JAM, XX: Teddy Edwards and Early West Coast Bop, II

Every weekday this month I'll be posting new content in observance of Jazz Appreciation Month (J.A.M.), so-designated by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History beginning in 2001. International Jazz Day, so-designated by UNESCO in partnership with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, is on the last day of April, the 30th; it was first celebrated in 2012. Debating the relative merits of designating specific days or months for celebrating heritages, traditions, and the like aside, Jazz Appreciation Month is at the very least an excuse to dig into some material that I've been interested in for a while on the blog. 

†If you enjoy the content on this blog, please consider supporting my band's homegrown effort to get our record through the final stages of mastering and production. It's all recorded—you can listen to it now!—but we just need a bit more help to get to the finish line. We appreciate it. </self-promotion over>

* * * * *
The cinematic Teddy Edwards (YouTube screen capture, expressly for educational purposes)
The early bebop tenor lineage has been on my mind lately after reading Ted Gioia's West Coast Jazz (1992), a history presented as a collection of essays with specific focal points, mostly individual artists, although the first chapter begins with an overview of Los Angeles's post-WWII jazz scene sorted by neighborhood. The full title of the book is West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960, which reflects the arbitrary but practical decision to bound this unruly topic of historical inquiry from the end of WWII to the start of the '60s. Gioia's telling of the story begins like this:
"During the last half-century, New York's preeminence in the jazz world has faced a serious challenge only once. For a brief period following World War II, California captured the imagination of jazz fans around the world. 'West Coast jazz' suddenly became a catchword, a fad, a new thing. Jazz writers even wrote about a battle of West Coast versus East Coast, as though an actual war were taking place.' 
Yet if this was a war, it was one the West Coast eventually lost."
The stakes, at far as Gioia frames things, were high, and throughout the collection he writes with an urgency that keeps the barrage of obscure names, dates, and places from bogging down the pace of the narrative that he's constructing. 

Every jazz history weenie's desire is satisfied in this book: dramatic pronouncements about the greatness of such and such artist, a seemingly endless stream of jazz historical esoterica, and strong opinions. The politics and revisionist project of the work is front and center, which meant finding myself disagreeing vehemently at times (the Brubeck chapter, an effort to restore the pianist's living legacy from mainstream critical opinion at the time, is one example), but I appreciated Gioia's frankness in building his arguments.

Although Gioia's opinions and arguments are fascinating if at times tiresome, the true value of the book is in the extensive research Gioia undertook in seeking out the elders and getting their own words in print. I said above that Fats Navarro declared "Up in Dodo's Room" the first bebop tenor solo, but I was slightly disingenuous—what he really said, according to Gioia's account of Edwards's telling, is the following:
"I ran into Fats Navarro some time later, and he said to me, 'Do you realize you changed the course of history?' He told me that 'Up in Dodo's Room' was the first tenor solo that didn't draw back on either Lester Young or Coleman Hawkins."
With all due respect to Edwards and Fats, I'd disagree slightly: it's not that this was the first tenor solo that didn't rely on the innovations of either tenor godfather—it's that the solo didn't sound obviously like one or the other. Rhythmically, it's clearly a direct descendant of Lester. 

Gioia also asks Edwards about his relationship with Dexter Gordon, whom I had previously thought of as the first true bebop tenor player:
"When I asked Edwards point black whether Dexter Gordon had developed his celebrated style by stealing from him—a claim I had heard from another musician of the day—Edwards somewhat hesitantly replied: 'Well, Dexter dipped into my bag just to check it out. Course he didn't need to learn from me, he had a thing of his own going. But if you listen to the 'Webb City' he did with Fats you'll hear him doing my bag."
So the plot thickens. As far as I can tell, Edwards is misspeaking here: nowhere could I find a recording of Dexter and Fats playing "Webb City," which Fats recorded in September of '46 along with saxophonists Sonny Stitt on alto, Morris Lane (?) on tenor, and Eddie DeVerteuil (??) on baritone, according to this discography (worth double-checking at some point). Dexter did have Fats play with him for a December '47 Savoy session that Dexter did as a leader, which included "Dexter's Mood," "Dextrose," "Index," and "Dextivity" (again, according to a not-unimpeachable online discography). 

As far as early recorded Dexter goes, some of the earliest bebop material dates to February 9, 1945, when he recorded as part of Dizzy's sextet in New York. They cut "Groovin' High" and "Blue 'n' Boogie," and Dexter gets in a little over a half-chorus on the former and one and a half choruses on the latter:
Dexter Gordon Jazz Saxophone Bebop Solo Transcription - "Groovin' High"
Dexter Gordon Jazz Saxophone Bebop Solo Transcription - "Blue 'n' Boogie"
I suppose you could hear some "alternating" on the dominants, but it's hard to say exactly what's coming from where—considering all the music in the air at the time, it'd be impossible to really trace what's coming out of Edwards and what's coming out of just hanging around Dizzy and Bird, checking out Lester, etc. I'm mostly impressed by how early all this is, before everything became codified, as Nick Payton discusses in a recent interview with Ethan Iverson. I mean, Bird joined Dizzy to record the first canonical "Groovin' High" just a few weeks after this initial sextet version (February 28, '45); Bird hadn't even recorded "Ko-Ko," yet, so the best recorded material was still to come. Most of the information that was around at the time was being transmitted person-to-person, rather than indirectly through records; there's an urgency and a sense of discovery in the solos these early boppers play that isn't there, even just a generation later.

As a side note, I've written on Stan Getz's relationship to early bebop in the past, so going back to this Dexter recording, the chronology suggests that Getz probably heard this early on. He recorded "Opus de Bop" in July of '46 with Hank Jones, Curly Russell, and Max Roach. Looking at the chronology, in that time Dexter recorded his first album as a leader on October 30 of '45 ("Blow Mr. Dexter, Dexter's Deck, Dexter's Cuttin' Out, Dexter's Minor Mad), then again in January 29 of '46 ("Long Tall Dexter," "Dexter Rides Again," "I Can't Escape From You," "Dexter Digs In"). I wouldn't be surprised if those were some of the solos that Getz lifted from the record, since they give Dexter far more space to stretch out and work out the ideas he intimates in the brief solos on the Dizzy record.

* * * * *

In West Coast Jazz, Gioia describes a cut from December 4, 1947, as Edwards's crowning achievement of the era: "Blues in Teddy's Flat," a medium Bb blues with Jimmy Rowles on piano, Red Callender on bass, and Roy Porter on drums, starts with an unaccompanied four-bar intro that reveals a harder-toned, laid-back Edwards, prefiguring the focused, full-blown sound of Sonny Rollins by a few years (Rollins was born six a half years after Edwards, but was first recorded at age 19, in 1949).

The fourth chorus is particularly noteworthy for two reasons: Edwards breaks into a chorus of blazing double-time, weaving lines that cut across the registers of tenor with a rapid fluency like that of Don Byas, but with the rhythmic inflections and contours of bebop. The other noteworthy aspect of the chorus is how the rhythm section seems to fall apart on the stop-time: to my ears, Callender comes in slightly late on the second bar downbeat (Rowles and Porter miss it entirely), the band comes in even later on the third bar downbeat, plays two and a half to three beats of uncertain time on the IV chord before dropping out again, and manage to come back in at the top of the chorus with a big, swinging cue by Edwards. 

At the end of the next chorus, Edwards plays an out-of-character fluttering, honking figure right near the bottom of the horn, as if to say, "Come on, now." The double-time in the sixth and seventh choruses come across more effectively with the band laying down the time; there's the hopping from foot to foot sound of syncopated figures that recall Lester, but brought up to bebop speed. Prefiguring a similar landmark performance by Sonny Rollins on "Blues for Philly Joe" on Newk's Time a decade later, "Blues in Teddy's Flat" starts with a loose theme, extensive variation, and then a quick ending on the very last bar.
Teddy Edwards Bebop Jazz Saxophone Solo Transcription - "Blues in Teddy's Flat" (Bb) 1

Teddy Edwards Bebop Jazz Saxophone Solo Transcription - "Blues in Teddy's Flat" (Bb) 2

Teddy Edwards Bebop Jazz Saxophone Solo Transcription - "Blues in Teddy's Flat" (Bb) 3

This and another recording session in October '48 were the last recordings Edwards would undertake for almost a decade. He did, however, play in the Clifford Brown/Max Roach band for a stint around '54 when they were in Los Angeles, replacing Sonny Stitt. Edwards passed up going on the road with the band and was replaced by Harold Land; we can only imagine how he would have sounded had he stayed with the band longer, but Harold Land also passed on the gig after a certain point, after which it went to Sonny Rollins, and Land's wife claimed that turning the gig down saved his life by avoiding the fatal car ride. I don't think the Stitt-Edwards-Land-Rollins tenor succession in the Brown/Roach band is a coincidence: that's a lineage that's worth studying, especially because the Sonnys at the front and end of that line are far better known than the two tenors who came in between.

As far as I know, there's not enough that's been written on Teddy Edwards. I know that Kirsten Reynen has been at work on a documentary about Edwards (Teddy Edwards Now), which I'm excited to check out. As I mentioned in the previous post, Ted Panken's 1999 interview is invaluable, as is this LA Times obituary, which features some truly outstanding corrections:
For The Record 
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 23, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 ..CF: Y 2 inches; 79 words 
Type of Material: Correction 
Edwards obituary -- An obituary of jazz saxophonist Teddy Edwards in Tuesday's California section said his middle name was Monroe. In fact, it was Marcus. The obituary also spelled Al McKibbon's name incorrectly as Al McKibben. The film "One From the Heart" was released in 1982, not 1992. A reference to Edwards' quotation that he earned $41.27 for recording the tune "Blues in Teddy's Flat" was incorrect. He told The Times in a 1992 interview that he earned $41.25.


* * * * *

Going back to the halcyon, salad days of bop, I'm struck by the sheer fecundity of the scene(s). Just in the realm of tenor players alone, all the young guys born during the Roaring Twenties who were checking out the elders, the near-elders (Bird, Dizzy, and co.), and mostly certainly their peers: 

  • Dexter Gordon (b. February 27, 1923)
  • Sam Rivers (b. September 25, 1923)
  • Sonny Stitt (b. February 2, 1924)
  • Charlie Rouse (b. April 6, 1924)
  • Teddy Edwards (b. April 26, 1924)
  • Zoot Sims (b. October 29, 1925)
  • Jimmy Heath (b. October 25, 1926)
  • John Coltrane (September 23, 1926)
  • Stan Getz (b. February 2, 1927)
  • Warne Marsh (b. October 26, 1927)
  • Johnny Griffin (b. April 24, 1928)
  • Harold Land (b. December 18, 1928)
  • Benny Golson (b. January 25, 1929)
Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Giuffre, Hank Mobley, and Sonny Rollins are on the fringes of this (Gonsalves born July 12, 1920; Jimmy Giuffre born April 26, 1921; Hank Mobley born July 7, 1930; Sonny born September 7, 1930). People talk about how competitive the jazz world is today, but this list suggests that it's just about always been this way—it's never been easy, but people who dedicate themselves and work at it find their sound.