August 20 marks the day that we pay homage to that great trombone man from down in Texas, Jack Teagarden, who was born on that day in 1905. In celebration of the occasion, here is a record that holds great significance in the development of swing music. It is credited by Benny Goodman himself as the record that really saw him come into his own element, well on his path to becoming the King of Swing.
Jack was born Weldon Leo Teagarden in the small town of Vernon, Texas. His father was an oilfield worker who played cornet in a brass band, and his mother played ragtime piano and church organ. Jack took up the baritone horn, soon switching to trombone, his brothers Charlie and Clois chose trumpet and drums, respectively, and sister Norma learned piano. In 1921, Teagarden joined Peck Kelley’s band in Houston, and was offered a position in Paul Whiteman’s band when the famous bandleader was passing through, though Jack opted to remain in Texas. He made it to New York City in 1926, where he recorded with the orchestras of Ben Pollack, Roger Wolfe Kahn, and various bands organized by impresario Irving Mills, as well as numerous jazz bands led by the likes of Eddie Condon, Red Nichols, Hoagy Carmichael, and Louis Armstrong, establishing himself as the finest jazz trombonist of the age (and perhaps of any age), and a popular blues vocalist on the side. In the early 1930s, Teagarden played with Benny Goodman’s orchestras, helping to percolate the early inklings of swing at its best, but in 1933, he signed a contract with Paul Whiteman’s orchestra for five years, preventing him from leading his own band as the swing era kicked off soon after. Despite having fairly little opportunity for solo work with Whiteman, Teagarden was able to get in a bit of side work during that time, and started his own band after parting ways with Whiteman in 1939. Though his orchestra lasted until 1946, it found little in the way of success. After World War II, Teagarden played with Louis Armstrongs All-Stars, and toured internationally more than once, remaining a mainstay in the jazz scene until his death from pneumonia in 1964.
Okeh 41577 was recorded February 9, 1931 in New York City by the Charleston Chasers, under the direction of Benny Goodman. It is a dub of the original issue on Columbia 2415-D (why they dubbed it, instead of master pressing, I couldn’t say, but I’m sure someone could.) The almost unbeatable band features Charlie Teagarden and Ruby Weinstein on trumpets, Jack Teagarden and Glenn Miller on trombone, Benny Goodman on clarinet, Sid Stoneburn on alto sax, Larry Binyon on tenor sax, Dick McDonough on guitar, Arthur Schutt on piano, and Harry Goodman on string bass. Jack Teagarden sings the vocals on both sides. Unfortunately, some dumbbell thought it was a bright idea to carve an “X” into both labels.
Besides perhaps Louis Armstrong, “Basin Street Blues” is associated with no musician more than Jack Teagarden, who performed and recorded it a number of times. It was in fact Teagarden and Glenn Miller who were responsible for adding the opening verse, “Won’t you come along with me. / To the Mississippi,” to Spencer Williams’ famous song.
Also quite associated with Teagarden is W.C. Handy’s “Beale Street Blues”, which he recorded again soon after for Vocalion with Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang’s All-Star Orchestra.