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Teddy Edwards Biography

Teddy Edwards was, with Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray, the top young tenor of the late '40s. Unlike the other two, he chose to remain in Los Angeles and has been underrated through the years but remained in prime form well into his 70s.


Early on, he toured with Ernie Fields' Orchestra, moving to L.A. in 1945 to work with Roy Milton as an altoist. Edwards switched to tenor when he joined Howard McGhee's band and was featured in many jam sessions during the era, recording "The Duel" with Dexter Gordon in 1947.


A natural-born leader, Edwards did work briefly with Max Roach & Clifford Brown (1954), Benny Carter (1955), and Benny Goodman (1964), and he recorded in the 1960s with Milt Jackson and Jimmy Smith. But it was his own records -- for Onyx (1947-1948), Pacific Jazz, Contemporary (1960-1962), Prestige, Xanadu, Muse, SteepleChase, Timeless, and Antilles -- that best displayed his playing and writing; "Sunset Eyes" is Edwards' best-known original. 



                                              --Scott Yanow

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Teddy Edwards - Biography (1924-1980s)

by Peter and Greetje Huijts*


THEODORE MARCUS “TEDDY” EDWARDS was born on April 26, 1924 in Jackson, Mississippi to a musical familyHis grandfather, Henry C. Reed, played the bass and his father, Bruce Edwards, trombone, violin and reed instruments.  Under these circumstances it was quite obvious that Teddy started to play very young, at first alto saxophone and later clarinet.


Being talented as he was, he was able to play his first professional job at the age of twelve with Doc Parmley and his “Royal Mississippians.”  Later he played with the Don Dunbar Orchestra and The Paul Gayten Sizzling Six.


His uncle, Frenod Reed, sent for him to come to Detroit to live because he felt he would have better opportunities to develop his talents.  Immediately he began working up and down the ill-famed Hastings Street and played with musicians such as the legendary George E. Lee, Hank Jones, Wardell Grey, Big Nick Nicholas and the great alto saxophone player, Teddy Buckner, of Jimmy Lunceford fame and many others.



Due to illness in the family, he went back to Jackson and ventured to Alexandria, Louisiana with Bolden Townsends’ group.  After Bolden was drafted for the army the rest of the group agreed Teddy should be the leader.  With this group he went to Tampa, Florida to work at the Watts Saunders Blue Room.  Some of the members of the Ernie Fields Orchestra heard him play there and went back to the hotel where Ernie Fields Orchestra was stopping and insisted that he come over to hear Teddy play and try to persuade him to join them.  Teddy had plans to go to New York after completing the Blue Room engagement.  Ernie suggested that Teddy join them because there were due to play Washington, D.C. soon and he could work that far with them and then he could leave from there to New York. 


But instead, he ended up at the Club Alabam on Central Avenue in Los Angeles, which later became his residence.  


After leaving the West Coast with Ernie’s Orchestra he came back in February, 1945 to join Roy Milton’s Rhythm and Blues Band.  Howard McGhee, during that time, was working with the Coleman Hawkins Quintet at Billy Berg’s Cocktail Lounge and stayed in Los Angeles after finishing that engagement to form his own group.  Unable to find a tenor player with the harmonic knowledge and the approach that he needed, he suggested Teddy switch to the tenor.  Teddy eagerly agreed because Howard’s music was more in the idiom that he was interested in playing. So he joined with Howard with Roy Milton’s good blessings.


The very first recording with the group was behind the blues singer Wyonnie Harris, which was his first big hit “Around The Clock.”


This same year, 1945, Teddy made his historical recording “Up in Dodo’s Room” on Dial Records with Howard’s group. This was the first recorded tenor solo on records in the so-called Bebop idiom, according to the late great trumpet player, Fats Navarro. Navarro felt that this solo was completely unrelated to the Coleman Hawkins or Lester Young schools of playing; until then they were the main influences on tenor players. Teddy definitely had changed the course of history on the instrument. Perhaps this was due to the fact that he was an alto sax player and he hadn’t followed any school of tenor playing. John Hodges perhaps was his biggest influence on alto as a youngster.


With his knowledge of harmony and music in general, he was able to make the transition from alto to tenor easily by transferring this knowledge from one to the other. He feels that this was an important factor in his becoming an individual stylist. During this time he was playing on different sets and jam sessions around Los Angeles with musicians such as Hampton Hawes, Charlie Parker, (who had come to Los Angeles with the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet and stayed there for a couple of days), Wardell Grey, Sonny Criss, Dexter Gordon, Benny Bailey, Kenny Dorham, Roy Porter, Lucky Thompson and Chuck Thompson, and others.


Early in 1946 Howard’s group went to San Francisco to play at the “Backstage” and after returning to Los Angeles the group disbanded. Later, he organized another eight piece group with the reed section consisting of Charlie Parker and Sonny Criss on alto, and Teddy and Gene Montgomery on tenor, to work at an afterhours place called the “Finale Club.”  After this band disbanded, Charlie and Howard went East and Teddy stayed around the Los Angeles area.


In 1947 he made his first recording as a leader on Rex Label with Benny Bailey on trumpet, Duke Brooks, piano, Addison Farmer, bass and Roy Porter, drums.  Incidentally, this was Benny Bailey’s first recording date.


During 1948 Teddy joined Benny Carter’s Big Band and continued working around the Los Angeles area.  This was also the year he recorded “The Duel” for Dial records with the great Dexter Gordon, and on this same date, he recorded his more than a million-seller “Blues in Teddy’s Flat.”



In 1949 the Jazz Club known as the world famous Lighthouse at Hermosa Beach was newly opened and Teddy became one of the original Lighthouse All Stars under the leadership of Howard Rumsey.  When the Stan Kenton orchestra disbanded in Los Angeles during the early fifties, Howard Rumsey decided to hire some members of the Kenton orchestra.  So Teddy got his two weeks’ notice after being the big attraction there for two years.

Work was pretty slow after that for a while so he accepted a job to go up to the coast with the blues singer, “Little” Willie Littlefield.  When he returned to the Bay area to work in Richmond California, he was hired to play at “Jimbo’s Bob City” after hours place as a member of the house band with Pony Pointdexter.


Many famous musicians came to play after their regular working hours such as Dizzy Gillespie, Nat “King” Cole, Paul Gonsalves, Frank Foster, Billie Holiday, Sara Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, the Heath Brothers, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, so he participated in some of their most inspired moments.  He worked two weeks with Billy Holliday and recorded with her for Air Force Radio.  After writing the music for some of the floor shows at the “Champagne Supper Club” he eventually accepted a job as the leader of the group there.  Gerald Wilson, the ex Jimmy Lunceford trumpeter, band leader, arranger and composer, played with this group.   During this period Gerald (1954) formed a big band around the Bay area and Teddy was part of it.



Around July, 1954 Teddy had a phone call from Max Roach inviting him to come to Los Angeles to finish out his Clifford Brown’s engagement at the “Californian Club” in Los Angeles, because Sonny Stitt had to leave to fulfill previous commitments.  That’s where he recorded his most famous composition “Sunset Eyes” which he wrote in 1948.  This group’s first recording date also consisted of Carl Perkins piano and George Bledsoe on bass.

 From 1948 until he recorded in 1958 with Leroy Vinnegar on his first album “Leroy Walks”, the Max Roach –Clifford Brown recording was the only jazz record he made in 1954.


During this period the so-called West Coast jazz thing came into existence and Teddy was completely excluded, although he felt some of these were his best playing years. The jazz labels at that time practically recorded only white musicians. This might have been mostly due to the fact that the East Coast jazz labels recorded most black musicians and the West Coast jazz was more or less created as an antidote to this situation.  In other words, the swing from the East was heavy and black, from the West light and white. Teddy and some other fine black musicians didn’t fit the mold.



In 1958 he played with Leroy Vinnegar’s Quartet on the first Monterey Jazz Festival, in 1959 in earl Bostic’s band and made in 1960 a thirty minute television (biographical0 film for Steve Allen’s “Jazz Scene U.S.A” (composed and arranged the music for this film shown in 42 countries).


During the early sixties the California recording scene began to change and he recorded his first album with the Les McCann trio “It’s About Time,” and also his “Sunset Eyes” album.   Shortly thereafter he signed a contract with Contemporary Records.


Gerald Wilson formed another orchestra to record for pacific jazz. Teddy and Harold Land were the featured soloists with the band along with trumpeter Carmel Jones and others.  The band played the 1963 Monterey Festival.



In 1964 he was hired by Benny Goodman to play at Disneyland with his band.  After going East, Benny sent for Teddy to join his sextet which included the cornet player Bobby Hackett, pianist Vince Guaraldi and singer Marilyn Monroe.


Teddy stayed in New York to play and write for the big band that Benny formed to play the 1964 World’s Fair.  After a while he went back to Los Angeles and worked several jobs including the Red Skelton TV how with the Dave Rose orchestra. In 1965, Monterey again with Dizzy Gillespie – Gil Fuller big band and Earl “Father” Hines group.  



I n 1976 Teddy Edwards toured Japan with Milt Jackson and Ray Brown.  After that he played and recorded with Milt Jackson-Ray Brown Quintet at Shelley Manne Hole where they recorded a classic award-winning album “That’s The Way It Is.”  In 1969 and 1970 teddy worked for Pzazz Records as record producer, song writer, arranger, conductor and instrumentalist. During the early seventies he was featured on Jeannie McWells Jazz Show for the Armed Forces Radio.


 After recuperating from two major surgeries, he performed in 1977, at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre and Mac Arthur Park with a 33-piece orchestra and choral ensemble for which he wrote the lyrics composition, and orchestration.  Later the orchestra was reduced to 16 pieces to enable him to work it in clubs occasionally (the Jazz Safari – Donte Carmelo’s and the Maiden Voyage).


In 1978 Teddy made his first trip to Europe to play at the International Jazz Festival held in Laren, Holland and Middelheim, Belgium, with an entry consisting of Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Harold Land( tenor sax), Billy Higgins (drums), Eddie Jefferson (vocals), Richie Cole (alto sax), Gildo Mahones (piano) and Tony Dumas (bass).



At the 1979 Long Beach Jazz Festival held aboard the Queen Mary Ocean Liner his twenty piece orchestra was the featured attraction. 

Teddy feels it’s ironic that no record company has shown any interest in recording this orchestra which he thinks is one of the most versatile and exciting aggregations on the planet earth as he puts it. He says he can’t quite understand the dilemma because we draw well, and the audience loves us. Record or no record.



In August 1980 he was invited again to play the International Jazz Festivals in Molde, Norway, Amsterdam, Holland, and Middelheim, Belgium.


After conducting a three-day jazz clinic at the Meervaart Auditorium in Amsterdam, his quartet (Jack Wilson, Leroy Vinnegar and Billy Higgins) was the closing group of this three day music extravaganza and did it with a spellbinding 2 ½ hours set which was by far the highlight of this weekend of great performances.  Then to Middelheim,  Belgium, where they were received with equal enthusiasm.


The Amsterdam performance was taped for radio and possibly will be released on an album in the not too distant future.

In October 1980, he returned to Holland to tape with the Metropole Orchestra for British Broadcasting Company.

He did some club dates in Holland, broadcasted in Stockholm for Swedish radio, made an album for Steeple Chase with Kenny Drew, Billy Hart and Jesper Lundgard: two radio shows in Holland again, a nine-day club date in Paris, France, his own television show for Belgian television and club dates in Belgium, Germany and Holland.



Before returning home he made a three-week concert tour of Europe with musician-entertainer, Tom Waits.

Recently, he worked on a movie (One from the Heart) sound track and an album with Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle, the country western singer.  Recently toured New Zealand, Australia and Europe (did a radio show for N.O.S. with Red Rodney and Buddy de Franco. Also was guest soloist with the Skymasters orchestra in Hilversum, Holland) and Midwest and Southern states in the U.S.A.


Taped a five-hour interview of his career for Rutgers University and the Library of Congress.



Make sure to check out the other pages, Teddy Edwards in The Netherlands, Teddy Edwards in Paris, France, and Teddy Edwards Poems.

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