JAM, XIX: Teddy Edwards and Early West Coast Bop, I

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. 

Friday's installment featured Johnny Griffin stretching out over Monk's "Let's Cool One." Tomorrow's will feature more about Teddy Edwards.

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On October 18, 1946, a 22-year-old tenor saxophonist recorded what Fats Navarro would later describe as the first bebop tenor solo, over a strangely modified Ab blues entitled "Up in Dodo's Room." His name was Teddy Edwards, and two years later he would take a decade-long hiatus working in burlesque joints and playing R&B gigs; he would have turned 91 yesterday. The 1946 session was led by Howard McGhee and recorded for Dial, just a few months after Bird's infamous "Lover Man" session, shortly after which he was sent to the Camarillo for rehabilitation. 

The tune is unusual for 1945: major seventh chords moving in half steps and whole steps seems closer to '60s Joe Henderson, but the vibe is distinctly early bebop with the chromatically descending minor chords in the eighth bar and the narrow, bare bones enclosure shapes in the fourth and tenth bars that resolve right on one of the next bar.
Teddy Edwards Jazz Saxophone Solo Transcription - "Up In Dodo's Room" Take 1

Edwards's solo is only twenty four bars long (plus lead-in), but right out of the gate he starts with a (or maybe the) bebop vernacular staple: a rapid ascending arpeggio followed by a chromatically descending line. The rhythmic placement on the first bar of his solo is untranscribeable—somewhere between a syncopated figure and triplet quarter notes, and so deeply swinging. Edwards, like many old school tenorists, knows how to get between the given notes of the horn, which gives the up and down figure leading into the fifth bar of the blues a bit more mystery than how most players might phrase a similar line today. The half-swallowed, false-fingered downbeat in the seventh bar followed by an emphatic end punctuation is an iconic Lester-ism (although my suggestive description can't really do justice to how great it feels). The last phrase of the chorus starts with that same bebop idiosyncrasy, but the color that Edwards uses over the V chord—both in this and his next chorus—might be the nail in the coffin as to the bebop status of this solo.

*Addendum (4.28.15): Take 2 of the same, from the same session. Edwards spells out the half-step passing motion on the eighth bar of the blues in both choruses. There are more Lester-isms in this solo than in the master take: check out the end punctuation of the first chorus, plus the top of the second chorus, where he lays into the horn with false fingerings (adding the palm keys to middle D, Eb for saxophonists).
Teddy Edwards Jazz Saxophone Bebop Solo Transcription - "Up In Dodo's Room" Take 2

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In an invaluable 1999 interview with Ted Panken, Edwards talks at length about his early days, learning how to play while hanging with Howard McGhee and the rest of the southern Californian scene. As he puts it, he started with running up and down changes:
“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."
Edwards even comments on this particular solo: "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.”

The crucial b9 is there in the V-I on both choruses, in the form of a descending arpeggio that today might suggest Ab9 or Ebm6 or F7b9. The apparent ambiguity surrounding how these self-taught, well-studied older players dealt with this kind of theory seems to me a trace of their willingness to theorize music in their own terms; similar to Steve Coleman's accounts of hearing Von Freeman's unique perspectives on playing through changes, Edwards's description of what he's doing has a mystery to it that's essential to and inseparable from the way he plays. Edwards goes on to say:
“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. [emphasis mine]  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."
"You can't be a bebop player if you don't know how to alternate it?" What does that mean? They didn't teach me that in my Master's of Music program. Fortunately, in Panken's unedited transcript, Edwards's comments are slightly more detailed:
"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."
It sounds like Edwards is talking about alternating the V with the bVII (minor VII)—in this case, concert Eb7 and Gb7—which is also what some call the "backdoor progression" (trumpeter John McNeil was the first musician I met who described the progression to me using this term). In both choruses, though, Edwards doesn't play the root of the bVII in either of the big V-I situations; maybe that's part of the secret to "alternating it"—not making it too obvious.

In the Panken interview, Edwards also shares his views on the early jazz tenor lineage, in terms of trees and branches:
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.
Don Byas isn't mentioned, but I remember being stunned the first time I heard his 1945 "I Got Rhythm" duet with Slam Stewart (via Ethan Iverson's DTM), thinking: "This is it," the missing link between early swing tenor and bebop, between Lester/Hawk and Sonny). But after learning the solo last semester, I realized that although on the surface it sounds like bop with its rapid, winding lines and effortless chromaticism, it's still not quite there rhythmically. Where are the triplets? Played slow, it still sounds and feels like swing, at least in terms of its rhythmic profile. But with this Teddy Edwards solo, the rhythmic phrasing is clearly something that couldn't have existed before Lester Young. Would you call that "post-Prez?"

Check back tomorrow for Teddy Edwards on "Blues in Teddy's Flat" from '47.