Sunday, July 24, 2011

Teddy Edwards – Jazz Tenor Saxophonist of Importance

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Right from the beginning, Edwards’s recordings have been of consistently high quality, testimony to his likeable and no-nonsense approach. … Though he has had his ups and downs, Edwards’s relaxed, imperturbable manner has sustained him well; ‘steady with Teddy’ has been the watchword.”
- Richard Cook & Brain Morton, The Penguin Guide To Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

Sometimes I think that the “Los” in LOS ANGELES is an abbreviation for “Land of Obscure Saxophonists.”

How else to explain the relative lack of attention garnered by Harold Land, Sonny Criss, Curtis Amy, Jimmy Woods, Jack Montrose, and a number of other excellent saxophonists whose careers took place primarily in the City of Angels?

Teddy Edwards is another name that also seems to belong to this list of unheralded, Los Angeles-based saxophonists.

Thankfully, Les Koenig at Contemporary Records and Richard Bock at Pacific Jazz provided Teddy with a number of recording opportunities which helped document his excellence as a tenor saxophonist and composer.

In Teddy’s case, the initial reasons for his lack of public recognition may lie in the following explanation by Ted Gioia who writes:

“Although many West Coast musicians of Edwards's generation were beset by personal tragedy, few suffered more from pure bad luck. A series of recurring medical afflictions—gall bladder trouble as well as several oral surgeries necessitated by problems with his teeth—haunted Edwards throughout the 1950s, often sidelining him for months on end. When he was able to play, Edwards distinguished himself by being in the right place at almost the right time. At the start of the 1950s Edwards stood out as the most prominent member of the Lighthouse All-Stars, and his compo­sition "Sunset Eyes" was the band's most requested number. Yet right before the All-Stars' rise to fame through a series of widely heard record­ings, Edwards was dismissed by leader Howard Rumsey when a group of ex-Kenton players suddenly became available for active duty. Rumsey's decision was marked with eventual success, but Edwards was the unfortu­nate casualty of the affair. Nor was this all. In 1954, Edwards turned down an opportunity to go on the road with the Max Roach/Clifford Brown band because he had recently married and felt that the time was not right for an extended road engagement. The Roach/Brown band went on to be- come the most celebrated bop quintet of its day. Edwards never got an­other chance at such a high-profile gig. The tenorist's life during the hey­day of West Coast jazz is an extended account of just such missed opportunities and misfortunes.” [West Cost Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960, pp. 130-131].

Les Koenig, owner-operator of Contemporary Records, offered this overview in the insert notes to his Together Again!!!!  Contemporary album [Contemporary 7588; OJCCD-424-2] which features Teddy with his long-time musical associate and friend, trumpeter Howard McGhee:

“Edwards, …, continued to work in California, where musicians have long considered him to be one of the top tenor men in the country. However, it seems next to im­possible for a jazzman to make a national reputation on the West Coast. If Horace Greeley were passing out advice to jazzmen today, he'd have to say, "Go East, young man!" For personal reasons Teddy preferred to work closer to his home and family; and so, it is all the more remarkable that despite the geographical handicap Teddy is regarded as one of the very best tenor men by critics, musicians, and jazz fans at home and abroad. In 1960 and '61 he was active in the recording studios, and his Teddy's Ready! (Contemporary M3583, stereo S7583) received exceptional reviews. Stanley Robertson, who has followed Teddy's career for many years, wrote in the Los Angeles Sentinel, ‘Teddy Edwards must be considered one of the major voices in jazz.’

Bob Gordon had this to say about Teddy and Howard’s work on Together Again!!!!:

“Together Again remains a very satisfying album - it wears like a comfortable pair of sneakers. Howard McGhee and Teddy Edwards were at the cutting-edge of jazz when they first got together in the late forties. By 1961 they were considered in the mainstream rather than the avant-garde, but both had continued to progress and increase the mastery of their horns. Backed by an exceedingly able rhythm section [Phineas Newborn, Jr. on piano, Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums], they prove that good jazz, like a fine wine, improves with age.” [Jazz West Coast, p. 212] 

Writing in 1998 as the producer of the CD re-issue of Teddy’s Sunset Eyes Pacific Jazz album [CDP 94848]:

“Teddy Edwards is a superb tenor saxophonist whose probably best known for his Dial duets with Dexter Gordon, the live recording by the first incarnation of the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quartet and decades of wonderful small group recordings under his own name. But his career includes big band and film studio work, arranging and even songwriting (Louis Jordan, Nancy Wilson and Lorez Alexandria are among those who've recorded his songs). At 74, he stills writing and playing beautifully.”