Jack Teagarden: A Portrait of Mr. T.

An overdue salute today to Waldo Leo “Jack” Teagarden (1905-1964), a.k.a. Mr. T or The Big T.

I think I might have been introduced to this jazz legend back in the day by the late Rich Conaty on his weekly radio show. Teagarden came from a musical family, both parents were musicians and so were three siblings. Jack took up trombone by age seven, performing out with his piano playing ma at local Texas nickelodeons. By the time he was 15 he was out on his own as a professional in San Antonio. Over a 40+ year career he played with just about everybody: Ben Pollack, Paul Whiteman, Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and Bobby Hackett. He also fronted his own band for a time. He is known to have played the Keith Circuit, with his outfit and probably with Whiteman’s as well. Naturally he performed on radio, on records, and he was in over a dozen motion pictures in the ’40s and ’50s. He also did a little TV towards the end. A 1963 spot on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was his last. In addition to his unique self-taught trombone style, he also sang in a rustic, twangy voice not unlike Hoagy Carmichael’s. His early death at 58 robbed Teagarden of a mainstream late career comeback of the sort Louis Armstrong enjoyed, else he might enjoy more recognition outside the circle of afioconados who worship him today. But on the bright side, his last breaths were taken in his beloved New Orleans.

For more on vaudeville history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.