Theodore Marcus Edwards, "Teddy" among his friends and brother musicians, has been around music a long time--24 years. Unfortunately, not too many people outside of musicians from coast to coast are more than casually familiar with this jazz pioneer.
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, on April 26th, 1924, Teddy was right at home around music. His dad was proficient on several reeds in addition to trombone and violin. Grandfather Edwards was a bass player. Receiving his early training from alto saxist Arthur Horne, young Teddy worked around his home town until the end of his eleventh grade in high school.
Teddy's first horn was an alto sax, which he continued to play when he moved to Detroit and into a band with Hank Jones, Wardell Gray and Al McKibbon in 1942. Retracing his path across the Mason-Dixon Line, he ventured south to form his own unit working around Florida and Louisiana until 1944. Horn in hand, Teddy took another trek north into the services of Ernie Fields, Roy Milton, and Howard McGhee among others. It was at this point, with McGhee in 1945, that he switched to tenor.
With a change in horns came a change in locale to the west coast. Gerald Wilson and Benny Carter signed his paychecks until 1949. From there he set up operations with Howard Rumsey and the Lighthouse All-Stars. After a year or so of "Lighthousekeeping," Teddy moved into San Francisco's Bob City for the remainder of 1951 and through 1952 and 1953.
"Nothing really exciting happened until 1954," related Teddy, "when I joined Max Roach." In the uptempo company of the free-wheeling Roach and new trumpet star Clifford Brown, Teddy began to "stretch out." To date he is best remembered for his contribution of the moving "Sunset Eyes" to the Roach-Brown book. This tume proved to be a sizable portion of the fuel for their speedy skyrocket to prominence shortly after their arrival on the scene.
Upon a bit of research one will all-too-soon discover that Teddy holds seniority in that unique group of overlooked jazzmen, many times merely categorized as musicians' musicians.
This album is actually a carryover from the tremendous Sunday afternoon sessions held at a local Sunset Boulevard coffeehouse, the Bit of Europe--hence, his choice of Les McCann Ltd. for his backing on this album.
Listening to Teddy's horn against Les' piano, my thoughts retraced to our first meeting in 1958 at Los Angeles City College. Out of those days grew the Les McCann of today and oddly enough, despite his tremendous musical growth, little else has changed about him as a person. When we met, Les was doing a lot of woodsheddin' (a term used by musicians when struggling to gain experience or recognition) and gaining virtually nothing. I, too, was doing a bit of woodsheddin' with no particular purpose in mind, and on this we based a rather nice association.
I followed his progress from school through the local expresso camps until he landed a steady gig at one of the better ones, "The Lamp." He was working with a new bass player, Herbie Lewis, and had Alonzo Gerabaldi on drums. From talking with Les and listening to him play, I could notice a certain eagerness to explore, create, and in short, depart from what he was then playing.
Before long things began to happen. Alonzo left to form his own group, and Lewis accepted a job with the new Chico Hamilton quintet. This gave Les enough time to gather his forces and make a new charge on his goals.
The first change appeared in the form of drummer Ron Jefferson. One night a short time later, Jefferson's asthetic figure appeared on the scene during the job and he set in. The set was so groovy as Ron relates it, that he called Leroy Vinnegar, his longtime friend, to come down and join the fun. Les McCann Ltd. was born. To restate a fact, I mentioned in a Record Review a short time ago, actually you can title anything Les does practically "Goin' to church with Les McCann."
Bassist Leroy Vinnegar is not a strange face on the jazz scene by any means. In his 31 years of existence, at least 12 of them have been spent walking with his hands (on bass, that is) and getting paid for it. Added to this, his ample talents as a composer, arranger and leader, his presence expands any group.
At this writing, Leroy, in the words of his long time friend and current partner in rhythm, Ron Jefferson, "is doing a lot of nice writing now, I mean beautiful things too." Ron didn't tell me to mention this, but I am almost sure he is referring to a tune entitled "New Life." On this Leroy plays arco (with the bow) to a simple statement by Les on piano. From this Les takes over for a real preachy binge, returning to close things in the same manner as they start. This is marvelously delicate according to many who have heard it. You may find yourself dreaming before they can get to the up tempo part of the tune.
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Leroy worked around home fronting his own units, and also worked other local jobs, including a stint with Jimmy Coles. In 1952, he crossed the river to Chicago. Immediately he set about carving a notch for himself on the local totem poles.
Working for a time at the Beehive behind such luminaries as Sonny Stitt, Miles Davis, and "Yardbird" Parker, he also got in a job at the Blue Note under the banner of Bill Russo before moving west in 1954.
His first stop was with Barney Kessel at the now defunct, Jazz City. After leaving Kessel, Leroy played with Stan Getz, the late Bob Gordon, Herb Geller, Conte Candoli, and two other dear departed soul brothers, Carl Perkins and Art Tatum.
Upon leaving this group of notables, Shelly Manne enlisted his services along with pianist Andre Previn. For more than a year and a half the fellows remained together during which time his star began to rise. They made three top selling albums, two of which were from the Broadway shows, Lil Abner and My Fair Lady. The third showcased Vinnegars' work to a great extent.
His style of bass has brought comments from all sides concerning his exclusive use of the lower register around the A & E strings. He is held in high esteem among his fellow musicians for the tremendous foundation he lays down for the music. Another way of putting it is that his bass acts as a shoulder on which the soloist might lean. Good examples of this are "Undecided," and "Lover Come Back To Me" on this date.
Drummer Ron Jefferson began his timekeeping career about 20 years ago in Orangeburg, South Carolina.
He came to New York City to study with Art Blakey and Max Roach. After working around town and developing a bit, Roy Eldridge beckoned and he went.
After Roy, Ron made the rounds during the fifties with Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Mingus, Randy Weston, Monk, and the late Lester Young, naming a few.
Among his west coast jobs he recalls a most interesting stay with Nina Simone at the Cloister.
My first encounter with Ron was a session at the late Club Hillcrest on Washington Boulevard, (Les used to work there too) featuring Sonny Rollins.
Ron has been booting rhythm sections for most of his thirty years and is regarded as an impeccable technician. During our conversation Ron expressed his deep satisfaction at the rapid progress of the group, "You know Les is really giving the people the message and they dig it too," he smiled. On Los Angeles he commented, "I think L.A. will someday surpass New York as a jazz capital if given time."
Before he left to return to work during a break on the job one night, he said to me, "You know it's not too often you can work with your favorite bass player and Les McCann too. In fact if you have ears, I don't see how anyone could help hearing how beautiful he is. And as a person he's even more so."
Producer Dick Bock's choice of title for this album is more than appropo because truly, it's about time people woke up and began to dig Teddy Edwards.
-- Maurice Haws
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