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On the face of it Teddy Edwards should feel bitter and cheated over the way the music business has treated him during the last 14 years. You do not spend a lifetime nurturing and developing an artistic talent and then expect doors to be slammed in your face. Yet Teddy has experienced all of that and more since the early 1960s. Others would have crumbled and given up but fortunately Teddy is resilient; he has a well-balanced, philosophical outlook and that vitally important quality, a sense of proportion. He can still laugh at life and this has carried him through.

Since 1962 Mr. Edwards, one of the most individual and resourceful tenor saxophonists in jazz, has made only four albums –the one you are holding is the fourth – under his own name. All have been produced by Don Schlitten, a man who admires and believes in Teddy’s enormous talent. When Don, to the delight of us all, founded Xanadu we knew it would not be long before Teddy was on record again. Teddy’s first visit to the Apple for almost nine years was when he travelled east from Los Angeles to record for Xanadu and to work with trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison. Lining up the right rhythm section to do justice to the job was vital and here Don was able to direct a union between Teddy and pianist Duke Jordan who, like Edwards, came to prominence playing that most exacting of all jazz styles – Bebop. Duke is no stranger to Xanadu regulars being well featured on Charles McPherson’s Beautiful! (Xanadu 115) and Sam Most’s Mostly Flute (Xanadu 133). Jordan is an original who gets better and better with age. His re-emergence has been one of the most gratifying aspects of jazz in the 1970s. Bassist Larry Ridley and drummer Freddie Waits are both younger men but they have paid their dues working with numerous leaders who demand musicianship of the highest quality. Ridley, aged 39, is from Indianapolis. His employers have included Freddie Hubbard, Dexter Gordon, Art Farmer, Coleman Hawkins, Thelonious Monk, Carmen McRae and Dinah Washington. Larry particularly impressed me with his dynamic lines on Al Cohn’s Play It Now (Xanadu 110). Waits also has impeccable credentials. This 33-year-old percussionist who studied flute at college has been featured with people like Kenny Dorham, Gerald Wilson, Sonny Rollins, Betty Carter, Cedar Walton and Ray Bryant. He hails from Jackson, Miss., which is also the hometown of Teddy Edwards. As a youngster growing up in Jackson, Freddie heard all about the town hero who played tenor and had made a big name for himself on the West Coast. It was one of Waits’ ambitions to one day actually play with Mr. Edwards. My comment about Duke Jordan improving with age applies with equal validity to the leader. As most musicians grow older their youthful fire subsides even though technique may have increased. They are no longer so ready to take chances, attempt the unexpected. Not so Teddy Edwards. His intensity has never diminished. Playing ‘safe’ is alien to his approach to improvisation. And in the present collection he performs an unaccompanied saxophone solo on record for the first time. To compare it with Coleman Hawkins’ “Picasso” or Sonny Rollins’ “Body and Soul” – two of the recognized masterpieces of solo saxophone – is by no means out of place. For Teddy’s lengthy preface to “Stella by Starlight” is a superlative example of pure, unadorned creativity. Actually, it is closest in spirit to that other Hawkins solo gem, “Foolin’ Around” which the maestro fashioned on the spur of the moment at a concert one evening. Teddy’s “Stella” prelude leads, of course, into a group performance but it could easily stand on its own.

Theodore Marcus Edwards was born on February 26, 1924 into a musical family (father played trombone, reeds and violin; grandfather was a bassist). He began musical studies at the age of 12 and having mastered alto and clarinet he began working with local bands in the late 1930s. A period in Detroit was followed by a shift to California. Trumpeter Howard McGhee persuaded him to switch to tenor sax in 1945 and that has been his horn ever since. Subsequently Teddy served a succession of name leaders including Gerald Wilson, Benny Carter, Clifford Brown/Max Roach, Benny Goodman and Shelly Manne. At different times he has either led or co-led (with Howard McGhee) his own groups and freelanced extensively. Jazz employment in Los Angeles has sometimes been hard to find, but Edwards has stuck to his task. He is also a composer and arranger of considerable ability. Teddy Edwards will always be Teddy Edwards whatever the prevailing fashion in jazz. For him there is absolutely no point in simulating the sounds of his contemporaries. He has said, with honesty, that he never consciously copied another saxophonist and this resolve to always be himself is reflected in what he plays and the way he plays it. Since John Coltrane’s influence permeated the music in the late 1950s it has become almost obligatory for saxophonists to adopt a cold, hard tone which can be chillingly abrasive to the ear. Teddy has never been afraid to employ vibrato and to project a good feeling of warmth to the listener. Indeed the number which opens this programme perfectly demonstrates the Edwards glow. “Sunset Eyes” was brought to the Clifford Brown/Max Roach group by Teddy and was featured by the quintet. Teddy first wrote it as a visual piece for early television and, as Don Schlitten says, “it sounds like a natural for some good choreographer.” Teddy did not get around to making it under his own name until 1959 for an album called (you guessed it) Sunset Eyes. I’m bound to say that the new “Sunset Eyes” surpasses the earlier versions. Ridley sets the beat for the proceedings and then is joined in turn by Freddie, Duke and Teddy. The Latin sections are split by a groovy 4/4 bridge. The producer urges us to, “Dig the dance between Teddy and Duke” who certainly make excellent partners and show us what musical movement is all about.

After Teddy’s building, heated solo, Duke steps up for some lithe and lucid choruses, littered with telling, melodic phrases. Ridley and Waits get into some nifty steps of their own before Teddy takes us back to that unforgettable theme. The tempo moves up several notches for “That Old Black Magic,” a good tune which has been murdered by certain interpreters in the past. Teddy finds it productive soil for his lightning ideas and Duke, whose crisp accompaniment seems to suit the saxophonist, weaves his own magical spells. There’s an exciting suspended coda that fades …magically.

Few players are able to be and sound as relaxed as Teddy Edwards and a gliding “Mean to Me” illustrates this quality as he lies back, singing and swinging. The thing about this “Mean to Me” is that nobody sounds mean or disappointed. Duke is lyrical and graceful as only he can be while Teddy makes this a bluesy ballad, even down to a blues ending. “Imagination” is something these four men have in quantity. Duke pays homage to Debussy in his introduction while Teddy soon moves into a romantic vein to lovingly caress a song which will never be
out of style. This is Teddy all the way and you can hear how he employs dynamics and tonal inflexions to create an emotional atmosphere. Teddy’s “One on One” should, perhaps, more properly be called “Four on One” as all members of the quartet are heard. Duke’s flowing intro (matched by his later solo) paves the way for Teddy’s adventuresome statement during
which Jordan lays out briefly. There is room for a Waits break and on the staccato theme it is instructive to study the faultless timing of Teddy and Duke as they fill in alternate phrases.

I have already referred to Teddy’s remarkable opening to “Stella by Starlight” but the main course is almost as satisfying as the hors d’oeuvre. Edwards leads the rhythm section into tempo and it is nice to encounter a “Stella” who does not power off into the night. Teddy and company treat the lady with respect, and the starlight shines through in the expressive solos of the leader and the pianist who together emphasize the formidable combination they are. Teddy assumes a solitary role once again as he bids a memorable goodbye to the lady.

After completing this fine album, Teddy returned to the comparative obscurity of apathetic Los Angeles, and in short order was found to be suffering from a serious stomach ailment which necessitated immediate surgery. Happily he has recovered but is in the midst of a period of convalescence. It will be a while before Teddy and his tenor are out and about again. Some of the worst things happen to the nicest people, but Teddy is not the kind to mope. His spirit will drive him back to activity far more quickly than that of most men. The vigour which characterizes his playing reflects his mental outlook. In the meantime we have The Inimitable Teddy Edwards as a lasting momento of a fruitful trip East. Depending on which of my dictionaries you prefer, inimitable means “defying imitation” or “something or someone that cannot be imitated.” Same thing, either way. And it is a fitting adjective to describe Teddy Edwards – man and musicians. May he soon be restored to full health and present to us more examples of his inimitable musicianship.

The underrated tenor great Teddy Edwards had only recorded one album as a leader before he made this Xanadu date, and he would have to wait around for four years before his next session. The neglect had much more to do with geography as he spent his career living in Los Angeles, rather than it did with talent.

Edwards, backed by pianist Duke Jordan, bassist Larry Ridley, and drummer Freddie Waits, is in top form throughout these five standards which includes his most famous original “Sunset Eyes”.

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