I began my professional relationship with Teddy in 2007 with a cold call, urged by my good friend, jazz historian Noal Cohen. I had recently completed an extensive study of the music of Gigi Gryce. Cohen, who published an excellent biography of Gryce, felt that I should reach out to Teddy, who hired Gigi to play alto in the Teddy Charles Tentet in the 1950s. Charles had a reputation for being difficult to communicate with, but the mention of Gryce’s name cut through the social barriers and I soon became acquainted with a very entertaining, talented and funny man. I scheduled a jam session at his house in Riverhead, Long Island, with the members of my quartet: John Mosca (trombone), Ari Roland (bass) and Stefan Schatz (drums).
It soon became evident that Teddy was as much of a comedian as he was a jazz vibraphonist/composer. His living conditions were somewhat dilapidated, and he had several dogs that were mostly out of control. The first laughs we had mostly centered on the dogs, who would pester us while we tried to play tunes that we all knew, such as Charlie Parker melodies and common jazz standards (like “All the Things You Are”). There were many exchanges that inspired respect. I asked him what he thought of my tenor saxophone hero, Lucky Thompson, and he replied, “Oh, Lucky? He was great! I had a trio in the ’50s with him and Oscar Pettiford.” Then he told us about subbing on piano for Thelonious Monk at Minton’s (Monk was an erratic attendee of his own gigs), and how Hank Jones took him under his wing and showed him the chord voicings that would give him the New York sound.