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One of the classic giants of jazz, Jack Teagarden was not only the top pre-bop trombonist (playing his instrument with the ease of a trumpeter) but one of the best jazz singers too. He was such a fine musician that younger brother Charlie (an excellent trumpeter) was always overshadowed. Jack started on piano at age five (his mother Helen was a ragtime pianist), switched to baritone horn, and finally took up trombone when he was ten. Teagarden worked in the Southwest in a variety of territory bands (most notably with the legendary pianist Peck Kelley) and then caused a sensation when he came to New York in 1928. His daring solos with Ben Pollack caused Glenn Miller to de-emphasize his own playing with the band, and during the late-'20s/early Depression era, "Mr. T." recorded frequently with many groups including units headed by Roger Wolfe Kahn, Eddie Condon, Red Nichols, and Louis Armstrong ("Knockin' a Jug"). His versions of "Basin Street Blues" and "Beale Street Blues" (songs that would remain in his repertoire for the remainder of his career) were definitive. Teagarden, who was greatly admired by Tommy Dorsey, would have been a logical candidate for fame in the swing era but he made a strategic error. In late 1933, when it looked as if jazz would never catch on commercially, he signed a five-year contract with Paul Whiteman. Although Whiteman's Orchestra did feature Teagarden now and then (and he had a brief period in 1936 playing with a small group from the band, the Three T's, with his brother Charlie and Frankie Trumbauer), the contract effectively kept Teagarden from going out on his own and becoming a star. It certainly prevented him from leading what would eventually became the Bob Crosby Orchestra.
In 1939, Jack Teagarden was finally "free" and he soon put together a big band that would last until 1946. However, it was rather late to be organizing a new orchestra (the competition was fierce) and, although there were some good musical moments, none of the sidemen became famous, the arrangements lacked their own musical personality, and by the time it broke up Teagarden was facing bankruptcy. The trombonist, however, was still a big name (he had fared quite well in the 1940 Bing Crosby film The Birth of the Blues) and he had many friends. Crosby helped Teagarden straighten out his financial problems, and from 1947-1951 he was a star sideman with Louis Armstrong's All-Stars; their collaborations on "Rocking Chair" are classic. After leaving Armstrong, Teagarden was a leader of a steadily working sextet throughout the remainder of his career, playing Dixieland with such talented musicians as brother Charlie, trumpeters Jimmy McPartland, Don Goldie, Max Kaminsky, and (during a 1957 European tour) pianist Earl Hines. Teagarden toured the Far East during 1958-1959, teamed up one last time with Eddie Condon for a television show/recording session in 1961, and had a heartwarming (and fortunately recorded) musical reunion with Charlie, sister/pianist Norma, and his mother at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival. He died from a heart attack four months later and has yet to be replaced.
Weldon Leo "Jack" Teagarden (August 20, 1905 – January 15, 1964), known as "Big T" and "The Swingin' Gate", was a jazz trombonist, bandleader, composer, and vocalist, regarded as the "Father of Jazz Trombone".
Early life 
Born in Vernon, Texas, his brothers Charlie and Clois "Cub" and his sister Norma also became noted professional musicians. Teagarden's father was an amateur brass band trumpeter and started young Jack on baritone horn; by age seven he had switched to trombone. His first public performances were in movie theaters, where he accompanied his mother, a pianist.
Teagarden's trombone style was largely self-taught, and he developed many unusual alternative positions and novel special effects on the instrument. He is usually considered the most innovative jazz trombone stylist of the pre-bebop era -- Pee Wee Russell once called him "the best trombone player in the world"—and did much to expand the role of the instrument beyond the old tailgate style role of the early New Orleans brass bands. Chief among his contributions to the language of jazz trombonists was his ability to interject the blues or merely a "blue feeling" into virtually any piece of music.
By 1920 Teagarden was playing professionally in San Antonio, including with the band of pianist Peck Kelley. In the mid-1920s he started traveling widely around the United States in a quick succession of different bands. In 1927, he went to New York City where he worked with several bands. By 1928 he played for the Ben Pollack band.
Within a year of the commencement of his recording career, he became a regular vocalist, first doing blues material ("Beale Street Blues", for example), and later doing popular songs. He is often mentioned as one of the best jazz vocalists of the era; his singing style is quite like his trombone playing, in terms of improvisation (in the same way that Louis Armstrong sang quite like he played trumpet). His singing is best remembered for duets with Louis Armstrong and Johnny Mercer.
In the late 1920s he recorded with such notable bandleaders and sidemen as Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Jimmy McPartland, Mezz Mezzrow, Glenn Miller, and Eddie Condon. Glenn Miller and Teagarden collaborated to provide lyrics and a verse to Spencer Williams' Basin Street Blues, which in that amended form became one of the numbers that Teagarden played until the end of his days.
In the early 1930s Teagarden was based in Chicago, for some time playing with the band of Wingy Manone. He played at the Century of Progress exposition in Chicago. Teagarden sought financial security during the Great Depression and signed an exclusive contract to play for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra from 1933 through 1938. The contract with Whiteman's band provided him with financial security but prevented him from playing an active part in the musical advances of the mid-thirties swing era.
Teagarden then started leading his own big band. Glenn Miller wrote the song "I Swung the Election" for him and his band in 1939. In spite of Teagarden's best efforts, the band was not a commercial success, and he was brought to the brink of bankruptcy.
In 1946 Teagarden joined Louis Armstrong's All Stars. Armstrong and Teagarden's work together shows a wonderful rapport, in particular their duet on "Rockin' Chair". In late 1951 Teagarden left to again lead his own band, then co-led a band with Earl Hines, then again with a group under his own name with whom he toured Japan in 1958 and 1959.
Teagarden appeared in the movies Birth of the Blues (1941), The Strip (1951), The Glass Wall (1953), and Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), the latter a documentary film of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. He was an admired recording artist, featured on RCA Victor, Columbia, Decca, Capitol, and MGM Records discs. As a jazz artist he won the 1944 Esquire magazine Gold Award, was highly rated in the Metronome polls of 1937-42 and 1945, and was selected for the Playboy magazine All Star Band, 1957-60.
Teagarden was the featured performer at the Newport Jazz Festival of 1957. Saturday Review wrote in 1964 that he "walked with artistic dignity all his life," and the same year Newsweek praised his "mature approach to trombone jazz."
Richard M. Sudhalter writes (in 'Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz', Oxford University Press, 1999): "The late trumpet player Don Goldie, who spent four years in Teagarden's band and had known him since childhood said that he 'always got a feeling that a lot of happiness was locked away inside Jack, really padlocked, and never came out..."
"Jack Teagarden died, alone, of a heart attack complicated by bronchial pneumonia in his room at the Prince Conti Hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans on January 15, 1964. He was only 58. "I sometimes think people like Jack were just go-betweens," Bobby Hackett told a friend. "The Good Lord said, 'Now you go and show 'em what it is', and he did. I think everybody familiar with Jack Teagarden knows that he was something that happens just once. It won't happen again. Not that way..."
"...Connie Jones, the New Orleans cornetist working with Jack Teagarden at the time of the trombonist's death, was a pallbearer for the wake, held at a funeral parlor on leafy St. Charles Avenue: 'I remember seeing him there in a coffin, a travelling coffin. They were going to fly him to Los Angeles for burial right after that. The coffin was open and I remember thinking 'Boy he really looks uncomfortable in there'.
"'Not that he was that tall. Maybe five foot ten or so, at most. But he was kinda wide across the shoulders - and most of all he just gave you the impression he was a big man, in every way. In that coffin, - well, I can't really explain it, but he seemed to be scrunched up into a space that was too small to contain him'".
He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, California.
The coda of Teagarden's recording career is the album Think Well of Me, recorded in January 1962 and made up of his singing and trombone playing, accompanied by strings, on compositions by his old musical associate Willard Robison: available on Verve CD 314 557 101-2.
Jack Teagarden's compositions included "I've Got 'It'" with David Rose, "Shake Your Hips", "Big T Jump", "Swingin' on the Teagarden Gate", "Blues After Hours", "A Jam Session at Victor", "It's So Good", "Pickin' For Patsy" with Allan Reuss, "Texas Tea Party" with Benny Goodman, "I'm Gonna Stomp Mr. Henry Lee" with Eddie Condon, "Big T Blues", "Dirty Dog", "Makin' Friends" with Jimmy McPartland, "That's a Serious Thing", and "'Jack-Armstrong' Blues" with Louis Armstrong, recorded on December 7, 1944 with the V-Disc All-Stars and released as V-Disc 384A in March, 1945.
In 1969, Jack Teagarden was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1985. Other honors have included induction in the ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame in 2005 and inclusion in the Houston Institute for Culture's Texas Music Hall of Fame.