DELICIOUS, NOT JUST GOOD, GRAVY

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I have long been a fan of tenor saxophonist TEDDY EDWARDS.

The first time I heard him was on the Max Roach - Clifford Brown concert at Pasadena Civic Auditorium in 1954 staged and recorded by promoter Gene Norman and issued on his own GNP 10" lp.

I believe this was the first incarnation of the Roach/Brown quintet (before the days when Sonny Rollins and Richie Powell joined).

Apparently, Max and Clifford debated whether to invite Sonny Stitt to share the front line with Brownie but decided against it on the basis that Stitt liked to dominate rather than blend in. So they invited the more amenable local West Coast tenor player Teddy Edwards instead.

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 The reason why I sought out the record in the first place was because my favourite pianist Carl Perkins (see the Musing "Too early in the Grooveyard") was in the group. Carl would soon be replaced by Bud Powell's brother Richie because apparently he didn't like the ridiculously fast tempos favoured by monster Max. Carl's left hand disability would not have helped.

Anyway I was captivated by the light-toned but gritty tenor of Teddy, especially on his own composition - which was destined to become a jazz standard - "Sunset eyes".

I then delved back into the late Forties when Teddy was established on Central Avenue, L.A, jousting with other saxophonists like Wardell Gray and, on a classic recording called The Duel, Dexter Gordon. He was superb even then but my favourite Teddy Edwards vintage became late 50s/early 60s when he was making cooking, bluesy albums (Teddy's ready, Good gravy, Heart and soul) for the Contemporary label.

Flash forward to London in the late 70s. At Mole Jazz record shop in Gray's Inn Road, young Mark Taylor - a teenager who was to become a fine drummer that bravely went to the US - was excitedly helping out behind the counter and enthusiastically collecting these very Teddy Edwards lps.  

Another decade on, and Teddy Edwards was one of the older generation of American soloists that Manchester's Ernie Garside enterprisingly brought over to feed, house, drive and put together with suitable British rhythm sections for a 15 to 20 gig tour.

Mark Taylor (in England) played with him at Peter Ind's Bass Clef Club and elsewhere. I backed Teddy on a few gigs on the South Coast. I kept a poster of one of these and, by the happiest of coincidences, Stephen Didymus - jazz collector extraordinaire - recently sent me a recording of that same evening's music. Listen to a bit on the Music page.

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I remember what a delight it was to play with Teddy. He was enthusiastic, encouraging and took every night seriously, never coasting but always giving it everything, despite the familiarity to him of his material. He arrived with neat plastic folders of well-thumbed parts for each instrument and insisted on talking through them before we started.

There was one original of his called "Goin' home" (written for the Ray Charles orchestra) which he was at pains to explain. The tune consisted of a chorus of 24 plus 28 bars, the last six bars consisting of a 2-bar figure repeated three times (not twice or four times as you might expect. "If you miss that three times repeat, WE'RE LOST!!!!" he announced theatrically, his face registering the drama of any such catastrophe. (We didn't let him down, I'm pleased to say.)

I didn't meet Teddy again after 1988 but he soldiered on playing (including a tour with gravel-voiced singer Tom Waits)  and recording right up to two years before his death in 2003 at the age of 78.

He was a ruggedly individual and totally authentic soloist. He was also a great guy. He made a telling, niche contribution to the history of the music we cherish.

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Spike Wells