August 20, 2011
“Everybody liked him,” recalled Jimmy McPartland of trombonist and singer WELDON LEO “JACK” TEAGARDEN (1905-64). “And when you heard him play, you just had to love him.” Born in Vernon, Texas, Teagarden was steeped in music, both that of his parents — Jack’s father was an amateur cornetist, his mother a piano teacher — and the region’s substantial black population. As a teenager Teagarden joined legendary Houston pianist Peck Kelley’s band and in 1927, moved to New York, where only Jimmy Harrison had a similarly advanced trombone concept. By mid-1928, Teagarden joined drummer Ben Pollack’s group and began making hundreds of recording sessions, both with his bandmates and others, including Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke. In 1933, Teagarden joined Paul Whiteman for five lucrative if musically unstimulating years, leaving in 1939 to lead his own big band that, while well-respected, left him broke by 1947. Reuniting with Armstrong restored Teagarden’s fortune and brought him face to face with Jim Crow, yet alive in September 1957 as he toured Europe with black pianist Earl Hines. “We play unsegregated music,” Teagarden said when asked about the events then unfolding at Central High School in Little Rock. “And our band is unsegregated. Race doesn’t bother us one bit.” Strong words for a white bluesman but the music was even stronger, as Teagarden’s extraordinary 1962 album of Willard Robinson songs, Think Well Of Me proved. Think well of me? How could one not?
On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: H.P. Lovecraft.
READ MORE about members of the Partisans Generation (1904-13).