One of the prime movers of Los Angeles’ Central Avenue jazz scene in the 1940s has died. Tenor saxophonist Teddy Edwards passed on Sunday, April 20, in L.A. after suffering from prostrate cancer. He was 78.
Born April 26, 1924, in Jackson, Miss., Edwards began playing alto sax as a child. By age 12 had he toured in the South as a professional musician, and in 1940 he moved to Detroit to pursue his career. For the next five years he toured with bands based out of Michigan and Florida, before moving to Los Angeles in 1945, where he joined Howard McGhee’s group and switched to tenor sax.
Edwards was a key participant in bringing bebop to Southern California, playing and recording with the bands of Benny Carter, Gerald Wilson, Howard Rumsey and Max Roach and Clifford Brown. “He was known for his originality,” said fellow L.A. sax legend Buddy Collette in the Los Angeles Times. “He always went his own direction. There are always people who want you to sound like someone else. But Teddy had this fast, choppy sound, and they wanted him to sound melodic.” Singer-songwriter Tom Waits, who worked often with Edwards in the ’80s and early ’90s, told the Times, “I think music is going to miss him as one of the architects of bebop. That tone of his is just unmistakable. He sounded like he was drinking champagne on a train, you know what I mean?”
Since he stayed in Los Angeles rather than moving to New York City, Edwards is sometimes overlooked as one of the first beboppers. Some of his most famous recordings include 1947’s “Blues in Teddy’s Flat” and “The Duel,” with the latter featuring him going at it with Dexter Gordon in a follow up to Gordon and Wardell Gray’s “The Chase.” Some of Edwards’ most popular LPs include 1959’s Sunset Eyes (Pacific Jazz), 1960’s Teddy’s Ready (Contemporary) and 1961’s Together Again!(Contemporary), with McGhee.
While still playing clubs and parties, in the U.S. and Europe (where he had a bigger following), Edwards became an arranger and composer for television, film and radio in the 1970s. He also led the 17-piece Brass String Ensemble in Los Angeles.
Edwards is survived by his son, Teddy Edwards Jr., and a sister, Velma Diaz-Infante, both of Los Angeles, as well as several nieces and nephews.
Contributions be sent to the Teddy Edwards Memorial Scholarship Fund, Compton College, 1111 E. Artesia Blvd., Compton, CA 90221.Originally Published