on!

    Ken Mathieson
    Uddingston, Scotland

  2. Pingback: THE MYSTERIES OF JACK TEAGARDEN

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