Several people have asked why I’ve kept the blog mostly inactive lately, to which I can only respond a blend of inertia and too much work. However, a Facebook post on Teddy Edwards from a friend prompts me to share this interview I did with him in 1999 for a liner note for a two-tenor date that he did with Houston Person. He went deeply into his personal biography, but what’s interesting to me is that this recounting came about almost free-associatively, in response to questions about his relationship to each of the tunes. On the top is the liner note, followed by the verbatim interview — I had closely read an oral history that Patricia Willard conducted with Mr. Edwards for the Institute of Jazz Studies, which I had transcribed some years earlier — I’d love to share that as well, but am not at liberty to do so.
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Though Teddy Edwards, sixty-two years as a professional musician under his belt, knows a thing or two about the cutting contest function, he claims that it was never a context he favored. “I used to do it,” says the 74-year-old tenor saxophonist, “but I was never really a warrior. I’d rather make love to the horn than fight with it.”
Which is not to say that Edwards wouldn’t enthusiastically tie it up with the fastest company back in the day or the here-and-now, nor that circumstance mightn’t occasionally raise the Taurus bull within him. Iconic tenor champions Edwards locked horns and matched wits with in venues ranging from lowdown after hours joints and prestigious arenas include Gene Ammons, Wardell Gray, Dexter Gordon, Paul Gonsalves and legions of the famous and obscure. In 1994, Houston Person, the tenorman with the mammoth sound who doubles as a producer, jumped on an opportunity to bring Professor Edwards into Rudy Van Gelder’s studios for a friendly encounter. That was “Horn To Horn” [Muse 5540], and it came off so well, they decided to do it again.
Each tune is a memory-raiser, evoking complex webs of associations and relationships for the tenor cohorts. Edwards’ recollections date to the early 1940’s, when he played a major part in codifying the vocabulary of post-swing tenor saxophone.
Consider the spirited version of “Twisted,” an ebullient Wardell Gray line from 1948 which inspired a still-hilarious lyric by Annie Ross (“my analyst told me that I was out of my head…”). Edwards and Gray met as teenage alto saxophonists making their way up the ladder in Detroit. “We first worked together in 1942 at the Congo Club in Detroit’s Norwood Hotel, ” Edwards recalls in his hotel room following at week’s engagement at New York’s Iridium. “It was a great job, a great place. Howard McGhee, Bernie Peacock, Big Nick Nicholas, Matthew Gee, Al McKibbon and a lot of great players came out of that band — Sonny Stitt, Rudy Rutherford, Milt Jackson, Hank Jones and Lucky Thompson were also in Detroit during those days. We had a chorus line and we’d get the top acts for the week after they left the Paradise, Detroit’s black theater. Wardell and I were partners in Detroit and later in California; we studied together through the years, practicing the various saxophone books, playing duets, developing our facilities. Wardell was very thorough at what he did. Every morning he’d take that saxophone out of the case and put it on the bed. He was a light-hearted, joyful type of guy with a good sense of humor and a good spirit. He had great confidence in what he was doing because he prepared himself. If he was going to play in a jam session at night he’d get up early in the morning and get his thing together!”
Edwards arrived in Detroit in 1940, a 16-year-old professional who’d already worked four years in big bands arouind his native Jackson, Mississippi. “When I was a kid in Jackson, I learned about harmony, which gave me a lot of security. I was 12 when I met my father, a strong reading musician who played with Silas Green’s tent show (about the strongest one out there), but he had left an Orem harmony book on our piano, and I started listening to it as well as my cousin’s piano book. All of the bands came through to play Jackson, which had over 100,000 people — it wasn’t a little whistle stop. It had a lot of fine musicians. We had two good big bands in Jackson, with good arrangers, and 19 miles away was Piney Woods College, which had several bands — the Sweethearts of Rhythm came out of there. My grandfather, Henry Carson Reed, was one of the early upright bass players, so all of the guys knew my family, and they encouraged me and brought me along. The people who ran the dance-halls knew me and what I was doing as a kid, and they let me come hear the bands.
“Some musicians in my first band talked about how a fellow who came through Jackson had chopped everybody down playing in a chordal style, and I started looking at the chords real seriously. I learned to transpose them verbatim as fast as the piano called them to me. I ran up and down the chords, until eventually I learned how to hook them up and make statements. That’s the way I learned to play, not from records. I loved Johnny Hodges, Willie Smith, Hilton Jefferson, Tab Smith and a lot of others, but I never copied them. I learned how to improvise, turn the chords around, and make them melodies. You learn how to choose the notes you want to make your statements out of these different sound bodies, which is what I call chords. They aren’t numbers; they’re groups of sounds, and you reach in there and pick the notes you want to get the colors you’re looking for. People have always responded to me, as far as I can remember. When I was 12 years old I could always satisfy an audience of adults. I was born with that. I generate the feeling within myself, and then it goes out. You put a little timbre on those chords, you can put some stuff on those notes, man!
Gene Ammons was famous for doing precisely that; he had an early ’50s jukebox hit with “Pennies From Heaven.” Edwards met him playing with King Kolax at the Champion Bar on Hastings Street, where Detroit’s sporting crowd held office hours. “I was young and full of fire,” he laughs, “and I’d go there and sit in with Jug and Lank Keyes, who were just getting their thing together, and fire it up! Gene Ammons had that big sound and wonderful feeling.” Edwards and Person take it at the camelwalk clip that drummer Kenny Washington likes to call the grown-up’s tempo. “I like the song,” Edwards continues. “It’s a good vehicle, and especially on rainy days and nights I play it as a perky thing, talking about the ‘pennies from heaven, and good fortune’s blowing all over town, even if your umbrella is upside-down.'”
Edwards switched from alto to tenor when he landed in Los Angeles in 1945. “Howard McGhee decided to stay after he finished an engagement with Coleman Hawkins at Billy Berg’s,” Edwards told Patricia Willard in an interview for the Oral History Project of the Institute of Jazz Studies. “He was searching around, trying to find a tenor saxophone player that he liked, and he couldn’t find anybody. So he asked me to switch and hook up with him, and I thought it was a good idea. I was able to transfer my knowledge of how to get through the chords. I always had my own sound on both instruments.”
Edwards’ solo on “Up In Dodo’s Room,” a 1946 Spotlite recording, was significant in the evolution of swing-to-bop tenor vocabulary. “I didn’t realize that the solo had any significance until I met Fats Navarro in 1948,” he told Willard. “‘Look,’ he said, ‘do you realize that you changed the course of history? That solo was the first solo by any tenor saxophone player that didn’t come from the Lester Young or the Coleman Hawkins school.’ If I remember correctly, the solo had all the half-steps; it had the major-seventh, which was just beginning to get popular; and it had the flat nine. I played all the hip stuff that they call hip today in 1945.”
Back at the hotel, he continues: “The main thing I learned from Bebop in terms of harmony was the use of the flat-five, which Howard McGhee pulled my coat to. You can’t be a bebop player if you don’t know how to alternate it. It was a natural evolution, just going with the flow. I moved into it as the music progressed, and fortunately I was in these different scenes as it was happening. Naturally, environment plays a part, and the songs open your eyes to different things. Charlie Parker, like Dizzy said, showed us how to really phrase that music. But I had this knowledge that I carried with me all the time, and everything else became easy, especially once I got my hands to where I could play fast.”
At the time Edwards switched, Chu Berry, Illinois Jacquet and Lester Young had put their stamp on “Ghost Of A Chance,” a popular vehicle ever since for tenor players of the romantic persuasion, as Edwards and Person are. It’s primarily a feature for Edwards, who vocalizes his horn to the max, a sour-sweet, been there-done that, never-jaded tone, extracting every bit of emotion from the lovely theme.
Person puts his trademark plush tone and intense melodicism on “Little Girl Blue,” his feature. “It’s a saxophonist’s song,” says the 64-year-old South Carolina native. “I’m a big Hank Mobley nut, and he did one of my favorite versions of it, so this was done with him in mind — I just played it like I play it.”
Which is the spirit they bring to “Blue and Sentimental,” a song rife with tenoristic implication since Herschel Evans recorded it as a tenor feature in 1938 with the Basie band. “I never heard Herschel play in person,” Edwards states, “but the records I remember very well. This was one of my favorites. Herschel was in the Coleman Hawkins school, and he had a beautiful touch.”
“I was into Lester Young, and didn’t hear Herschel Evans until later,” Person recalls. “That was my first song ever in my college band. They had another saxophone player who played it great, but he was a senior and was leaving, so I got the spot.” College was South Carolina State, where Person began playing the saxophone after years of diverse listening that spanned Charlie Parker and Illinois Jacquet (his main influence) to Stan Kenton to the Fisk Jubilee Singers. “We had a piano in the house, which my mother played, and I had experience with the youth choir in church, but that was about it for me until my father got me a saxophone for Christmas late in high school. I just liked the sound of it. On the tenor saxophone it just seems you can get all the different sounds that you want.” Person enrolled in the Army in 1956 and was stationed in Germany, where he encountered Eddie Harris (“he gave me a lot of helpful help”), lifelong friend Cedar Walton, and Leo Wright. After his discharge, he enrolled at Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Connecticut, and began his distinguished career playing all manner of gigs on the New England circuit.
Person often heard soul tenor king Willis “Gatortail” Jackson play “The Breeze and I,” Ernesto Leuconia’s Latinate line which ends the session. Edwards’ notey, swooping style contrasts nicely here with Person’s blues-shout-style locutions.
Both have played the familiar refrain of “Night Train” — purloined from Duke Ellington’s “Happy Go Lucky Local” by Jimmy Forrest — thousands of times over the years. “I became very familiar with this song when I worked in the burlesque clubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the early and middle ’50s,” Edwards says. “To eat and support a family, you had to come up with something. But I learned a lot. In the first place, I always felt that you make every experience pay off for you, regardless of what it is. Now, the biggest thing I got from playing for those strippers was learning how to play the melody real well, because I had time to think. You could build your strength, because you usually didn’t have a bass. All those things make you strong.”
Teddy Edwards and Houston Person are self-made men, individualists who found their sounds by inner conviction and diligent work. “There was a lot of do-it-yourself when I came up,” Edwards states, “because you didn’t have a lot of good teachers to go to like you have now. You didn’t have play-along records. On the other hand, you came up through bands which trained you. That was before television, which took away the stages where things would come along naturally. That’s when bands would travel on the road, really practice, have section rehearsals and get things down. Now everything is wrapped up in a package for you. I know some real famous musicians who I can tell didn’t have band training when I hear them play. Something about coming through that band era gave you another thing.”
Neither got where they are by looking backward. As Person puts it, “Cutting contests were a great ritual back then, and it was all done in advancing good musicianship and people trying to establish their turf, so to speak. But this date isn’t a cutting contest. We got together with an appreciation for what’s gone before and what’s happening now, trying to pay homage to guys who made contributions. We tried to show mutual admiration for each other, and tried to have fun. Everybody’s adding company to the legacy.”
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Teddy Edwards (3-22-99):
TP: With “Twisted” we have to think about Wardell Gray.
EDWARDS: He was my first partner. We first worked together in 1942, and we worked at a club called the Congo Club in Detroit. It was a great job, a great place. Howard McGhee came out of that band, Matthew Gee came out of the band, Bernie Peacock, and a lot of great, great players. George “Big Nick” Nicholas…
TP: You mentioned also the lead alto player with Lunceford.
EDWARDS: Ted Buckner. He came into the band after he left Jimmy Lunceford’s band. He inspired me to… I was 18 years old, I was playing lead alto, so I said, “Well, I’m going to have to give up this alto chair, this lead chair” when he came in. He said, “Youngblood, you’re doing fine. You just stick to the lead, it’s okay; we’ll split the lead little,” and I sat next to him and heard him play.
TP: And Kelly Martin was the drummer, right?
EDWARDS: He was the original drummer, but we had two or three drummers while I was there. Vernon Brown was another fine drummer, and Johnny Allen became a leader… During that time a lot of guys were getting drafted. Al McKibbon was with the band during the time we were there. We had a chorus line and we were getting the top acts when they left the Paradise Theater in Detroit. They had a black theater chain where the bands would go to different theaters…
TP: In Detroit they’d play the Paradise.
EDWARDS: They’d play the Paradise Theater in Detroit. When they’d go to Chicago…
TP: Was the Congo Club analogous to the De Lisa in Chicago, a similar type of room?
EDWARDS: Well, I imagine you could say that in the sense that they had a band and a chorus line and different kinds of acts. But the Congo Club was something very-very special. It was a beautiful room in the Norwood Hotel at 555 E. Adams in (?) Detroit. But we were out in California when Wardell made “Twisted,” and then “Stoned” and what’s that other thing…”my analyst said”… [LAUGHS]
TP: That’s “Twisted.” It still sounds good.
EDWARDS: Oh, that’s a great line. I remember when he made that line. That was in ’48, when he left Los Angeles to go to New York to record for Prestige Records. We were real partners. We studied together through the years.
TP: You were all playing alto at that time.
EDWARDS: In Detroit. But when we got to California we were all playing tenor.
TP: I know why you switched to tenor. It was circumstances, because Howard McGhee had been with Coleman Hawkins…
EDWARDS: He liked the sound.
TP: Why did Wardell Gray switch to tenor? Because Charlie Parker was taking up too much space?
EDWARDS: No, it wasn’t that. I think he switched to tenor because he liked it. I think he switched to tenor with a band called Benny Carew, one of the Midwest bands. But he just liked the tenor, like a lot of guys. I don’t think it’s that Charlie Parker ran you off your instrument. He didn’t run me off mine. [LAUGHS] But I think he just picked up playing the tenor.
TP: You said that the two of you practiced together all the time.
EDWARDS: We practiced in the books, the saxophone books, playing duets, all the Singerland stuff, developing our facilities.
TP: You also said that I think the contractor for the Congo Club band helped you with your sound.
EDWARDS: Oh, Stack Walton. He was a tenor player. He inherited the band. The band was changing pretty fast in those days, the personnel. When I first came into the band actually some of the guys preferred Sonny Stitt and Rudy Rutherford who were a little more advanced than I was in playing the saxophone and the clarinet. But he liked what I was doing; he said, “I like what you’re doing.” We were playing in a shell; man, that shell was eating my little sound up, so he showed me how to develop my diaphragm. And I practiced real hard. I practiced before the gig and after the gig…
TP: Were you like a big sound alto player, like Willie Smith or Johnny Hodges?
EDWARDS: I had my own sound. I’ve always had my own…
TP: Can you describe your sound on the alto.
EDWARDS: Well, it’s hard to describe your sound. You have to hear it. But I’ve always had my own sound on the alto and even on the tenor. I think it’s just a matter of me doing it my way, the way I learned how to do it. I never tried to copy Johnny Hodges or copy Willie Smith, but I loved those guys. I loved Hilton Jefferson, I loved Tab Smith, I loved a lot of them. But I didn’t sit down and say “I’m going to try to play like this.” I never did.
TP: It was all functional for you.
TP: Playing a situation…
EDWARDS: Right, and learning. Just learning. Fortunately I learned about harmony real early, so that gave me a lot of security. My father had left a harmony book on the piano. I never saw him until I was 12 years old, but that Orem harmony book stayed on the top of our piano all those years, and then I started listening to it. Then I’d look in my cousin’s piano book and think about what was going on with the music. Then I heard the guys in my first band talk about a fellow who came through home playing a chord style named Devarney from Milwaukee. They were talking about how he chopped everybody down playing these chords, and I started looking the chords real seriously. I learned to play the chords verbatim. I could transpose them verbatim as the piano called them to me; as fast as you called them, I could transpose them. I’d just run up and down the chords, until eventually I learned how to hook them up and make statements. That’s the way I learned to play instead of listening… I listened to the records, but I didn’t just copy off the records.
TP: You had a very good opportunity as a kid to play with these very good, professional bands.
EDWARDS: We had two good bands at home, with good arrangers. We had two good bands in Jackson, big bands. So I was very fortunate as a kid. My grandfather was one of the early upright bass players, so all of the guys knew my family, and they encouraged me and brought me along.
TP: It sounds like when you were a kid you needed a 36-hour day. You were working pressing clothes, practicing, playing gigs, going to school and doing pretty well.
EDWARDS: Right. My aunt had a cleaners. I used to press clothes in the morning, I’d clean clothes in the morning and go to school, come back and practice, and go do some more work at the cleaners, and then come back and rest and go to my night gig.
TP: Say a few more words about Wardell Gray personally.
EDWARDS: He was very thorough at what he did. One thing that I saw him do first thing every morning, he’d take that saxophone out of the case and put it on the bed. That way you’d pick it up. You see? First thing in the morning he’d take it out of the case and put it on the bed. That’s what he would do. He read all the time; he read all kinds of things, you know. Every night when we got off, he’d get the newspaper. He loved to read. Hampton Hawes loved to read, too. He had his way about him. We were good friends. He was light-hearted and kind of a joyful type guy. He had a good sense of humor and a good spirit.
TP: you can hear it in his playing.
EDWARDS: Oh yeah. Good spirit, a lot of spirit. He had great confidence in what he was doing, because he prepared himself. He really prepared himself, much more than I did, in a sense. Because if he was going to play in a jam session at night he’d get up early in the morning and get his thing together! [LAUGHS] Get his stuff together to bring to the jam session.
TP: Let’s move on to “Ghost of A Chance.”
EDWARDS: During the ’40s, “Ghost of A Chance” became popular amongst the tenor players. Illinois Jacquet had done his recording on it and Lester Young had done it. So it was kind of a good vehicle for tenor players, popular among the tenor players. So I was just another (?) to “Ghost of A Chance.” And it’s a great song. In fact, I should do it more often.
TP: Well, for your sound it’s really custom-made.
EDWARDS: [LAUGHS] Yes, I should do it more often. I’ve done it once or twice maybe since I did this record. But it’s such a great vehicle. It’s got good room for you to work.
TP: Let’s get back to your being an original stylist even though you were in the middle of things. Lester Young had such a profound impact on people, and Coleman Hawkins on a lot of the Detroit guys like Yusef Lateef and Lucky Thompson…
EDWARDS: Well, they came off that tree. I think Ben Webster and Don Byas later on influenced Lucky more than Coleman Hawkins. But they came from Coleman Hawkins. They’re off that tree. The big tree was Coleman Hawkins and the next big tree was Lester Young. From Lester, Stan Getz, Wardell, Dexter, Gene Ammons and all of them leaned heavily.
TP: But for you, what was your relation to that music? I know you admired it.
EDWARDS: I admired it. I listened to all the great players, altos and tenors or whatever. But when I changed from the alto to the tenor, I just transferred my knowledge. I knew how to get through the chords. And that’s been a very-very valuable thing to me, even to today. I’m so thankful that I learned as a kid about the chords, how to improvise and turn them around and try them…
TP: Make them melodies.
EDWARDS: Make them melodies. You learn how to choose the notes you want to make your statements out of these different sound bodies. That’s what chords are. I call them sound bodies. You reach in there and get what you want. You might not want but one note out of this one, or you might want three or four of them, then you might want to alter them, learn how to alter the chords, add to them and find the common tones that will work… In fact, I wrote a song called “April Love” that I can play one note all the way through the whole song; just one note is common to every chord in this whole song. You look for these kind of things when you’re playing.
TP: So chords correlate to sounds and colors for you.
EDWARDS: Oh yes.
TP: They’re not numbers. They’re sounds. They’re vivid.
EDWARDS: They’re not numbers at all. They’re sounds. I call them sound bodies, groups of sounds. You pick what you want out of the sound. I can run up and down, naturally; that’s how I learned how to play. I can go down… But then I like to alter them, you know, sharp this or flatten that, or add this to it. It might be a VII chord and I add a IX, or maybe a XIII to it, or raise the V or inflect the IX — anything to get the colors that I want to get.
TP: Were you into that level of harmony by the time you got to California?
EDWARDS: I was pretty much in it. You know, the main thing I learned from the Bebop era as far as harmony was concerned was about the use of the flat-five. I didn’t know that one. Then Howard McGhee pulled my coat how to alternate like the V-minor VII to the chord, the VII chord and alternate it. You can’t be a bebop player if you don’t know how to alternate it. You’ve got to learn how to work it.
TP: What you’re saying is that the really revolutionary thing in bebop was the way rhythm was approached and not so much the harmony?
EDWARDS: Oh, the harmony was very important. And the speed that you needed to play. Guys were playing fast. You needed good chops, good technique to play, and we practiced to have that. No, the harmony was definitely strong.
TP: Why for you was it such a big break? Did you align yourself firmly as someone who was a Bebopper as-opposed-to, or was it just a natural line of descent?
EDWARDS: It was just a natural line of descent. I just moved into it as the music progressed, and fortunately I was in these different scenes as it was happening. Naturally, environment plays a part on you, and the songs open your eyes to different things. Charlie Parker, like Dizzy said, showed us how to really phrase that music, how to get the phrasing out of it. But it was just a natural evolution, more or less. Just going with the flow. But I had this knowledge that I carried with me all the time, and everything else became easy, especially once I got my hands up real good where I could play fast.
TP: Did you know Lester Young well? I know he had a house in L.A.
EDWARDS: Not real well, no. But I had occasion to meet him. In fact, he played my horn one night in San Francisco at Bop City. But I met him after he had come out of the Army, and he was kind of…oh, what I say…
EDWARDS: Introverted. He didn’t want to have too much to do with anybody, because the Army had really…
TP: Let’s talk about “Night Train.” We can talk about Ellington and big bands and “The Happy-Go-Lucky Local,” and we can talk about Jimmy Forrest and that way of playing the horn.
EDWARDS: Well, I first heard “Night Train” around ’44 when it first came out. I was in Seattle, Washington, when I was playing a dance with Ernie Fields’ Orchestra, and I heard it on a jukebox. Everybody was putting their nickels on this song, and it was very strong, very popular. But it wasn’t exactly in the vein that I was in. I was closer to the Bebop vein. He had the Bebop knowledge thing going himself, Jimmy Forrest, but he chose to make this record, “Night Train,” which later on I found was almost a direct copy of Duke Ellington’s “Happy Go Lucky Local.” Some might say he’s very fortunate that Duke Ellington didn’t sue him about it, which I don’t think he ever did bring a case against him — because he had a clear case as far as the copyright issue is concerned. Then Buddy Morrow came along and put his twist to it, and he had a big record on “Night Train.”
Now, I used to play this song when I worked in the burlesque clubs for the dancers. “Night Train” was one of the themes; they’d make their bumps and all that stuff. The strippers had about four or five tunes that they really took a liking to. I used to play it, and that’s how I became very familiar with the song.
TP: You were still in Detroit?
EDWARDS: I played in some burlesque places in San Francisco and Los Angeles. When you had to eat and had a family, you had to come up with something.
TP: In the later ’40s and early ’50s.
EDWARDS: Mostly part of the early ’50s and some of the middle ’50s.
TP: You’d be behind the screen?
EDWARDS: Well, you would be off to the side. You wouldn’t be hid behind the screen, but off the scene completely. But I learned a lot by playing in those burlesque places. In the first place, I always felt that you make every experience pay off for you, regardless of what it is. Now, when I played for those burlesque dancers, I studied playing the melody. I had to play the melody real well. That’s the biggest thing I got from that, was learning how to play the melody real good, and I’m thankful for the burlesque clubs! [LAUGHS] I had time to think about the melody we were playing. You could build up your strength in your playing, because you usually didn’t have a bass. You’d have drums and a piano in those places, and sometimes you’d play two of you at a time, maybe just you and the drums playing 15 minutes and you and the piano player playing 15 minutes, then you’d play 15 minutes all together. All those things make you strong.
TP: you’ve been working since you were 12, right?
TP: In this oral history, after about 3 hours of it, you’re up to age 18.
TP: There’s an obvious difference between the musicians of your generation and the people who are under 40, say. Talk about that do-it-yourself quality.
EDWARDS: During those days there was a lot of do-it-yourself, because you didn’t have a lot of good teachers to go to like you have now. You didn’t have play-along records to play with. On the other hand, you had bands to come up through and train. That was before television. That’s when bands used to really practice and rehearse and get the things down real good. Traveling on the road together, you’d have section rehearsals, and before they’d put the band together… You don’t have much of that any more now. Everything is so wrapped up in a package for you. I know some real famous musicians who I can tell when I hear them play, like on their records…I can tell they didn’t have band training. Something about them coming through that band era that gave them another thing. I could tell.
TP: It seems for a lot of the guys who came up during your time and a little before, a little after music was a religion.
EDWARDS: Oh, that’s what it was. See, television changed things a whole lot. Television took away the stages. Every little club had a little stage, and they’d have a tap dancer or something. Television wiped all that out. Television took away a lot of things that were coming along naturally. If you were a dancer and you wasn’t dancing on television, you wouldn’t have nowhere to dance. You see what I’m saying? Then the music got that way. If you weren’t sitting in one of those studio bands recording, you’re not getting too far, unless you’re a big star who can get out here and make it on your own. But I would never aspire to be a musician, even though I played for the studio; they’d call me when they want what I have — in special situations.
TP: They want your sound.
EDWARDS: Right. Like, I played on the movie, Jane Fonda…
TP: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They.
EDWARDS: I played on that one, too. That was Johnny Green. I did it for George Donen, who did Any Wednesday with Jane Fonda. He had the contractor call me. The contractor said, “Teddy Edwards?” I said, “yes.” He said, “Mr. Donen wants you on this soundtrack. There’s a 60-piece orchestra. Mr George Donen, who wants you on this soundtrack.” He said, “Do you read music?” I said, “I’ve been reading it all my life practically.” “Well, he said he doesn’t care whether you read music or not. He wants you on here, because he wants your sound on this movie soundtrack.” Then he had me playing a special thing on clarinet, which I had no idea, with my name on my part, you know, to play this special clarinet part for this movie.
TP: A customized part for you.
EDWARDS: He liked my sound. He had heard my playing with Gerald Wilson, and he loved the sound I got out of the horn.
TP: Gerald Wilson’s band must have been a nice outlet for you over the years.
EDWARDS: Oh, that was a great band. That was one of the finest bands ever been, that’s for sure, the band of the early ’60s — the real band. We had probably the finest reed section I played with; I liked the way we sounded. We had Jack Nimitz on baritone, Harold Land on the other tenor, Joe Maini playing lead alto…
TP: Did you meet Gerald Wilson in Detroit?
EDWARDS: No, I didn’t really meet him. He had left when I came there. I’m trying to think of the other alto player. He was a good alto player; in fact, I got him a contract with Contemporary Records. [Jimmy Woods.] Anyway, we had a great blend in that reed section. I played with Basie, with the saxophone section, but sitting in there it didn’t have that… It was a great section, but it had a lot of individual… Everything is individual in that reed section. Even though when it comes out, it came out great. But we were on a one-mind kind of thing with the Gerald Wilson saxophone section. We were on the same thinking plane as far as the sound of the music.
TP: And that seems to be a thing that you see throughout with guys from your period, who came up then, probably because of that band training.
EDWARDS: Oh, it was a big help.
TP: Now, in Jackson, it would seem kind of a backwater, but a lot of bands came through and you were able to keep up with a lot of music.
EDWARDS: All of the bands came through Jackson to play Jackson. Well, we had over 100,000 people in Jackson. We had a 22-story building when they only had 12 in Los Angeles. You know what I mean? It wasn’t a little whistle stop. It had a lot of fine musicians. Then there was Piney Woods, down 19 miles at Piney Woods College where they had several band. They had the male bands, then they had the Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first all-girl band which came out of there. The Daughters of Rhythm came out of there. So a lot of excellent musicians were in that vicinity. Plus the bands that came through playing the dance, and the people who ran the dance-halls, they knew me and what I was doing as a kid, and they let me come up and hear the bands.
TP: Well, you had a story of being able to hear the Ellington band through the grace of one nice guy.
EDWARDS: One nice guy, yeah.
TP: Which we don’t have to repeat here. But you did say that Johnny Hodges was your early idol.
EDWARDS: Well, he was the first one who really got to my ears. But the first song I learned how to play was Wayne King’s theme song, “The Waltz You Sing For Me.” That was the first song, from the radio, where I learned how to play it. Then Johnny Hodges came, and I loved that sound and that feeling that he had, even though I never copied him verbatim — but he influenced me. Then I heard Hilton Jefferson with Cab Calloway, and that was another thing of beauty to me. He’s not the most famous saxophone player, but he was beautiful, Hilton Jefferson with Cab Calloway’s band. There were a lot of different guys who came through. Tab Smith.
TP: You had to have heard Budd Johnson with Earl Hines’ band which came through the south.
EDWARDS: Oh, I heard Budd with Earl Hines’ band. That’s when he had Billy Eckstine. This was in the ’30s. Billy Eckstine was with the band, he had George Dixon, the baritone player, who was the guy who played jazz on a flute. A lot of guys claimed later, but he was the first guy…
TP: George Dixon, huh?
EDWARDS: George Dixon. He was the baritone player with Earl Fatha Hines. He had the great singer Walter Fuller singing with him, and Madeleine Green singing, and Keg Johnson playing the trombone. Earl Hines had some fantastic bands.
TP: But also, you mentioned you heard the beginning of the Earl Hines band that had Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in Detroit.
EDWARDS: Oh, right, the first gig.
TP: Bird left McShann in Detroit and joined Earl Hines. Do you have a memory of the band?
EDWARDS: Oh, it was great. In fact, that picture in the book that Francis Paudras wrote about Charlie Parker… Opening up the book, they’ve got a picture of Sarah Vaughan in that band playing piano back-to-back with Earl Fatha Hines. They had two white grand pianos back to back on the stage. I was sitting there when that picture was taken. I said, “Damn, I was there when that picture was made.” I was at the opening show. [LAUGHS]
TP: That’s when you first met Charlie Parker, was in Detroit at that time?
EDWARDS: I met him the week before, when he was with McShann. But I had listened to him on his recordings with McShann, like “Hootie Blues” and “Sepian Bounce” and “Swingmatism,” those great solos that he played.
TP: so you knew right from the top that he was doing something special.
EDWARDS: Oh, he was doing something special, no question about it. He had a little tinge of Lester Young in him back then, a little tinge of Lester Young on that alto. If you listen to him close. Lester Young was his idol, you know.
TP: When he did the few things on tenor, you can hear it.
EDWARDS: The few things on tenor. But I’ll tell you, he hadn’t played the tenor long enough for his embouchure to get right for the tenor. It would have been brighter. It was kind of dark because his chops hadn’t come up to that tenor thing. It’s another kind of thing.
TP: Talk about the difference, what the challenges are.
EDWARDS: The big challenge is that if you play one, your ear gets set to that one. If you’re playing a tenor, your ear gets set to the tenor, then when you pick the alto up, it’s a fifth away. So your ear has got to make the adjustment, you see. But now, if you play them both all the time a lot, then it’s easy. It becomes natural. But if you stay with one and go to the other… Then what you have to do, like in my case… You have to use your mind. I know that this chord goes because I want to play this chord. I can use my mind that way, see. But it’s an ear thing, where your ear knows where the notes are.
TP: A lot of alto players say it’s harder to play the alto than it is to play the tenor.
EDWARDS: It’s not harder to play. They have different demands on you. Controlling the pitch of the alto is a little more delicate than the tenor, because it’s higher. The soprano is really rough to control. But the you’ve got to have more wind down on the tenor. So they have their differences.
TP: Let’s go to “Blue and Sentimental,” with a real Basie connotation.
EDWARDS: I first heard Herschel play that with the Basie band on the records. I never did hear him play in person, but the records I remember very well. It was one of my favorites, and Lester played 8 bars on the clarinet on that recording of “Blue And Sentimental.” Herschel was on the Coleman Hawkins school, but he had a beautiful touch. [SINGS REFRAIN]
TP: Big and gentle.
EDWARDS: yeah, he was something beautiful. Died real young.
TP: Were you as much into the Basie band of that time as you were Lunceford and Ellington?
EDWARDS: Oh yeah. Man, when Basie came along, that was a revelation. When Basie came along with that all-American rhythm section, they had Lester sitting on one hand and Herschel on the other, they had Harry Edison sitting on one corner and Buck Clayton sitting on the other one. Goodness me. That was power-power-power. Papa Jo Jones sitting back there on the drums.
TP: On the previous record with Houston Person, you were dealing with a little later repertoire, like you did “Equinox” and Richard Wyands put “Moose the Mooche” on the intro to “Lester Leaps In.” This one puts you more in the older school.
EDWARDS: I guess so.
TP: So if someone’s listening to this record, they won’t necessarily know what you’re a modernist player…
EDWARDS: I imagine they’d be surprised. Because I had most of the leads in the “Night Train” thing. I thought about my burlesque days. That’s going to be a strong song on this record, too.
TP: Again, I don’t want to put you back as someone who stopped at 1952 in a burlesque house, because I know what you did. Talk to me about how your repertoire… Do you work all over with a touring band, or do you pick them up when you come to town?
EDWARDS: Well, mostly I’m picking up bands, because I’m not a big commercial item.
TP: You’re someone for the connoisseurs.
EDWARDS: Yes, more or less, the collectors and all those people. And I gain all the time new people. My problem has not been with the audience. If I have a problem, it’s been with the negotiators — the agents and the managers. They’ve never taken a liking to me. But people have always responded to me, as far as I can remember, when I was 12 years old. I could always satisfy an audience. I never lost that. I got that. I was born with that. Nobody can ever take that away.
TP: you were born with that.
EDWARDS: I was born with that. I can make the people feel what I’m doing.
TP: And when you were 12 years old…
EDWARDS: I could do the same. To adults. I could do it then. That’s just a thing that was natural to me. Well, I understood in later years why I was that way.
EDWARDS: It’s a case of… I’d compare it to a radio set. You’ve got a transmitter and a receiver. The audience is the receiver. The artist is the transmitter. Now, in order to transmit, you have to generate, and you generate it within yourself. You see, I generate the feeling within myself, and then it goes out. And it’s going to get through. You can be sitting at the bar talking, but I’m going to get through to you in your subconscious. I’m going to get through to you most of the time. Because that’s the way I am. I can project the music that way, because I can build it within myself. And I know, because these sound waves can go through this building!
TP: What sound does to people. And chords are sound.
EDWARDS: Oh yeah. You put a little timbre on those chords, you can put some stuff on those notes, man. It gets real deep.
TP: Another guy who was like that was Gene Ammons, who I associate with “Pennies From Heaven.” He had a little hit on that, didn’t he?
EDWARDS: Oh, yeah, Jug did.
TP: You met him in Detroit, too, with King Kolax.
EDWARDS: Yes, with the King Kolax band. He was playing at the Champion Ballroom on Hastings Street, and I used to go over there and sit in with him. Because I was young and full of fire. Jug and Lank Keyes and them, they were just getting their thing together, and I’d go over there and sit in with them and fire it up! Yeah, Gene Ammons had that big sound and that wonderful feeling.
TP: But you and he also had that good-natured cutting contest type of attitude… Not cutting contest, but matching sounds or wits or whatever you want to call it.
EDWARDS: Well, that was going on. I used to do it, but I was never really a warrior. I’d rather make love to the horn rather than fighting it.
TP: That can be a battle, too.
EDWARDS: [LAUGHS] But that was the thing. We were doing it. Okay, let’s tie it up here. Like, Stanley Turrentine still talks about the time he heard Paul Gonsalves and me in San Francisco. He said, “I never will forget that as long as I live, the night I heard you and Paul get together.” But you get together sometimes and the thing will be working. And it’s good. I did several tenor things. I did a tour with Buck Hill and Von Freeman in Holland, on which we had a lot of fun. It was a friendly fight going on between us. And Dexter… All the guys through the years, we would tie it up there, and… A tenor player, Joe…
TP: Joe Alexander.
EDWARDS: No. He was a white kid. Played real good.
TP: These days?
EDWARDS: We made a record with Frank Butler together on Xanadu.
TP: Oh, Joe Farrell.
EDWARDS: Right, Joe Farrell.
TP: From Chicago also.
EDWARDS: Yeah, he was an excellent player. Now, we kind of got off on a bad leg, but we got close. I was sitting in the studio waiting on everybody to come in. But he didn’t know me really. I’m sitting there when he came in, I spoke to him, and he barely spoke! So I said, “Okay. We’ll see about this when they turn the tape on.” [LAUGHS] He didn’t know me. I could have just been a chair sitting there as far as the way we talked about a greeting. It kind of raised that old Taurus bull up in me a little bit. “Okay, when they turn the machine on, we’ll straighten all of this out.” We became real close.
TP: I was mentioning my associating Gene Ammons to “Pennies From Heaven.” What was your association to it?
EDWARDS: Well, I like the song. It’s a good vehicle, and especially on rainy days and rainy nights I was would play it as a good perky thing, talking about the “pennies from heaven, and good fortune’s blowing all over town, even if your umbrella is upside-down.”
TP: Do you sing in performances now?
EDWARDS: No, I never went into singing too much. I sing on Blue Saxophone, “Hymn For the Homeless,” but anybody could sing it. It didn’t take a great singer to sing that.
TP: But you’re a lyrics man, obviously.
EDWARDS: I’m a lyrics writer. Yes, I’m a lyricist.
TP: When you play these tunes, you know the lyrics.
EDWARDS: I have an idea about most of them. I might not know what all… But I know what the lyricist is talking about. I know the subject matter, and that’s important, to help you to express the song and know what it’s talking about.
TP: Talk a bit about playing with Houston Person.
EDWARDS: Oh, Houston’s a joy to play with. He’s just like a big baby boy. In fact, when he got his job producing with Muse Records, I think he might have been the very first person he called. I was under contract to Polygram, which killed that, but then later on when we talked again I said, “I can record as a sideman or co-leader for another label, but I can’t record as a leader under my contract.” He said, “Good, let’s make one together; we’ll co-lead it.” That’s how we made Horn To Horn.
TP: Tell me about the rhythm section guys. Kenny Washington.
EDWARDS: Oh, Kenny’s a beauty. He’s steady as a rock. I always enjoy playing with him.
TP: He knows what to play, knows what not to play.
EDWARDS: Oh yeah. Well, in the first place he’s a music historian. Not just jazz, many forms of music. He’s an historian, and he knows what goes where. He’s very knowledgeable about the subject.
TP: Ray Drummond plays beautifully on this record. His solos are like Paul Chambers.
EDWARDS: He has that sound.
TP: And Stan Hope?
EDWARDS: Well, that was my first time playing with him. The reason he made the date, somebody couldn’t make it, so Houston said, “We can use my regular piano player.” I said, “If you like him, he must be good.” And he was wonderful, played great.