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A Fireside Chat with Teddy Edwards

By Published: April 24, 2003
AAJ: Let's touch on your collaborations with Howard McGhee.

TE: We were the first ones playing bebop in California, even before Dizzy and Charlie Parker came. We were the first bebop players in California. I had first met Roy Porter, the drummer, who played "Ornithology" with Charlie Parker. He was the drummer. We had a pianist and a guitar and Howard and I were the frontline. We had another tenor and when he joined the band, it became three horns in the group. It was a really good sextet. Once Charlie Parker finished his engagement at Billy Berg's, he wanted to stay out here for a while and so Howard and I decided to have four saxophones. That is where he made his classic solo on the "Gypsy," during his nervous breakdown, just before he had his nervous breakdown. We were in front of the bandstand at the Finale Club and a couple came over to Howard and asked him if he would play the "Gypsy." So Howard turned around to the band and asked, "Does anybody know the 'Gypsy?'" And Bird said, "Yeah, I know the 'Gypsy,'" and played his classic solo. When they were recording, he was in the middle of his nervous breakdown. I see all the alto players around the world playing the "Gypsy," and I think, "Wow, if they only knew why they are playing the 'Gypsy.'" He introduced it to the jazz world even though he was sick. His nervous breakdown was not a mental thing. It was a case where he was trying to kick his drug habit without any medical attention. He lost control of his nerves, just nervous. It was like his arm might fly out and his head turn around and he might run two steps and walk one. He just had no control. I would ask him, "How do you feel Bird?" And he would say, "I'm OK. I'm OK."

I used to take him down to the theater, to the movies. That was the only way he could rest. The movie soundtrack would let him go to sleep. He managed to go to sleep when the music would turn on. The last night of the Finale Club, we took him to the hotel, which was only a half a block away. We told the manager if he had any problems to call us. About ten o'clock the next morning, he called and said that Charlie Parker was in the lobby nude and to come down there right away. We got up and went straight down there and when we got there, they said that they had taken him to the General Hospital. I know in Ross Russell's book (Bird Lives!), he says that he was the first one to the General Hospital, but that is not right. Howard, he and I were the first ones on the scene in the hospital. They had him strapped down on this couch and he was very clear. He used to call me Teddy Bear. He said, "Teddy Bear, go to the hotel and get my horn and my clothes." Howard went to go with us and that is how clear he (Parker) was in his mind. We had many wonderful, wonderful times. I heard him (Parker) play some of his greatest solos. I was sitting beside him.

When he came to an apex, more of less, before he went down, he played eight bars on this song, "Idaho," and everybody in the place gasped. Most people there didn't even know who he was, but everybody gasped. From there, he went down. Everybody was here. Erroll Garner was here. He was playing at the Suzie Q's, right across from the Swing Club on Hollywood Boulevard. At Billy Berg's, we used to let Frankie Laine play to get rid of him. He had one black suit (laughing). Six months later, he came back a big star after he had that big hit (laughing). So many things were happening, Fred, music, music, music, music. They had everybody. Dexter was here. Wardell was here. It was just music, music, music. There was nothing being written about. People all around the world want to know what was happening on Central Avenue.

AAJ: You recorded The Duel with Dexter Gordon.

TE: Right, that was in 1948. It was after he and Wardell did The Chase! together. Wardell and he did The Chase! first and then Dexter and I did The Duel and on that particular date is where I made my million seller, "Blues in Teddy's Flat." It had the crossover market, the blues and the jazz market. I got forty-one dollars and twenty-five cents.

AAJ: That's it?

TE: That was it. Russell (Ross Russell) from Dial had moved to New York and he wouldn't even answer my letters. I didn't know the record was a big hit until a guy told me that he couldn't even find the record. He was like the cheerleader at the jam sessions and whoever he touted would become the big star of the week. He was one of those guys. He had the front seat at the jam sessions. I made this record by accident, more or less. Dexter and I were supposed to play a ballad each and do The Duel. So we did The Duel and it was Roy Porter on drums, Red Callender on bass, and Jimmy Rowles playing piano. It was Jimmy Rowles' earliest record dates.

He told me that that recording changed his whole life. What happened was that Dexter recorded "Talk of the Town" and in those days, they were going direct to disc. Dexter would get to the last note and it was sounding good to me and he held the last note, held the last note and so we had to go back and do it again. So he took up most of the time and only had five minutes left. The producer, Eddie, told us that we only had five minutes left and said that we didn't have enough time to go through our ballads. So he said that we just play some blues until we give you the signal to turn it off. So I just told the guys that I would make the four bar introduction by myself and then, in the second twelve of the blues, give me some start time and then I doubled up and Jimmy Rowles couldn't find the piano and Red Callender couldn't find the bass (laughing). Jimmy told me, "Man, that changed my whole thing." He didn't know anybody could do that. I was very fast. I was very fast with my fingers. Anyway, this "Blues in Teddy's Flat," I thought Dexter had the contract on it and he thought I had it and neither one of us had the contract on it. It was about three years later that this guy that I was telling you about, he came to me and said that I should be in good shape by now. I said, "What are you talking about?" And he said that "Blues in Teddy's Flat" was in a jukebox and it was a standard order because every time it would run wear out for three years because everybody plays it automatically. He said that he had a list of ten people in his apartment waiting on him to find the record. He said that I should have an apartment building or big car and everything else and a big bank account. I went down to a big music store at the time and sure enough, they told me it sold all day. There were two elderly ladies buying records and they told me to just stand 2here and so when they got ready to check out and then he put the needle down on "Blues in Teddy's Flat," and before it got through the first twelve bars, they said, "We'll take it." They said that it had been going on ever since I made the record. They are still buying it today.

Rhino Records put it out in a package of Central Avenue. It was on four or five different labels that put it out, but I never received anything but that forty-one dollars and twenty-five cents for my million seller. In fact, Fred, that is how Prestige came about. Bob Weinstock and Ira Gitler were working for Ross Russell and my "Blues in Teddy's Flat" was selling more than the entire Dial Records catalog. In fact, Ira Gitler showed me the place on 48th Street and they said, "That is where we sold a million copies of 'Blues in Teddy's Flat.'" In '52, Bob Weinstock wrote me a letter and said that he was starting a label called Prestige and the guys are doing the first record for me free. I just pay for the studio time and then, the next record, you get paid and so he sent me a fifty dollar check to pay for studio time and he said, "I want you to make me 'Blue in Teddy's Flat,' number one, number two, number three, number four, and number five." (Laughing) I sent him his check back. That is how he got into the business. We have had some many wonderful times here. We had some big bands here, Gerald Wilson, Benny Carter. I worked with Benny Carter. They had a lot of bands play the big clubs like the Palladium and all the ballrooms. There would be like Stan Kenton and all the other bands. I started up at the Lighthouse in '49 and the soloists from the big bands would come down and play.

Getting back to Central Avenue. That was the place. Ever since Central Avenue, the jazz scene became diluted and went down and down. The farther west it got, the farther it got away from the point. Central Avenue had the movie stars like Eva Gardner. All kinds of people would be on the Avenue because it was happening. There wasn't anybody getting mugged. It was just everybody having a good time because everybody had money because the War was here. All of the servicemen were in town, getting ready to be shipped out to the Pacific. People had money and everybody was working and families were moving this way to see their brothers and sons off. It was just swingin.' Every night, it was like Marti Gras.

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