Weldon Leo “Jack” Teagarden (August 20, 1905 – January 15, 1964), known as “Big T” and “The Swingin’ Gate”, was an American jazz trombonist, bandleader, composer, and vocalist, regarded as the “Father of Jazz Trombone”.
Born in Vernon, Texas, his brothers Charlie and Clois “Cub” and his sister Norma also became noted professional musicians.
Teagarden’s father was an amateur brass band trumpeter and started young Jack on baritone horn; by age seven he had switched to trombone.
By 1920 Teagarden was playing professionally in San Antonio, including with the band of pianist Peck Kelley.
In the mid-1920s he started traveling widely around the United States in a quick succession of different bands.
In 1927, he went to New York City where he worked with several bands.
By 1928 he played for the Ben Pollack band.
In the early 1930s Teagarden was based in Chicago, for some time playing with the band of Wingy Manone. He played at the Century of Progress exposition in Chicago.
Teagarden sought financial security during the Great Depression and signed an exclusive contract to play for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra from 1933 through 1938.
The contract with Whiteman’s band provided him with financial security but prevented him from playing an active part in the musical advances of the mid-thirties swing era (although he and Frank Trumbauer recorded a number of small group swing classics throughout his tenture with Whiteman on Brunswick).
In 1939 Teagarden formed his own band; it was musically innovative but not financially successful and was disbanded in 1947.
The All Stars toured Europe and Asia in 1957-59 as part of a government-sponsored goodwill tour.
On his personal life, Teagarden was married first to Ora Binyon in San Angelo, Texas, in 1923; they had two sons before they were divorced.
In the 1930s he was married to and divorced from, successively, Clare Manzi of New York City and Edna “Billie” Coats.
Teagarden married Adeline Barriere Gault in September 1942; they had three children of their own and one foster child.
In The Swing Era, Gunther Schuller ventured, ’Teagarden was a remarkable and wholly unique singer, undoubtedly the best and the only true jazz singer next to Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, and Louis Armstrong.” On one record, 1928’s Makin Friends, Teagarden broke new ground, with guitarist Eddie Condon, as he etched his first vocal and the first recorded use of his water-glass mute.
This flurry of activity left little time for home life; combined with Teagarden’s growing drinking pattern, his virtual workaholism led to separation, then divorce, from the first of his four wives, in 1930.
Though his professional status soared, Teagarden’s personal life rarely achieved any degree of stability.
He demonstrated no savvy for business matters, becoming known as the classic “soft touch” for unrepaid loans and gifts.
Clare Manzi became the trombonist-singer’s second wife soon after his divorce, this marriage lasting until 1933, just before Teagarden made his next major career move, signing on for a five-year stretch with Paul Whiteman.
Early in 1964 Teagarden cut short a performance in New Orleans because of ill health.
He briefly visited a hospital then was found dead in his room at the Prince Monti Motel in New Orleans on January 15.
The cause of death was bronchial pneumonia, which had followed a liver ailment.
He was buried in Los Angeles.