The Future is Now with Teddy Charles

Vibraphone Grandmaster Teddy Charles has been in retirement from jazz recording and performance for more years than he was active. Even so, he remains one of the very best vibraphonists in the world. I have to suppose this is the essence of what it means means to be a legend, and also what it means to be very old which Teddy is at age 86.

But let me back up  and explain how I came to meet Teddy Charles. For musician this is hard to admit – I knew very little about Mr. Charles or jazz itself until late last summer.

To be honest I did not know who Teddy Charles was until Steve Witthoft, happened to invite me to a Wednesday night jam at Teddy’s house. I met Steve while playing in a local big band. He is an excellent trombone player and more about him in a future post. If it weren’t for his invitation, I would still be “jazz ignorant” about Teddy.

When I mentioned the name to Bo he flipped out. Turns out Bo heard about Teddy and was a great fan.

The real inspiration for YDKWLI happened when my two sons and I were over at Teddy’s house helping him archive his life’s work.

We cleaned the piano!!

A job well done!

The Strut, by Benny Golson
The original music for The Strut, by composer and saxophonist Benny Golson, who is a year younger than Teddy. The number eventually debuted as “Strut Time” on the 1958 album The Other Side of Benny Golson.

“Unburying the piano” would be another accurate way to describe that afternoon. Anyway, at some point the four of us came upon an unmarked cardboard box. Inside? Pure treasure.

1955 Screen Blues

Original folio for 1955 Screen Blues

Now some words about seeing the music in the box, and how holding the original paper and seeing the pencil marks brought you closer to feeling. Closer to understanding the nature of Jazz. You passed your inspiration on in a follow-up phone call to Bo

Jazz Hall of fame vibraphonist Teddy Charles played with Charlie Parker 60 years ago. He wrote the arrangement to Miles Davis’s “Nature Boy”, and the list of people he recorded with sounds like a “who’s-who” of Jazz and Blues hall of fame. Coltrane, Mingus, Roach, Cannonball Adderly… drop a name any name…  In 1964 he played with Aretha Franklin on “Unforgettable: A Tribute to Dinah Washington”, that is close to 50 years ago!  His biggest album was going to be “Russia Goes Jazz (Teddy Charles)“, United Artists UAL 3365. He hired the best of the best musicians of the time for this project: Zoot Sims, Pepper Adams, Eric Dolphy, Hall Overton to name a few. Alas, in an a unfortunate turn of events an unknown group released its debut album the same day he released this album. Under the same label, no less. Their name? “The beatles” (!)

For many years he was first on call for playing the vibes here in New York. This fell out of favor when synthesizers went big during the late 70’s and early 80’s. He was also busy sailing his historic scooner, the “Mary E”  – a 75 foot authentic clipper built in 1906. In 2008 he began a come-back with help from many friends and colleagues  including Chris Byars and many others. Apparently he outlived all the people he thought would go before him, such as his manager and many of his friends. I suspect that it is his sense of humor that keeps him going strong at 83 years old.

I have been playing and learning a heck of a lot from him for a while now. While producing “You don’t know what love is” for English blues phenomenon Wily Bo Walker and his quintet, I thought that it would be an opportunity for Teddy to shine again with the magic touch of a true vibraphone master. These with fake B3, fake pianos, fake brass, fake strings, and fake slide whistles, I thought it could really be great if we used a real vibraphone.  Bo was excited to play with a true giant, and this turned out as a huge success! As of now (3/2/2011),  The track, is now topping the US, UK and Global Jazz download charts on MySpace.com.

For nostalgia’s sake, here is Teddy playing the vibes with Aretha Franklin’s 1964 recording of “Unforgettable”. The song was recorded as part of her tribute to Diana Washington. After the release of this tribute album, Columbia drifted away from their early jazz dreams for Aretha:


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