Jack Teagarden
jack teagarden

Texan Weldon Leo "Jack" Teagarden was born August 20, 1905. Big T was both a vocalist and a great technical trombone player who developed a unique solo style.

Dan Barrett comments:
“Teagarden had a remarkable technical ability on what can be an unwieldy instrument. He brought a new kind of "relaxed fluency" to the instrument, along with a southern "blues" quality that Miff Mole and others, for all their ability and undeniable talent, simply didn't possess. This, coupled with a strong, "modern" harmonic sense (Teagarden also played vibes), caused the jaded New York City jazz community to flip over his playing.”

In the Kid Ory tailgate style of New Orleans jazz, the trombone carried an improvised countermelody bass line, while cornet or trumpet carried the melody and clarinet improvised an obligatto, weaving around in the upper register. To some extent trombone had become typecast in its role within this style of jazz, where its most important feature was rhythmic counterpoint and sliding into changes. Teagarden led the trombone into a different solo style, hitting blue notes with great clarity and dexterity and injecting a blues feel into almost everything he played. Being born into a self contained musical family where he was largely self taught, far away from the urban centers of jazz, allowed Teagarden the confidence and individuality to play the trombone as a solo instrument. The often-repeated fallacy is that Teagarden used embouchure more than the slide. The trombone cant be played without using both, and using them a lot.  What started this kind of thinking, is Teagarden's effortless command of alternate (often called "false") slide positions.  Many notes on the trombone can be played in several different places on the slide.  Most top class trombonists would have known and used the common alternates. Teagarden also became familiar with other, less-frequently used positions, which gave his playing an exceptionally articulate, almost valve-like attack.

At the time, jazz was still learning the gentle art of understatement but advances in recording quality and radio made this intimate, relaxed delivery, highly acceptable on a personal basis to a listening audience. He sang with a laid back late night style which was very intimate on radio or recordings.

Teagarden's musical life led him to Chicago and New York City, he recorded with Benny Goodman, Bix Beiderbeck, Mezz Mezzrow and collaborated with Glenn Miller and most successfully, with Louis Armstrong. Their version of Rockin’ Chair shows both vocalists singing with the same style and phrasing that they used when playing their instruments. It also shows two musicians at ease with genuine mutual respect in a professional, friendly collaboration.

Through much of the early swing era, Teagarden was contracted to The Paul Whiteman Orchestra in NYC, breaking away in 1939 to form his own band which was not a financial success.

He appeared in films and recorded extensively until his death of a heart attack in New Orleans January 15, 1964. Jack Teagarden was the jazz musician who gave the trombone a truly unique, solo voice.