COLLABORATION WEST (Prestige/Original Jazz Classics OJCCD-122-2)[1952-53]
EVOLUTION (Prestige/Original Jazz Classics OJCCD-1731-2)[1953-55]
THE TEDDY CHARLES TENTET (Atlantic 7 90983-2)
COOLIN' (New Jazz/Original Jazz Classics OJCCD-1866-2)
TEO (Prestige/Original Jazz Classics OJCCD-1715-2)
SALUTE TO HAMP (TEDDY CHARLES - THE VIBRAPHONE PLAYERS OF BETHLEHEM, VOL 1) (Bethlehem 20-40082)
ON CAMPUS - TEDDY CHARLES SEPTET/IVY LEAGUE JAZZ CONCERT (Bethlehem/Fresh Sound FSR-CD 43)
TEDDY CHARLES QUARTET - LIVE AT THE VERONA JAZZ FESTIVAL (Soul Note 121 183-2)Teddy Charles is one of the unsung heroes of modern jazz -- at least at the present. In the fifties he was all over the place, and on some of the best recordings of that era, some of which he also produced. A vibraphonist, he came to NYC in 1946 to study at Julliard, but quickly discovered the
So much for the overview. Let's talk about the recordings.
The best is THE TEDDY CHARLES TENTET. This is a masterpiece. The next best are COLLABORATION WEST and EVOLUTION -- important albums in the evolution of modern jazz. But the rest aren't chopped liver, by any means.COLLABORATION WEST has, in addition to the entire original 1953 12" LP, a 1952 10" LP tacked on. This was NEW DIRECTIONS Vol. 1, by the Teddy Charles Quartet. (Vol. 2, by the Teddy Charles Trio, has never been reissued on CD.) This quartet, with Charles on vibes, Jimmy Raney on guitar, Dick Nivison on bass, and Ed Shaughnessy -- the same Ed Shaughnessy who was in the Johnny Carson Tonight Show Band for so many years -- on drums, cut only four tracks, but the title of one of them, "Edging Out," tells the whole story. This was jazz on the edge in 1952. Polytonal if not atonal at times, it built on the experiments of the late forties by Lennie Tristano, Gil Evans and others. Highly improvisational, but far from self-indulgent, this was music being made by men who had no charts for the course upon which they were embarking, but who set high standards for themselves. The guitar-vibes combination made for shimmering textures, and these were combined with feverish rhythms to produce in "A Night In
Nearly a year later Charles went out to
The jazz scene in the early and mid-fifties was incredibly and excitingly fertile. Musicians were realizing that the old restrictions had fallen away, that jazz was opening up and pursuing a variety of directions. Parker, Gillespie and Monk had liberated jazz from swing with bop in the forties, but had imposed a new set of restrictions in place of the old. Now musicians were drawing their inspiration from recent (20th century) developments in classical music, at the same time they were taking their performances out of dingy, mob-owned clubs and into concert halls and colleges. There was no single direction to be taken, but many. The sky was the limit. It was not unlike the advent of progressive rock in 1969: a new musical consciousness was being formed by a variety of very talented people. Every time you placed these musicians in new combinations, they gave off sparks and produced new ideas. All were ambitious about their music. There was a lot of composition as well as inspired improvisation. And Teddy Charles was in the middle of this, as a writer, a performer, a leader and a producer.This reached a peak with Charles's Atlantic album, THE TEDDY CHARLES TENTET. Atlantic then was a premier jazz label, issuing a series of pivotal albums, starting with the Modern Jazz Quartet's FONTESSA, including a number of Mingus's best albums, Giuffre's best albums (reviewed elsewhere here), and still unreissued albums like Bill Russo's WORLD OF ALCINA. Charles made two albums for Atlantic, the TENTET and WORD FROM BIRD, its followup. Half of the latter album is included on this CD, and the remainder is to be found on the Mingus PASSIONS OF A MAN boxed set.
The TENTET is a composer's album, and it gives us the work of some of jazz's best composers of that era. The Tentet itself is made up of vibes, trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, piano, guitar, bass and drums, although not every instrument is used on every track (the trombone and French horn were used only on two tracks from WORD FROM BIRD). The composers are Mal Waldron (who played piano with Charles and with Mingus, and later accompanied Billie Holliday in her last years), Teddy Charles himself (who wrote "The Emperor" and arranged "Nature Boy"), and non-band-members Gil Evans (who had not yet collaborated with Miles Davis on MILES AHEAD), Jimmy Giuffre and George Russell (then little-known). Bob Brookmeyer contributed "Showtime" to WORD FROM BIRD. This is subtle but engaging music, exhibiting a near-perfect blend of composed and improvised music that strongly prefigures so-called "Third Stream Jazz."
WORD FROM BIRD was a disappointing followup album. On one side it appeared to continue the Tentet's approach with the title track and Brookmeyer's "Showtime" but on the second side it presented a rather laid-back version of the New Directions Quartet, with Hall Overton on piano, Mingus on bass and Shaughnessy on drums. One track, "Blue Greens," by this quartet appears on the TENTET CD; all of the quartet tracks are included on PASSIONS OF A MAN. Both of the bigger group's performances, "Word From Bird" and "Showtime," are included on the CD. I cannot recommend the TENTET CD highly enough -- but it has disappeared from some stores and may require a special order.Charles was back at Prestige to produce a number of albums after that. Only about half the Prestige albums on which he played have been issued on CD, however. One is COOLIN', a more typical Prestige album -- not quite a "blowing session" (an unrehearsed session with a pickup group that just jams -- something Prestige did more often than not), it is not very ambitious either, being a more mainstream approach to jazz. The album made use of tricky charts but left lots of room for soloists to stretch out. Here the Prestige Jazz Quartet (Charles, Waldron, Addison Farmer on bass and Jerry Segal on drums) is joined by Idrees Sulieman on trumpet and John Jenkins on alto sax. Sulieman was an underrated trumpet player with a bright singing tone; Jenkins was a post-Parker alto player who sounded a bit like Jackie McLean. This is post-bop ("hard-bop,"" neo-bop") jazz, not experimental at all, but played with authority.
The Prestige Jazz Quartet made one album for Prestige as the PJQ (it hasn't been released on CD), but before that came out Prestige released TEO, the PJQ joined by Teo Macero on tenor sax. Macero is a fascinating musician. He can be found on some of Charles Mingus's most experimental recordings in the early fifties. His own 10" Debut LP, EXPLORATIONS (now part of a Stash CD that collects much of Macero's work) was a pioneer effort in experimental jazz, and his side of the Columbia 12" LP, WHAT'S NEW (the other side is by another forgotten jazz composer, Bob Prince) was revolutionary at the time, making use of sped up and slowed down tapes and overdubs (it too is on the Stash CD). He used to give concerts at the Cooper Union at which he used the tapes from those albums and played live saxophone against them. But he is, of course, far better known as a major producer at
On TEO he contributes one composition ("Just Spring") and a moody, otherworldly near-legitimate sax sound. It's Macero's album, but Teddy Charles still dominates it. Like COOLIN' it is fairly stretched out (there are only six tracks), but it is compositionally more interesting, albeit far from the experimentalism of earlier Macero and Charles efforts.In the late fifties Charles moved to another small, NYC-based label,
ON CAMPUS was another
After Bethlehem Charles both produced for and recorded his own albums for another small label, Warwick, and did a final album for United Artists (none of these are available on CD) before giving up on the music business in the sixties. But eventually he returned to both NYC and music, putting together a new quartet that performed and was recorded at the 1988
But if Charles had never come back from the
UPDATE [07-10-01]: The TENTET album has disappeared from the stores, but I’m indebted to Barry Stock for pointing out that the Collectables® label is reissuing it. The album is to be released on this label on July 31, 2001. It’s “Item Number: COL6161” and “Item UPC: 090431616123.” Note, however, that it is only the original album. It does not include any bonus tracks, but with WORD FROM BIRD out as its own CD now (see my review elsewhere), the extra tracks used on
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