This is the third part of my attempt to document the under-heard tradition of astounding jazz trombone work. The first part of the series is here. The second is here. This installment is a departure from the past: there is less trombone playing (it’s really more of a vocal disk) on this album than the other things I’ve chosen to highlight, but it’s just too good a record for me to ignore here.
Think Well of Me
I have a fascination with what happens when great artists get near the end of their run. Late Beethoven string quartets come to mind as the archetypal example, but post-1960’s Lawrence Brown recordings, Johnny Hodges’ performance on “…and his mother called him Bill”, and Eric Dolphy’s last European recordings also fit the bill. This recording, Teagarden’s second to last studio date, is filled with the gravitas which make these things such powerful documents.
The facts: Teagarden went into the studio in January of 1962 and ended up recording 11 songs, most of which were written by under-lauded composer Willard Robinson (best known for Old Folks, which Miles Davis recorded on the Someday My Prince Will Come record). He’s backed by Don Goldie, a trumpeter who played in Teagarden’s last touring ensemble, a rhythm section, and a string orchestra which, in a twist of trombonistic fate, was partially arranged by Bob Brookmeyer.
These songs are totally perfect for Teagarden – the lyrics are equal parts nostalgia, cynicism, and wisdom – and he sings and plays his heart out during the entire disk. Check out the way he sings the bridge to the title track:
The way he sings “forget the past” in that example kills me every time. Teagarden dedicated himself to his art – he sacrificed his health and his finances to be out on the road, and I can’t help but to hear this record as tinged with a little regret over past choices made. He sounds like – and is – an old man looking back on his accomplishments, reflecting on past glory and tragedy. And that’s what I love about artists in the late stages of their career – you can hear something that is impossible to simulate, no matter how many licks you practice in all 12 keys: it’s the grain of his experience rubbing up against our smooth youth.
In a Little Waterfront Cafe:
There is very little improvisation on this disk, but I don’t really miss it – the record is so beautiful as it is, and Teagarden’s occasional melodic trombone statements and Don Goldie’s embellishments add just enough.
I remember when I was a high schooler just getting into jazz, this record was totally unavailable. I wanted to hear it because I was really interested in Bob Brookmeyer (this was when I was still on euphonium – I was interested in hearing every valve trombonist I could in order to see if I had to switch to the slide instrument). I’m glad that I didn’t hear it then, because I think my young ears would have taken one listen to the string orchestra and then would have subsequently dismissed the whole album as commercial shlock (which it might be, although it’s also so much more). It is, happily, available now through MP3 downloads on amazon.com and on Verve’s website. I hope I’ve convinced you to get yourself a copy.
There is an amazing video of Jack Teagarden playing Basin Street Blues in 1963, the year that he died:
It’s a video that gives me goose bumps every time I watch it. In some ways, Teagarden really seems to be phoning in his performance (at this point he’s probably played this arrangement of Basin Street Blues hundreds of times), but you can’t argue with the look in his eyes as he’s singing, or with the effort he tries to hide as he’s playing the trombone. Teagarden was a master!