"A cult figure who should be a luminary..."

"A cult figure who should be a luminary..."
Teddy Edwards in Paris, France photo by Bernard Ailloud - quote by Gary Giddins

Teddy Edwards in the Press

“Southern California was a hotbed of black musical creativity in the 1940s and early 50s. Los Angeles had both audience and artists in abundance.  Scores of clubs and more than a few radio stations were caught up in the exhilaration of Be-bop.  Sadly, the wealth of outlets rarely was given any space in national music publications and few people who weren’t on the scene even suspect that any music was being played outside of a few Hollywood jam sessions.”

-Patricia Willard
Black California -  liner notes/cover


Publicity is everything. You need press if you want to be promoted.  I have been doing a great deal of research for my multimedia jazz project, Teddy Edwards Now, on the life and career of Teddy Edwards. Over the years, I came across some interesting quotes and articles that attempt to describe what Teddy Edwards's music and life was all about.  I have posted some of these quotes below as well as two very rare interviews with Teddy Edwards, which I dug up from my own personal collection.  


I thank jazz journalist and writer, Ted Panken, who on January 21,  2013, published an extensive 1999 interview he did with Teddy Edwards after reading a post on a friend’s Facebook page!  This interview was a true treasure trove for me.  A few more insights into the riddle of Teddy Edwards!  Mr. Panken – who contributes for Down Beat and Jazziz, among other publications – mentioned the oral history project that journalist, lecturer, and research consultant Patricia Willard conducted with Teddy Edwards for the Institute of Jazz Studies.  It is my goal to get that interview out in the OPEN! I will be working on that this coming year.

I thank Gary Giddins again for allowing me to reprint his article for the Village Voice written in 1988 entitled Continental DivideIn it, he so clearly explains the West Coast vs. East Coast jazz scene in the eighties and reminds us Angelinos of the Jazz clubs and fantastic musicians we once had – and still have – here in Los Angeles. 

I also wanted to thank Time Out London for allowing me to reprint Brian Case's article on Teddy Edwards British debut with Tom Waits in 1981 on this website.  Teddy first traveled to Europe in 1978 and thanks to that first European trip, he came back many times to the good old continent. But Teddy had never been to Britain yet! Touring with Tom Waits also gave Teddy Edwards a great deal of exposure in Australia and New Zealand. The interview highlights many memories Teddy has from the forties on Central Avenue and his friendship with such jazz greats as Wardell Grey, Charlie Parker and Sonny Criss.

Finally, as the year 2013 ends, I wanted to thank Ted Gioia for his kind interview for the film.  Kevin Mitchell and I traveled to Dallas, Texas, where we met the noted jazz critic and music historian in the comfort of his own home last January.  Mr. Gioia gave me a beautiful interview. He also showed Kevin a book that featured the name of his father, Gordon Mitchell, one of the first Dixieland jazz players in Los Angeles who played with Dixieland and Disneyland. But back to Teddy now!

Kirsten Reynen


"Teddy Edwards was an unsung hero of magnificent ramifications"

Ed Hamilton

"He is a tenor whose work is particularly indentifiable by its deeply plunging pulsation  and emotional engagement."

Nat Hentoff 

"His horn matches his personality."

Bob Kirstein

"A swinging saxophonist who created eargasms of ecstatic Jazz joy."

Ed Hamilton

"His solos are crafted with steamy riffs, rifled through like a deck of cards, blues hollers, sonorous moans and high wails, and middle register melodices that paraphrase the song under study." 

Gary Giddins

"Teddy was known for his originality and always went his own direction and always wanted to prove something."

Buddy Collette


Bebop legend Teddy Edwards
makes his British debut as tenorman with Tom Waits.

Brian Case meets the man.

© Time Out London April 4, 1981

It’s difficult to think of Tom Waits without unravelling a running flush of hipster antecedents, the knaves, jokers an aces dealing with all the way back to the Bebop Forties
This tour, Tom was toting tenorman Teddy Edwards, one of that Central Avenue LA triumvirate of steeplechasin’axes – Teddy, Dexter, Wardell – that the late Hampton Hawes typified as “the Keepers of the Flame”.
            Teddy lived the times that Tom, like the rest of us, only read about.  During the war years, LA changed from a provincial town to the strungout business ‘n’entertainment capital of the West Coast, quadrupling its black population in that period and spawning an across-the-board explosion in the arts.
“Everybody was in town because the war as in the Pacific.  Soldiers, sailors, whole families had moved to the West.  LA was a 24 hour town during that period.
“I’m sure that the Forties was the most productive period in American history in the arts and everything else.  Everything was in full production, employment was at its highest peak, everything was in motion –the military, the machinery for building military equipment, and money was almost running down the street to meet you.
“Nobody thought about the war hitting America. The whole thing was ALIVE and IN MOTION!  America has never been at that tempo before or since.  It’d take another war – and we don’t need that.
“Central Avenue was a classic street –many clubs like Jack’s Basket, Cafe Society, Casablanca, Billy Berg’s, Jungle Room.  I had great times there with just about everybody.  There was a fella around then, he sold records, knew all the solos from all of them, we called him Bebop, he was like the cheer-leader. Sometimes he’d be pushing me, he’d have everybody going my way, then again, he’d be pushing Dexter or Lucky Thompson or Wardell.
            “You see, the kids in America now are really doing research on the Forties because there are reservoirs of information there that were shelved aside.  They’re going back, digging it up, finding the clothes, the music, ways to make money and to learn.
            “I was fortunate enough to come through the big bands and the Bebop era, a very good time.”
            Teddy Edwards was one of the first modern jazz settlers on the West Coast. He was born April 26, 1924 in Jackson, Mississippi, and started playing professionally with the big bands at 12.  His first taste of that Pacific climate came while touring with the Ernie Fields Orchestra.
            “We played there, and then we went on. The bus broke down above Cheyenne, Wyoming, and all you could see was snow. I thought you can HAVE all this stuff!  I’m going back to California.”  
            Roy Milton gave him the alto chair with his R&B band and got him a union card to work in LA, and after a stretch Teddy switched to Howard McGhee.
“He was in need of a tenor player, and he knew I had the harmonic know-how and that was the kinda music I wanted to be involved with.  I first met Charlie Parker in 1942 when he was with McShann.
“One time we were playing together out at Billy Berg’s –he’d come out to the coast with Dizzy, Milt Jackson, Al Haig, Stan Levey and Ray Brown –and there was an alto player on the stand who was TOTALLY ridiculous.  Guy was, had no business up there, you know. Charlie Parker stood there and listened and gave him the same respect as he gave anybody else.
“Someone said, ‘Bird – you know you’re not digging that’, so Bird said, ‘Man, everybody’s got something.’
 “That was his attitude. He said to me, ‘There’s a lotta geniuses around just never found themselves, never found where they supposed to put themselves.’  He had that high energy - and he paid the price.”
Wardell Grey was his best buddy.
            “We were very close, lived together, studied together.  We played altos in the same band in 1942. Mattera fact, his future wife came looking for me and met him. Thought he was me, the girl he married.
            “Two saxophone players, we’d put on a pot of beans, put off our shirts and go to work on those saxophones.  He was a fun guy, he played for fun.
            “We played all kinds of jobs together, jobs where he had to split eight dollars a night.  I’d go with him on his gig and blow, and he’d come on mine when times were really rough around ‘47/48.”
            1948 SHOULD have been a great year for the tenorman, since his record “Blues in Teddy’s Flat” sold over a million copies.
            “I didn’t know what was going on until the record dealers started telling me.  If you don’t know a thing about business, you get taken. I did it for Dial Records and it sold more than the whole Dial catalogue.  It had the blues market AND the jazz market.
“I was a young man.  I got 41 dollars and 25 cents, and Ross Russell wants to know why I don’t particularly like him!
            “Actually it was a freak accident the way it happened.  Dexter and I had made “The Duel”, and Dexter was to play a ballad and then I was to play a ballad.  Dexter played his, ‘Talk Of The Town’, but he kept holding the last note too long because it sounded good to him, and he had to do the whole thing over.
            “So they said, ‘Teddy – we don’t have time to go through your ballad, we’ve just got five minutes left so play some blues till we give you the signal to cut it off.’
 “So I told the guys, Jimmy Rowles, Red Callendar and Roy Porter, I’d make a four-bar introduction and to give me a stop-time on the second chorus.  Turned out to be the biggest thing I ever did – but not for me.”
            Teddy Edwards goes back so far that he knew the cats before they were cats.  Frank Butler?
 “Uh-huh.  We used to play at Bob City together when I as with the house band.  We went on tour with Helen Humes, Red Prysock and Peewee Crayton, and Frank’s time was so bad we’d go home and I’d get the book out, the Paul Hindemith ‘Elementary Training for Musicians’ and a metronome, and we’d sit and go to work.
            “Man, he’d just run away with the tempo!  We useta call him Metronome Max.
            “Sonny Criss?  I was his first idol.  When I first came to California, him and a kid named Big Jay McNeely were in High School and they were too young to come in the Cobra Room where I was playing.  He told me he useta slip in the back door and lean up beside the wall and listen.
            “He said, ‘Man – I heard a lotta guys playing alto but when I hear your tone, there was love and sex in it and I had never heard that before.  I said THAT’S the way I wanna be.
            “To me, Sonny had more thrust on that instrument that anybody I ever heard – thrust, power.  Earl Bostic and Cannonball, they had a lotta thrust, but I think he had more.
 “He mightn’t have been the greatest saxophone player harmonically or for ideas, but when it came to putting that instrument in high gear, wherever you stopped he could take it to another level of energy.”
            In 1976, it was Sonny Criss’s decision that saved Teddy Edwards’s life when he collapsed with a haemorrhage, and Teddy still regrets that Sonny did not give him the chance to return the favour before taking his life in 1977.
 “I know what his problem was.  He had a lotta pluses and a lotta minuses in his life, and he couldn’t cope with it.”
            FORTITUDE is one of the characteristics of the grey-haired veteran.  In his best decade, practicing ten to 12 hours a day, he was recorded only twice.  Geographically, his big robust sound was out of fashion.
“I lost confidence then, but it’ll never happen again.  I think it was a case of the New York record companies recording mostly black musicians, and the West Coast trying to put antidote to that by recording white musicians with the softer sounds.
            “I remember Dick Bock of Pacific Records coming down and saying, ‘I want everybody but him.’ That very same guy, me and Wardell, we made the very first record for him that he ever had in his life, and this is how Pacific Records got started.
            “Rock ‘n’ roll? I’m not saying that’s all bad music, but the business industry wants to label everything for thought control.  If they’re not touting jazz, something else gets the action.  Rock ‘n’ roll music is for dancing, lotta people wanna dance – that’s good.  It’s not really for listening because the beat’s up front.  There’s room for everything.
            ‘It don’t matter what you’re doing, it’s how you’re doing it.  I had a friend took a shoe-shine rag and built two apartment buildings, three night clubs and a chain of businesses. Started with a shoe-shine rag – but he was great a shining shoes.
            “Tom Waits?  I like playing with him.  You really need good ears because there’s some crazy key changes in there. No, it doesn’t remind me of the bebop era.  Slim Gaillard, Leo Watson – that was fun and happiness all the time.  This kid’s into a different thing.  He’s humorous, but he gets very deep also.  He’s a poet.”
            But if it’s “Pastries & A G-String” the man wants, the bump ‘n’ grind of tacky burlesque, then Teddy Edwards has the lowest B-flat on the horn: “I just bark it out.  I played ‘Night Train’ enough times at the Burlesque House for strippers. Oh, I’m a great burlesque saxophone player, you know!” 

"Teddy Edwards and Art Hillery: 
they could pack the Vanguard." 
Gary Giddins

June 7, 1988
Copyright Gary Giddins. Reprinted by permission of Gary Giddins.


The limits of bicoastalism begin at the doorway of jazz.  The impasse that divides East Coast and West Coast jazz is plainly insurmountable.  

Those labels haven’t been current for at least 25 years, and never accurately certified adverse styles, yet they suggest an invisible frontier across which only the hardiest souls have successfully traveled.  It is a fact that West Coast musicians have enjoyed gloried careers in the sun and studios without attracting so much as a sneer on this tight little island; conversely, our most venturesome souls, not a few of whom were born and raised in Los Angeles, are lucky to get a one-nighter out west.  Since jazz is no longer played at the Philharmonic or other major halls, and schools remain a largely unexploited itinerary, the only circuit that counts is that of the key jazz clubs, which gets harder and harder to penetrate.  So once in a while a Benny Carter, Ray Brown, or Frank Morgan makes the big trip, but the superb quintet that Snooky Young and Marshall Royal formed a few years ago has never played in New York, let alone the all-star big bands of Frankie Capp and Nat Pierce or John Clayton.  Even the prolific Gerald Wilson, a California icon for decades, is relatively unknown here.  And, unimaginable as it sounds, had not Blythe, Murray, Newton, Morris and Crouch reversed Horace Greenley’s advise, they might now be as familiar to New Yorkers as say, Horace Tapscott.

Leonard Feather, who moved west in the early ‘60s and is an indefatigable propagandist for the L.A. club scene, has long argued that New York critics are remiss in refusing to look beyond the Allegheny.  

During a week-long visit I attempted to compensate by spending those hours I wasn’t lost on freeways in jazz rooms.  The options are considerable.  The L.A. Weekly lists no less than 35 venues under the heading Jazz.  I ignored the very few places where circuit regulars -Red Rodney, Michel Petrucciani, Freddie Hubbard, George Shearing- could be heard, and scratched off those that succumbed to fusion.  The first thing you notice perusing what’s left is that most L.A. clubs don’t book by the week.  New bands every night.  Even local favorites aren’t favorite enough to insure the necessary audience turnover.  At many places the key attraction is food, and as one club owner put it, patrons who dine nightly don’t want to hear the same thing all week.  That’s what she said.

One night I trailed Leonard’s car to the Comeback Inn, in Venice, because he’d heard good things about a saxophonist named Rudolph Johnson, a member of the Ray Charles orchestra, who was to debut in the Wednesday night slot.  

Johnson was ill, however, and his replacement was another Ray Charles saxophonist, Ricky Woodard.   As Leonard remarked after set one, “How much better could Johnson have been?” Woodard brought a tenor and alto, but concentrated on the former. The general level of musicians who mine John Coltrane’s reserve is so high that Woodard will have a hard time distinguishing himself.  Fast, sinuous arpeggios and a burnished sound are commonplace, and so is Coltrane’s book.  A set made up of “Blue Trane,” “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” (the 1928 Sigmund Romberg ballad that sounds mysteriously like a Coltrane original), Joe Henderson’s “Recorda-Me,” “Straight No Chaser,” and “Body and Soul” is clearly designed to prove that the band can play the repertory, not break new ground.  Still, Woodard has something of his own and it comes to life in his debt to another late-‘50s tenor tradition, the warmer, furrier players like Johnny Griffin, Hank Mobley, and George Coleman.  Combining their more human intonation with fleet, tufted riffs that break up the scalar motion shows a way out of the Coltrane habit.

Of course, the choice of tunes reflects the fact that this surprise debut pinned Woodard to a band expecting to play with Rudolph Johnson. The band chatter between numbers was the stuff of jam sessions: “Do you know ‘Ugetsu?’” “No.” “’Straight No Chaser?’” “Hmmmm.” “Ready for a ballad?  Want to try ‘Body and Soul?’” Everyone nodded in agreement.  

At which point pianist Bill Henderson played Tommy Flanagan’s vamp from Dexter Gordon’s version.  Henderson is an engaging player, carefully plotting spare, lyric moves in the middle register, filling them out with block chords, or taking the Tynerish approach of heavy rhythmic patterns in the bass and light trebly figures skipping through the spaces.  Bassist Jeff Littleton, whose linear solos had a lean, leathery appeal, and drummer Peter Hillman were no less familiar with the routine.

The Comeback Inn is pure El Lay.  Billed as “The Vegetarian jazz club by the sea,” it offers grains, salads, tempeh, ciders, teas, almond milk, and raw fruit pie (no “artificial or animal products”), holds about 60 people, and is filled with plant life.  

The menu promises, “A NEW AGE of humankind has evolved, one with a new set of needs and desires.”  The latter aren’t stipulated, but the owner-chef, Will Raabe, who created the place 15 years ago, steps out of the kitchen to introduce the band and welcome patrons, wearing a Palm Springs T-shirt and blue apron, and determined to spread pleasantness.  He invites musicians to use the stage as a showcase, and two regulars, Ray Pizza and  Milcho Leviev, will soon introduce a record label, Doron (Greek for gift), to document the music.  Among those whom Raabe says got their start on his stage and “made it out here” are Henry Butler, Rickie Lee Jones, Dianne Reeves, and Billy Childs.

Nucleus Nuance on Melrose Avenue, is the other side of protein-lots of animal products, though pasta is primary. Whereas the vegetarians sip their cider with all eyes on the stage, and the only sound other than the music is an occasional cheer from a hyperventilating enthusiast, the animal eaters are a din unto themselves, plethoric and implacable.  

I went on a Thursday to hear Ernie Andrews, accompanied by an Art Hillery trio (Richard Simon, bass, Johnny Kirkwood, drums) that opened the set with “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise”­ –which, in this instance, was perhaps a hint.  Andrews ascended the stage sporting a red beret, tried vainly to get some attention, cheerfully commented, “If it’s alright with you, it’s alright with me,” and made “Cabaret” a convincing anthem, sly and swinging.  At 60, Andrews has too long been confined to California.  He’s a wholly satisfying stylist with a mild bass-baritone that owes less than most to Billy Eckstine, even on patented ballad material like “Time after Time” and “A Cottage for Sale” (he uses the famous Eckstine coda). He made his first recordings in 1945, returning to the studios occasionally in the ‘50s, with Lucky Thompson and Benny Carter in tow.  In 1959, he joined Harry James for four months, and later sang on records by Cannonball Adderley, Kenny Burrell, and the Capp-Pierce Juggernaut.  Yet despite his easy way with embellishments and the ability to set an after-hours mood, he’s never had the hit that might have given him a national draw.  

Nucleus Nuance consists of two large rooms (a wall-sized picture dividing them drops when the show begins), and you enter through a long hallway covered with photographs-first of movie stars, then old Hollywood scenes, and finally jazz musicians.  

Its owners, Bruce and Cathy Veniero (of New Yorks’ Veniero’s), became partners in the late-‘70s with chef Rudi Marshall, who had opened the restaurant in 1967.  Cathy was a stuntwoman waitressing there and Bruce was a customer when they met, married, bought in, introduced a music policy in 1980, and revamped the room after the old Coconut Grove, with a dance floor (filled for Andrews’s set) and a reputation for attracting stars and politicians.  Listeners are at a premium.

The next night I drove to Santa Monica and the Loa to hear one of the few living masters from the days of Central Avenue, when bop found its California accent: Teddy Edwards. Ray Brown has an interest in the huge brick room, which opened a year and a half ago under the ownership of Mariko Omura. 

When Brown plays, as he did last week with Herb Ellis, it’s filled. When Oscar Peterson’s trio came in, the room asked for and got a $75 cover from capacity crowds.  Edwards is only there on the weekend, but by the second set the room spreads thin.  I’ll bet he could pack the Vanguard.  Notwithstanding his high reputation among musicians, Edwards is very likely the most underrated tenor saxophonist around.  At 64, he embodies the whole travail of modern jazz.  Born in Mississippi, he worked in territory bands at the age of 12, moved at 18 to Detroit, where he played with Hank Jones, and to Los Angeles two years later.  Within a couple of years, he and Howard McGhee were among the first to establish modern jazz in a town that had recently banned Bird and Diz from the radio.  He recorded tenor duets with Dexter Gordon; took a turn with the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet; embarked on a 25-year on–and-off relationship with Gerald Wilson; appeared with Benny Carter, Benny Goodman, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan, Milt Jackson, and numerous combos of his own; and built an imposing catalogue of original songs known for their melodic ingenuity and structural caginess.

Although I’ve long admired his records (the 1967 Prestige date, It’s All Right is an authentic cult classic), I had never seen him live, so I was taken aback by the undiminished power of his sound and the constancy of his ideas. Edwards never merely runs changes. 

His solos are crafted with steamy riffs, rifled through like a deck of cards, blues hollers, sonorous moans and high wails, and middle register melodies that paraphrase the song under study. It was, I suppose, characteristic of him to begin the set with an original ballad, “April Love” (“we don’t want you to get it confused with Pat Boone”), that commanded attention from the first note, a solitary worldly tone hovered like a winked eye, and sustained as an effusion of smoky lyricism. On a racing blues, he prolonged tension and interest with unfailingly lucid phrases, and on “Sunday,” he made the pretty chords shine at an equally nimble tempo bumming like an engine but also defining his notes with growls and trailing his phrases down into a cavernous rumble. On “Georgia On My Mind,” the notes were less articulated than sighed.  On a typical original “No Name #1,” the eight- and 12-bar alternating phrases enforced clarity at every phrase of his solo.  Like Horace Silver, Edwards writes in a way that encourages the soloist not to run scales.

The pleasure of this evening resided not in Edwards alone, but in the superior rhythm section.   Art Hillery was on piano again, only this time you could hear him at length and well.  He began his feature “Stella by Starlight,” with a paraphrase of the theme etched in minor seconds and substitute chords that continually played hide and seek with the melody.  

In subsequent choruses, he opened up the dissonances, employing an astonishing variety of voicings for each chord followed by a tight-fingered consonant variation, and a return to the minor seconds. The entire performance had a hushed and bracing quality.  Hillery, a veteran who often plays organ and records rarely – with Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, Jimmy Whiterspoon – deserves more attention, as do bassist Allen Jackson, who pulls on the strings and plays near the bridge for emphasis, but does his most fortifying walk in the low register, and drummer Paul Humphrey, a familiar name on L.A. recording sessions who maintains complementary rhythms on the ride and sock cymbals and reserves the snare for midrash.  This is a group ripe for touring and belated celebration.

Copyright Gary Giddins. 

Reprinted by permission of Gary Giddins.

1999 Interview with Teddy Edwards

Here’s the link to Ted Panken’s interview with Teddy Edwards. It is remarkable how Teddy Edwards must have memorized the various answers he gave as some of the text is verbatim what I have heard him say to other people as well.  Mr. Planken did a great job capturing the real spirit of Teddy Edwards.