Teddy Charles and Two Bookers


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Teddy Charles was a heavy hitter. A vibraphonist, composer, arranger and a producer, Teddy could swing as easily as he could explore modal territory with his groups. When I started this blog back in 2007, there were a number of musicians I wanted to interview first. Among them were Danny Bank, Hal McKusick, Sol Schlinger and Teddy Charles—cats who were largely unrecognized by the jazz media but were on the coolest records. All gave me great interviews that you'll find in the right-hand column of JazzWax.

Teddy was particularly hip. His lingo was with-it and naturally peppered with insider phrases. Best of all, he understood the importance of what I was doing—preserving jazz history. His door, so to speak, was always open. If I called him at 7 p.m. to ask about a particular session, he'd talk to me for a few minutes before suddenly realizing he had musicians over to jam , as if he'd completely forgotten. Rather than say goodbye, Teddy would say, “Stick around, ya gotta hear this. These guys are real swingers. I'm gonna put the phone down. Split when you want." And off he'd go, leaving me to witness by ear the scene happening at his home studio in Riverhead, on New York's Long Island.

One of my favorite albums led by Teddy is Jazz in the Garden: The Teddy Charles New Directions Quartet, featuring trumpeter Booker Little and tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin. Recorded live in the sculpture garden of New York's Museum of Modern Art in August 1960, the album featured Booker Little (tp), Booker Ervin (ts), Teddy Charles (vib), Mal Waldron (p), Addison Farmer (b) and Ed Shaughnessy (d). The tracks are Scoochie (Booker Ervin), Cycles (Mal Waldron), Embraceable You (George and Ira Gershwin) Blues de Tambour (Ed Shaughnessy), Take Three Parts Jazz—Route 4, Byriste and Father George (Teddy Charles) and The Confined Few (Booker Little).

The concert was the last in a series of 10 jazz events co-sponsored that summer by the museum and Metronome magazine. They were held each Thursday evening in MoMA's intimate modernist sculpture garden. The combination of modern jazz and modern art was a natural. As Metronome editor Bill Coss wrote in the liner notes, “there was a large audience, I recall, and the evening was balmy." When I told Teddy over the phone that I had pulled the CD in from abroad and how much I loved the music and why, in typical Teddy fashion he said, “I'm glad, man. It was a gas."

Booker Little would die just over a year later of uremia, a tragedy. The blistering trumpeter was 22 and on his way to jazz stardom. He also was driven and in demand. Between his album with Teddy and his passing, he recorded on Max Roach's We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, Pat Thomas's Jazz Patterns, Eric Dolphy's Far Cry, Abbey Lincoln's Straight Ahead, his own Out Front, John Coltrane's Africa Brass, Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot, his own Booker Little and Friend, and Roach's Percussion Bitter Sweet.

I miss Teddy. Time flies. Teddy Charles died in 2012.

JazzWax clips: Here's Cycles...

Here's The Confined Few...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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