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New Releases Capture 'Inimitable' Tenor Saxophonist In His Neglected '70s Prime


This is FRESH AIR. The late tenor saxophonist Teddy Edwards, who was based in Los Angeles, was the rare musician to record with both trumpet giant Clifford Brown and singer Tom Waits. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Edwards could be equally hair-raising playing uptempo or lingering over a ballad. Kevin reviews two Edwards reissues from the 1970s.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Teddy Edwards in 1976. Decades earlier, Edwards was one of the very first bebop tenor saxophonists. He had switched over from the smaller, quicker alto and always made the bigger horn move. Edwards had so many strengths on tenor.

It's a cinch he'd have had a bigger career if he'd wanted to live in New York. When he went there to record his quartet album, "The Inimitable Teddy Edwards," he showed the New Yorkers his stuff.

Edwards mixed awesome technique and irresistably slinky phrases. He played something for the experts and for the people.


WHITEHEAD: Teddy Edwards on his most popular tune, "Sunset Eyes." The newly reissued "The Inimitable Teddy Edwards" pairs him with another bebop survivor, pianist Duke Jordan, alongside bassist Larry Ridley and drummer Freddie Waits.

The tunes are mostly standards. And the ballads are even better than the bebop. Teddy Edwards may worry the shape and timbre and pitch of every note like a poet polishing a dactyl. This is "Imagination."


WHITEHEAD: A long reading of "Stella By Starlight" begins with Teddy Edwards' three-and-a-half minute solo intro, including episodes so striking they could stand on their own pulled from context. He harks back to Coleman Hawkins' graceful solo work from the 1940s. But the '70s was the age of avant-gardeish horn soloists, and this a cappella intro can sound oddly like what Joe McPhee was up to in 1976.


WHITEHEAD: Magnificent as Teddy Edward sounded, he only made two albums as a leader in the '70s. No wonder bebop people hated that decade. The other album called "Feelin's" was reissued a few months ago, also on the Xanadu label. That 1974 sextette session from Los Angeles includes ace trumpeter and Edwards' golfing buddy Conte Candoli and Ray Brown on bass.

LA jazz was supposed to be tamer than New York's, but this date shakes the rafters a little more.


WHITEHEAD: Teddy Edwards can roll out the burlap as well as the silk and satin. He knew all the tenors' textures. Like "The Inimitable" his album "Feelin's" catches Edwards in his neglected '70s prime. He fared better in the '80s after Tom Waits started hiring him and Teddy began working a lot in Europe and recording more at home, sometimes locking horns with other formidable tenors like Houston Person or Von Freeman. Those guys were serious competition, but Teddy Edwards had no reason to worry. There wasn't much they could throw at him that he couldn't throw right back and then some.


DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead writes for a Point of Departure and TONEaudio and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed two reissues by tenor saxophonist Teddy Edwards on the Xanadu label. If you'd like to catch up on recent FRESH AIR interviews you've missed, like our interview with John Krasinski, who directed and stars in the film "The Hollars" and was on NBC's "The Office" for nine seasons, check out our podcast. You'll find that and other interviews.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer is Roberta Shorrock. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, John Sheehan, Heidi Saman and Thea Chaloner. Therese Madden directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Currently he reviews for The Audio Beat and Point of Departure.
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