Anybody who knows something about the early history of jazz in Asia ought to know the name of Teddy Weatherford. Born in Virginia in 1903, Teddy grew up with a passion for jazz piano. In those days it was called "stride piano", a style that had evolved out of ragtime and which came out of the need to provide a powerful bass rhythm for dancing with the left hand while tickling those ivories and bringing out the melody with the right hand. When I turned ten in 1979, my dad gave me a classic album by stride pianist extraordinaire Fats Waller called Aint' Misbehavin', and since then I have loved this genre of jazz piano.
By all accounts Teddy was as good as Fats, which is hard to believe since Fats is so amazingly great. A few recordings from Paris in the 1930s reveal Teddy's skills with then old-fashioned songs like "My Blue Heaven." You can also listen to some of Teddy's recordings from the 1940s with his band in Calcutta on the website of Naresh Fernandes, author of the book Taj Mahal Foxtrot, a wonderful history of jazz in India. But for the most part you have to believe the accounts that have been left in newspapers, memoirs, and interviews with those who saw and heard Teddy's skills firsthand.
As Naresh's own book reveals, Teddy looms large in the history of jazz in India--some even call him the "godfather" of Indian jazz. But before he moved to India in the mid-1930s, he spent several years living in Shanghai between 1926 and 1934 where he entertained crowds at the Plaza Hotel and the Candidrome Ballroom among other dance clubs. He is also credited with bringing jazz legend Buck Clayton and his Harlem Gentlemen to Shanghai in 1934 to perform with him at the Canidrome--an episode I recount in my book Shanghai's Dancing World. Andrew Jones also covers Buck Claytons' story of his marvelous two years in Shanghai in his book Yellow Music, and it can also be found in Buck's own memoir Buck Clayton's Jazz World. In between his Shanghai and India years, Teddy also played in hotels and clubs in many other cities throughout the Asia Pacific region, thus earning him the title of Asia's greatest jazz ambassador.
Unfortunately, Teddy didn't publish a memoir before he died of cholera in Calcutta in 1945. Much of what we know about Teddy Weatherford's own rather mysterious journey from the USA to China to India and beyond comes from this precious article published in Storyville in 1976. This is the master text for anybody who is searching for traces of Teddy.
by Peter Darke and Ralph Gulliver Theodore
(Storyville 65 June-July 1976 pp. 175-190)
‘Teddy’ Weatherford is one of the most fascinating obscure figures in jazz... a legend in his brief career in Chicago, an enigma because the major part of his life was spent far away from the familiar jazz centres of America.
This has presented previous researchers with extraordinary difficulties in finding accurate and reliable sources of information. Press reports are sparse, contemporary magazine articles are few, relying mainly on Weatherford’s own stories, and we have discovered that Teddy himself was prone to exaggeration and (we suspect) leg-pulling of ingenuous interviewers.
Musicians and associates who worked with him during the major part of his career are now scattered throughout the world and a number were found only through delightful coincidence... delightful in that they had lost contact with each other and we were able to bring them together again.
Teddy’s only living relative, Sam Weatherford, was interviewed in Pocahontas, Virginia, in July 1975. Although he was 104 years old, Sam’s recollections of his family and Teddy were still remarkably clear.
“My father’s name was Jack Weatherford, my mother’s name was Kate; my parents were in slavery. They moved to Pocahontas, Virginia, in 1872 to work in the mines. There were four children, Beauregarde died about 1900, he was next to me, I was born right here in 1872, Lovie was the only sister, Teddy was born in Pocahontas, downstairs in the kitchen.” (His birthdate has been documented in John Chilton’s Who's Who Of Jazz as 11 October 1903.) “He was musically inclined from the start and he wouldn’t stay at home. We never knew where he was. He worked on the tramway up to the mine, all the boys did, but he got the boys in a band to play music. Then he started playing himself. In 1907 his father got blowed up at Landsberry at a mine there, got blinded, couldn’t see, couldn’t hear.
Theodore went off to Bluefield to live with his older sister, Lovie, up on Jones Street. Her husband was a brakeman. She always took good care of Theodore. My aunt brought him a guitar and he learned to play a bit, and my mother had him an organ, and my mother, my aunt, and Lovie all helped to train him on this organ and he learned several pieces. From there on he went on his own.”
Bluefield, West Virginia, is a small mining town and railhead in the mountain country, Pocahontas being a few miles away over the state border. Kensey Weekes, living above an empty restaurant near the railroad in Bluefield, was delighted to talk about Teddy:
“We were in school together on Brown Street, he had a sister lived on Jones Street. We’d go down to her house, play piano, have a good time. Theodore, Maceo Pinkard, and me were all in school together. That would be back in the teens I guess, around ’13, ’14, or ’15. Teddy played by ear mostly, he and Maceo both, but Maceo took music. He wrote several songs, but I don’t know if Teddy wrote any.
Theodore took music too, after they went to Bluefield State. There was a woman over there named Mrs. Cowley. I don’t know about jazz or ragtime, but she taught him straight music. Teddy knew how to play jazz and ragtime by himself. In fact, he got so that he became really good at it and got to be a professional.
He was quiet in school, very friendly, everybody liked him. He just wanted to be a piano player and went after it. I remember he played music at a party we had in a hall on Bland and Jones. I still recall that, and and school dances.”
Maceo Pinkard became better known as a composer of popular tunes in the late 20s, but there were other young musicians, now forgotten, with whom Teddy developed.
“There were three of them, Philip Edwards, Maceo Pinkard, and Theodore,” remembered Kensey Weekes. “Phil had a big band — Edwards’ Collegians — Chu Berry played with them. There was Ben Moore, a trumpet player, Hersal Short, a drummer, and Ike Robinson, a banjo player, Phil Jefferson, a saxophone player, Dave Johnson was another one, Dewey, his brother. None of them went out of Bluefield much (except Ike Robinson, of course). The Edwards’ Collegians were the number one band around here, then the Watkins Band. Teddy played with the Harry Watkins Band for about two years — what he played, the others followed — but Teddy didn’t have to have no band around him. He could make as much music with just a drummer or a saxophone player as any twelve or fifteen piece band.
I can’t recall any players he might have heard, but he could have taken a bit after Duke — you heard of Duke Ellington? — he came to Bluefield quite a bit. He stayed with Doc Higginbottom. Doc, Ernie Martin (another piano player) were like that together. Ernie had a band too, but he became a dentist.
Maceo Pinkard went to Philadelphia, then on to New York. He wrote lots of songs. The Collegians went all around the country, and got to be a bit noted. Then they went to Philadelphia and Phil died there... too long ago.
Theodore went to Chicago and he got to be famous. He’d come back and tell us about his experiences there, several times. He got into a big band in Chicago. After that he left the United States; that was when I lost contact with him and he never came back again.”
Sam Weatherford filled in a few more gaps: “Lovie put him in Bluefield State, but he didn’t like it and quit school there. My sister told me he quit school and she wanted me to take his trunk over, but I still have it just as he left it. Ben Harris, who played saxophone, took a liking to Theodore and took him out of Bluefield down through Deepwater, and Beckley, Illinois, Peoria, then to Chicago. Ben got ill in Chicago and he and Theodore got separated. Theodore got a contract playing in a cabaret.
A carnival came through and I took my mother to this man who looks into a crystal ball and he told my mother, who was uneasy, ‘I find your son’s doing well, plenty money... he’s coming home to you unbeknownst,’ and Theodore came overnight to Bluefield and phoned through to us here. He came back in later years.”
Weatherford, an immediate sensation in Chicago, was rapidly snared by bandleader Jimmy Wade to form part of a new group for ‘The House That Jack Built’ (see Storyville 56) and he was to stay with Wade over the next few years.
When Earl Hines came to Chicago, Teddy was top pianist. Hines has related how dancer Lovie Taylor kept trying to engineer a contest by telling each man how good the other was, but when they finally met they found much to admire in each other’s playing and became good friends, despite the fact that Hines’s superior technique won the day. (Weatherford couldn’t play tenths.)
In late 1925 Teddy left Wade to join the Vendome Theatre Orchestra of Erskine Tate. During an all too short telephone conversation, Tate recalled that Teddy, ‘Stump’ Evans, and Eddie South were in a group (Wade’s) at one of the clubs, and he tried to get all three of them, but he missed out on South.
“All movie theatres had orchestras at that time to play with the movies, and do a band speciality,” writes Roy Butler. “Teddy was a sensation. He played what I call a melody piano, you could always hear the melody, and he had a tremendous left hand. He could read a little, but seldom did; his ear was uncanny. He also hummed when he played, like Lionel Hampton does.”
Teddy’s ear and slender reading ability were confirmed by Erskine Tate, who also cleared up most of the personnel on the two sides made by his orchestra. The photograph in A Pictorial History of Jazz shows the band at this time and Tate was quite definite that no substitutions, neither Dodds nor Ory, were made for the recordings. He pointed out that Angelo Fernandez, although essentially a good classical player, was perfectly capable of playing jazz. (That he might sound like Dodds is hardly surprising. Furthermore, he was composer of Endurance Stomp and performed on both later recordings of this tune, according to the Chicago Defender.) Ed Atkins was also a fine musician and his dry New Orleans trombone is, we suggest, also heard on a number of Lovie Austin records of this period.
The question of whether there are one or two pianists present Tate could not clarify, except to suggest that a second pianist, if any, would probably have been Frank Ethridge.
Trombonist Preston Jackson recalled working with Teddy: “Weatherford quit Erskine Tate’s band and opened at the Dreamland not long before he, Darnell (Howard), and Jack Carter left for China. Some of the personnel was Shirley Clay (trumpet), me, and Weatherford. I don’t recall the other fellows, only the drummer called Sonny. There was no doubt about Weatherford’s ability. I would say he was one of the best in Chicago, and we had other great ones. Maybe the conditions in the country caused him to leave; there were quite a few musicians who left: Wilson Townes, a very good sax and clarinet, Horace Eubanks, and others. Recognition, I think, played an important part.”
Howard, in fact, did not go with Carter, but had been, with pianist Bill Hegamin, earlier and had just returned. Perhaps his stories of the Orient influenced Weatherford, perhaps it was Teddy’s natural wanderlust, but the course of jazz piano may well have been redirected by his departure. A major influence on his contemporaries, including Earl Hines, was moving out.
“Jack Carter Orchestra leaves San Francisco, Aug. 31 for China,” reported the Pittsburg Courier (11 September 1926), “will play 10 weeks at Plaza Hotel then tour Orient.” Those known to have left with drummer Carter were Valaida Snow (trumpet and vocal), Albert Nicholas, Billy Paige (reeds), Weatherford (piano), Frank Ethridge (banjo and violin). Although initially booked for only those few weeks at the Plaza, recollections of Albert Nicholas and others suggest they stayed for almost twelve months before touring. At the Hotel, Philippino trombonist Nick Amper was added and an Austrian bassist remembered as ‘Gus’. Nicholas and Ethridge appear to have left at the end of the Plaza engagement.
In late ’27 or early ’28, they arrived in the Dutch East Indies for three weeks in Surabaya, then a few more weeks at the Oost Java Restaurant in Batavia (now Djakarta), where they caused a sensation, particularly among the young Dutch musicians. Weatherford and Valaida Snow, the ‘Queen of the Trumpet’, were the stars of the band and trombonist Angelo ‘Jimmy Angel’ Jiminez, another Philippino, also drew the
audience’s approval. It would appear that Paige had already returned to the United States by this time but Russian Sergio Ermoll also recalls Lavaida Snow with the band; she was (or soon became) Carter’s wife.
From Batavia, they went on to the Adelphi Hotel in Singapore before returning to Shanghai, where Carter himself left with the Snow sisters.
Weatherford, who found the Orient very much to his liking, stayed on, playing duet piano with Bill Hegamin, until he joined an orchestra led by the Russian composer Bakaleinikoff, later to be known for his musical work in Hollywood. This band played at the Carlton Palais de Dance, a double ballroom: “You just opened the doors and you were in the other room,” remembers Sergio Ermoll.
From the Bakaleinikoff Orchestra Teddy moved to one led by another Russian, Daniel Coletz, one of three balalaika-playing brothers, this time at The Madrid. Ermoll also played with this band and says that they were playing plenty of hot music. In
fact, the Russians dominated the Shanghai musical scene. All were classically trained, but many took to jazz and western music with both skill and enthusiasm.
In 1929, Teddy took over a band led by Californian trumpeter Robert Hill and moved into the Canidrome, a venue in the French settlement, which featured three ballrooms as well as extensive gambling facilities. Over the next three years he was mostly at the Canidrome, but did take engagements at a number of other places, the names of which Sergio Ermoll has forgotten. Weatherford’s only return to the States took place when the Canidrome sent him to look for more talent. During his return, he subbed briefly in Noble Sissle’s band during their residence in Boston (Jack Carter and Sidney Bechet were both members) and later, while in California, recruited Buck Clayton’s band for Shanghai.
Trumpeter Teddy Buckner, recalling the period as late 1933, remembers that the Clayton band was struggling for work, so the chance of a long engagement in Shanghai was enthusiastically received. The band was Buck Clayton, Jack Ratton, Buckner (trumpets), ‘Happy’ Johnson (trombone), Caughey Roberts, ‘Bumps’ Myers, Artemis Taylor (reeds), Joe McCutcheon (violin), Eddie Beale (piano), Frank Pashley (guitar), Reggie Jones (bass), Dave Lewis (drums, vibes), and a vocalist. Buckner returned after nine months but remembers the time with pleasure. Teddy, “one helluva pianist”, played only during intermission and featured at Sunday concerts, his speciality being Rhapsody In Blue.
Although Clayton stayed on almost two years, Weatherford left before this for a hotel engagement in Singapore.
Roy Butler, who had known Teddy in Chicago, was with the band of the legendary trumpeter Crickett Smith at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay, India, when they heard of a sensational ‘coloured pianist’ playing in Singapore. They had lost their own pianist so they invited Teddy to join them for a season at the Hellendoorn Restaurant in Surabaya.
Crickett Smith’s Symphonians comprised Smith (trumpet), Rudy Jackson, Roy Butler (reeds), Sterling Conaway (guitar), Creighton Thompson (vocal), and Louis Pedroso (drums), Weatherford being picked up on the way to Java. Bandleader and saxophonist Roland Craen, now living in Geneva, recalled his early days: “I met Weatherford around August 1935 in Singapore; he worked at Raffles Hotel and I at the Hotel Adelphi. Eventually, in October, we went to the Dutch East Indies. He joined Crickett Smith’s Orchestra and I was with an orchestra of an American named Tommy Phillips, as they badly needed a violinist. Both orchestras worked in the same establishment, but when Tommy Phillips’s Orchestra broke up I worked two months, May and June 1936, with Teddy and Sterling Conaway.
I was, in fact, born and raised in India, where my father was leader of the Bombay Symphonic Orchestra. I was learning violin at the Conservatorium, but my first engagement with jazz musicians was at the Taj Mahal with the English Orchestra of Ken McCarthy (Ken Mac) in 1934.
It was Rudy Jackson who gave me my first clarinet (in Bombay) and Roy Butler who gave me my first lessons on tenor sax. My European origins posed no problems; on the contrary, we were musicians representing one big family of races and colours. Moreover, they were men for whom I had, as a young musician, great respect and admiration. They were charming and simple men. Teddy was a fine fellow, always sweet and calm. He admired Earl Hines and Fats Waller enormously. The bulk of the band’s pro-gramme was based on jazz, with, from time to time, some Negro spirituals, sung by a vocal quartet of Creighton Thompson, Rudy Jackson, Crickett Smith, and Roy Butler. In July 1936, I left for Europe...”
The Symphonians returned for another season at the Taj Mahal and during this period made one record for the Indian Rex label. “Though the tune in itself isn’t too bad, the lyrics leave much to be desired. There are good bits from Weatherford, Roy Butler (tenor), and Crickett playing muted. Creighton Thompson takes the rather painful vocal...but Thompson was a fine singer, and this sounded like rather a tongue in cheek affair.” [Blue Rhythm, January 1953, Bombay.]
At the end of this season, November 1936, (the seasons began in April and November), violinist Leon Abbey brought his band to the Taj Mahal for a second visit, the first having taken place while the Symphonians were in Java.
This group was Bill Coleman (trumpet), Arthur Lanier, Antonio Cosey, Fletcher Allen (reeds), Charles ‘Dizzy’ Lewis (piano), Emile Christian (bass, trombone), Oliver Tines (drums), but during the visit Abbey augmented the band with members of the Symphonians: Crickett Smith, Rudy Jackson, and trombonist George Leonardi.
Russian bassist ‘Innocent Nick’ (see Storyville 42) remembers: ‘‘Teddy used to play downstairs, in the Tavern of the Taj, for the soldiers, sailors, and others, a very rough place. Emile Christian played bass and Pedroso drums. I substituted on two occasions for Christian. Teddy would play for hours without a break. Even with drinks, he
would continue one-handed; he had tremendous hands.”
At the close of the season, Abbey returned to Paris, Jackson staying with the band, Teddy and Roy Butler going for a holiday. Drummer Oliver Tines remained to play with Crickett Smith, but died only a few months after Abbey’s departure.
The Taj’s 1937 programme for their Monsoon Symphony announced, “We have again been able to secure the services of Teddy Weatherford for the next season. He will divide the honours of the Harbour Bar with a charming young lady named Mabel Scott — and — who knows? — perhaps Aimee again!”
In Paris, Weatherford met his former colleague Eddie South and they shared an apartment. With the International Exposition attracting many musicians and artists to France, one correspondent described Montmartre as ‘Harlem transplanted’.
Teddy lost few opportunities to play, but his reception among the younger pianists was mixed. Men like Joe Turner, Garland Wilson, and Herman Chittison considered
him old-fashioned, but in the new European enthusiasts, like Hugues Panassie, Teddy found true worshippers. Escorted to the best homes in Paris, basking in adulation.... this must have been one of Teddy’s best times.
Fortunately for posterity, Panassie persuaded him to record. With typical generosity, Weatherford agreed to make these titles for Panassie’s Swing label without accepting a sou. Although some who were fortunate enough to hear him in person contend that these sides do not fully reflect his skill, they are still remarkably fine piano solos. Perhaps our major regret must be that he was not recorded with Eddie South or some of the others then in Paris. In later years he was to bemoan the fact that he never received a copy of any of these Paris recordings.
He has been remembered as huge, and very dark, usually dressed in a white shark-skin suit and a broad white hat, friendly, gregarious, and a lively (if not always accurate) story-teller — and always willing to play for an audience.
Trumpeter Luis Moreno was in Paris with a Spanish swing band called the Vagabonds: “I met Teddy Weatherford at a party in the house of Rothschild. Rudy Jackson was there, and Roy Butler. I remember they were asked if they could sing spirituals. Teddy said, “We’ll try,” so they went into a corner, made up a couple of tunes and off they went!
Later, the Vagabonds got a contract to go to Bombay. We played at the Taj Mahal for six months, but, when the manager offered us an extension, the boys said they couldn’t stand the place, it was too hot.
Teddy had offered to let me play with him if I stayed, so, although my heart was a bit heavy, I stayed. When I joined Teddy, it was to lead the brass. Crickett Smith had always been a lead trumpet player but he had had his day. He took it very well, because he knew he had passed it. He was a true musician; in fact they all were. When these coloured men took over they had a style and a smile. They were ‘soul’ people.”
By September 1937, Teddy had left Paris for Bombay again to take over Crickett Smith’s band for the next season at the Taj Mahal. “Crickett himself was quite a guy,” wrote a correspondent, “he was well over fifty at that time, and carried a four-inch scar on the left side of his neck.”
Rudy Jackson, interviewed in 1945, when still playing in Ceylon, said: “Some-times I was with Crickett Smith, and some-times with Teddy Weatherford, but the boys are mostly the same,” a statement confirmed by the photos and personnels uncovered during our research.
Luis Moreno had separated from the Vagabonds at the close of their Taj season. “They wanted to go back to Paris without anything, and the Spanish war still on, yet we had a contract here! I told them: I don’t care. You think what you like, but this is my place!’ The conditions were very good for musicians. The salary was just pocket money because we lived in the hotel and everything was free, food, the lot. We were well treated, and there were fine people there; in fact, I stayed twenty years!
Crickett was a very funny man. When I knew him, he was a bit too old, but he had his personality, and he used to sing like Louis Armstrong. He was very well liked. He would sign his contracts for so much money and two coronas a day, and every day the manager would have to bring him his cigars. He was a character!
Roy Butler was the gentleman of the orchestra. He never drank in his life, and if someone said, ‘How about a round of drinks?’, Roy would say: I’ll have an ice-cream; you enjoy beer, I enjoy ice-cream.’ He was a very methodical man, the brains of the orchestra. Teddy was a careless man and Roy used to administrate for him. Most would have left Teddy to manage himself, but Roy would make him write for new music and bring him the latest records and get him to listen.
Teddy was also a very simple man. He loved to tell jokes and play them on others. He didn’t have to exercise any discipline because we all got on well together, despite that we were all foreigners.”
Hal Green, later to become a prominent bandleader in Bombay joined on guitar, but also played all the reeds, plus violin. (George Leonardi also doubled violin.) Sometimes, to show off, a six-man sax section was featured: Jackson, Butler, Josico Menzies, the Green brothers and Weatherford, who faked blowing. Rudy Jackson was always given the bass sax because of his lack of inches!
They were offered another season at the Hellendoorn in Java, but, on the way, they filled in a month at the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo, Ceylon, opening on Saturday 29th July 1939 (Plantation Night).
“We played all hot music,” recalled Louis Moreno. “Provided music for dancing and cabaret acts. I made a lot of arrangements in fact, about half the numbers we played (note the accompanying programme), although none of these were ever recorded. He didn’t take any of them to Calcutta because they were all done according to the men we had at the time; for instance, the first sax also played violin, Roy Butler played oboe. They were all personalized.
Apart from Teddy, the soloists were Roy, Rudy, Crickett, who still had his own style, and myself....that’s about all.
The Plantation Quartet were also a regular act — very successful. At the Taj and the Galle Face, they got themselves in funny costumes and made their own arrangements without music. I’d just give them a chord on piano. I didn’t play much piano, just the Viennese waltzes, the English waltzes — a small bracket.”
Sharing the stage was Mario and his Band with singer Dorothy Baker and half-a-dozen speciality acts. Mario Booth and his wife Dorothy, now living in Australia, looked back on their experiences in Ceylon:
“We used to play together in concerts, every Sunday afternoon we would have them. Once we got Teddy to play a Viennese waltz; that was the first we had together and to introduce him we said, ‘Come on, you play with us.’ It was the Blue Danube and it was the only time we saw Teddy fall flat on his face; he couldn’t handle it. It wasn’t that he didn’t know it, it was the way he played it. He just couldn’t get the Viennese beat: one, two, three. He was fascinated by it but acknowledged it was tricky.
Our own pianist was Eric Blackstein, very Teutonic. The first time he heard Teddy play, he became indignant and walked out. He refused to believe any Negro could play so magnificently.... and Teddy was like a great big bear at the piano — long arms and huge hands. We could never get Eric back to listen, which was funny, because he'd left Germany to get away from prejudice!
Teddy used to say that was why he liked India. ‘They treat us white folks fine,’ he’d joke.
Two or three of the men had their wives and girl friends with them. Teddy’s was Lorna Shortland, an Anglo-Indian girl, and a very good singer.”
The band left for Java at the end of August, and Luis Moreno remembered: “We were on a Japanese ship, the Aruna Maru, when the European war broke out, but we went on to Java and played about three months at the Hellendoorn. We had to get out because the war situation was getting hot. I was sorry to leave because Java was a beautiful place. Crickett Smith had fallen ill with high blood pressure, so he had to give up smoking and everything; he had no option.”
With considerable difficulty, they arranged passage back to Bombay, where they arrived on 7th January 1940 [Roy Butler’s passport ], and so happy was the Taj management that ‘Poires Glace Weatherford’ was placed on the menu on their first night back!
Their popularity at the Galle Face during the earlier visit earned an invitation to Colombo for a return visit of longer duration. When they arrived, Mario and his Band were still there, but now facing great difficulty with musicians. Many of his band, being German, had now been interned, and capable replacements among the locals were rare. Mario remembers that on occasions they had men who couldn’t read a note of music, but who were necessary to make up the numbers! At other times they drew their musicians from naval vessels in port.
Mario left for Shanghai on 20th September 1940 and about twelve months later Teddy left his men and went to Calcutta, taking George Leonardi with him. He apparently found the Galle Face very circumscribed and frustrating as he was expected to play music he little understood. “He was fascinated by it, but having to do it all the time was different,” says Dorothy Baker) Booth, Mario’s wife.
“Teddy was a man who couldn’t stay long in the same place,’’ explains Luis Moreno, “so when he got an offer to go to Calcutta he wanted to take the whole band. It was a good job. He was to be in charge of the full hotel, all the different bands, but we wouldn’t agree. Teddy, Leonardi, and a few went. The majority stayed with me, so I became leader.
He was a sort of musical director and made good money. He was given a lump sum and paid the men whatever he chose. (Note Reuben Solomon’s later remarks on this.) He said he would save as much as he could and go back to America and open a snack bar.”
At the Grand Hotel, Teddy commenced a series of recordings for Indian HMV, using men from the bands he was now fronting in the hotel. Regrettably, those we have heard or been told about contain little or nothing of interest to the jazz collector, all being stock arrangements of mediocre popular songs.
His natural laziness plus a lack of any disciplinary inclinations inevitably led to poor musical standards and it was not until around August 1942, when Roy Butler rejoined him, that any kind of jazz feeling was re-established in the groups. Roy was to be essential in the organization of an enlarged band to play for servicemen in the Wintergarden Room.
Two new and significant additions were guitarist Cedric West and lead altoist Reuben Solomon, both of whom had literally walked out of Burma ahead of the invading Japanese.
Reuben Solomon recalled the hectic evening performances of this new band: “The British and American troops would have a set-to, invariably, every night, because of the pay differences. Americans had more money to spend on the girls, so all the girls would be with the American soldiers and none with the British tommies. As soon as a set of Americans would come in the British would watch them, then suddenly, for no apparent reason, there would be a free-for- all, bottles, chairs, the lot. We would be ducking and Teddy would stand and shout, ‘Okay boys, fighting music!’, and we would go into something very two-beat — tarah, tarah, crash, bang — as long as we could. Suddenly you would hear the MP’s whistles and everyone would converge on the dance floor. A few bodies would be taken out.
On another time, there was this American soldier — he must have been a Southerner. He was standing right in front of the stage and he had this little black bear with him. Teddy always had a white shark-skin suit whenever he played, always immaculately dressed. He was smiling away, playing a solo, looking happy, when for no reason at all, this soldier said, ‘Here Teddy, here’s your brother!’, and chucked the bear at Teddy. Of course, the bear went flying about ten feet through the air, his claws came out, and he got hold of Teddy’s shark¬skin coat and tried to climb. He ripped it to shreds and, of course, got a few claw marks on Teddy. It might have amused a few American fellows there, but it didn’t amuse Teddy, or anyone else. Teddy took it very well. He wanted to set about this fellow but it wasn’t wise.”
Teddy continued recording, using the rhythm section or the entire band. Unfortunately, most of the records are accompaniments to vocalists, a strange assortment, some band members, some their wives, the best being Bob Lee, a United States service-man sounding not unlike Robert Goulet. None were in any sense jazz singers.
The only moments of any interest to the jazz collector are provided by Weatherford himself and by some brief solos from Roy Butler’s tenor and Reuben Solomon’s clarinet. Reuben made a handful of sides with his Jive Boys, which feature Cedric West on trombone and guitar, but even on these ‘hotter’ sessions they were severely restricted by management. “We could choose our own men but they always insisted on us playing the latest film hits — very unsuitable material,” remembered Reuben.
Sinclair Traill, then with the Air Force, arranged and supervised the solo sessions. “We had great trouble that day as the overhead fan needed oiling and, India being what it was, no oil was to be found, so we made records in the most awful heat imaginable. I think they would have been much better, but Teddy was quite overcome by the heat. Also, the studio manager was a complete square and tried to make Teddy do a set of waltzes!
Teddy, as you know, was a great big guy and a very sweet person....used to sit up in his penthouse in the Grand whilst his wife cooked us curry and he played piano. Happy times! I went to his wedding.”
The band sides Roy Butler remembers as, “just awful, to put it mildly, but sometimes that’s important too, to see how far along things have come since then.”
The music was hardly more exciting on the stand. “He used a lot of stock arrangements, mostly Jimmy Lally’s, most uninteresting,” says Reuben Solomon. “He never had writers of his own. I did a couple of arrangements but I couldn’t keep up the pace. He relied more on his own solos and those who could improvise with him, like myself and Roy Butler. Roy was a good tenor-man, a good reader and a good improvisor. I had a great respect for Roy. He taught me a tremendous amount that I still remember. Roy, of course, was Teddy’s confidant. They would have long chats together, either Teddy in Roy’s room, or Roy in Teddy’s.
Teddy was very easy-going, a very lovable personality, and a very good businessman. He wasn’t a very generous payer and there was a little discontent in the band. Eventually, I dropped out, and Cedric too. He lost quite a few boys like that. I left four to six months before he died.”
Jack Armitage, writing in Le Jazz Hot, gives a good account of hearing the band at the Grand one evening. “I had taken four weeks leave in Calcutta....I was flattered to find he flushed with pleasure at the entry of an old acquaintance and that he would compose a programme specially for the occasion....that night he was so dazzling I would not hesitate to place him among the great musicians in jazz. He played all the pieces I asked of him, including Mr. Freddie Blues, as well as a unique version of Twelfth Street Rag, which I had never really liked. Not only did he play marvellously solo, but proved himself a real strength in the rhythm section. One could feel his enormous power, the solid swing of the firm left hand lifting the band....most of the time the band worked out in a room full of British airmen, G.I.’s, both black and white, and Anglo Hindus....as a leader of the orchestra Teddy left much to be desired. Of course, he never had the same musicians, so the ensembles suffered from a serious handicap....for all that the brass section was good and had power.
The best musician was undoubtedly Cedric West, the guitarist. His tone was warm and he had plenty of ideas. He was also learning to play trombone and beginning to play very agreeably. For their best work, the band played a good proportion of excellent arrangements like Tommy Dorsey’s Boogie Woogie and several numbers of Count Basie... then they had plenty of swing and the soloists played their choruses with enthusiasm....the rest of the time they were content with standard arrangements or improvising softly on the blues, all interluded with Teddy’s solos.”
Armitage’s comment that Teddy never had the same musicians is not altogether true, as the band was basically constant for two years. Those remembered by Reuben Solomon were: George Banks, Bill McDermott, another (trumpets), George Leonardi (trombone), Reuben Solomon (clarinet, alto sax), Roy Butler, Sonny Gill (tenor saxes), another sax, Tony Gonsalves (bass), Cedric West (trombone, guitar), Jimmy Smith (drums). There were, however, many ‘sitters-in’ for, despite the drabness of the band’s daytime repertoire, at night it was one of the hottest bands in Calcutta.
The most famous of the ‘extras’ was Paul Gonsalves, then a truck driver in the Quartermasters’ Corps, who used to borrow an alto sax from the Services’ Club and jam with the band.
Reuben Solomon remembers: “When Teddy wanted to play, he could play, but he didn’t want to play often. He would get the boys offstage for about two brackets with the rhythm section and front line — more Dixie format, but modern for those days. Gonsalves was there when Teddy had the jazz bit, Teddy, the rhythm section, Gonsalves, and myself.
Teddy could hold an audience....his piano work very good, but his communication with the audience was something fantastic!”
Jimmy Witherspoon sang with the band while his ship was held in Calcutta for repairs. At the time he was mostly trying to imitate the popular Inkspots, but Weatherford encouraged him to sing his own way, advice he successfully followed on his return to America.
Others remembered were Anglo-Indians Pat Blake (trumpet) and Rudy Cotton, a very good tenor-man. In fact, a contemporary correspondent heard Rudy Cotton and his Swing Band in Delhi and wrote that, “the band really jumped, just another bunch of righteous boys who helped to prove, if proof were needed, that this jazz of ours has developed into an international language.”
John Scruggs now lives in Bluefield, West Virginia, and traced and spoke to many of Weatherford’s friends and relatives for us. During the war he was stationed in India with the 838th US Army Engineers.
“We were at the Wintergarden drinking beer and we got to feeling good and I called out two or three times, ‘Hoorah! Hoorah for Bluefield!!’ Teddy brought the band to a stop and came over to the table and asked about people and places and then told the manager, “Everything at this table is on me!’ That’s how I came to know him.
After that I would always find Teddy when I had a pass because his suite was in the hotel and, although it was off limits to enlisted men, Teddy would always look after me. Teddy got me permission to go to his quarters and I spent the night at his suite several times.
His wife was a very attractive Anglo-Indian girl with an olive complexion and long dark hair. I can’t recall Teddy ever playing for me; in fact, I can’t exactly recall a piano ever being there. There was a very large piano in the hotel. I remember that!”
“The war was in full swing, as you know,” writes Roy Butler, “and the Japs dropped a few bombs in the harbour around Calcutta and I decided it was time to go home, which I did on an army transport. I left Calcutta in October 1944.”
Roy’s departure was the biggest blow to Teddy but there were others, including, of course, Reuben Solomon and Cedric West.
“I was offered a job at a club run by an Australian who gave me double what Teddy paid and, although I must say working with Teddy was a great experience that I enjoyed very much, I had to look after myself,” explained Reuben Solomon.
In fact, for all his easy-going ways, Teddy was a very careful businessman. Equally, he disliked agents. “He just couldn’t see that 10% going to someone else,” says Roy Butler.
Another idiosyncrasy that developed was a dislike of having photos taken of his bands, and we have been unable to locate any of his last group. ‘Everytime I have one taken, my band breaks up’, was Teddy’s reason, according to Reuben Solomon. Although, generally, he says, it was Teddy’s policy to keep the boys happy and to feature who was there at the time: ‘Roy, you take a solo; Reuben, you take that’, and ‘What about you, Teddy?’ — ‘Oh, no. I’ve been playing all my life’.
Weatherford’s end was as tragic as it was sudden.
“He contracted cholera in the hotel,” recalls John Scruggs. “At that time the Army was very concerned about rats. They had told us not to eat or drink anything in the town.”
Teddy was amongst the epidemic’s first victims and died within forty-eight hours at the Presidency General Hospital on 25th April 1945. He was only forty-one years old.
Details of Teddy Weatherford’s recordings remain somewhat sketchy despite considerable efforts to trace as many as possible. The majority of those he made in India are of insufficient musical interest to interest the student of jazz but his best-known recordings reflect at least some of his ability as a soloist. In these there is a noticeable partiality to Earl Hines, whom he both admired and wrote to regularly over his years in the Orient. (It must also be stated that they shared early musical inspirations.) The later sessions in Calcutta also show some Wallerisms, particularly in his singing; his physical separation from his contemporaries did not mean that he was unaware of their playing. One wartime critic actually likened the Indian output to the work of Leslie Hutchinson (‘Hutch’) and while we might accept this comment on the medleys we feel that it hardly relates to any of his other work.
Teddy was the material for legend, unquestionably talented. His best work dazzles the collector while his poorest remains relatively obscure. He chose to live comfortably and happily out of the inter-national limelight and, although this automatically denied him greater recognition and, more importantly, creative stimulus, we feel sure many other musicians would have gladly taken his place.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Karl Gert zur Heide (Germany), Bertrand Demeusy (France), Allard Moller (Netherlands), whose article on Jack Carter in the Roaring Jazz Groaner Chronicle provided much valuable information on Weatherford in China and the Indies, Jehangir Dalai (India), Cedric West (England).
Teddy Weatherford’s Recordings.
The following is intended as a guide only to the very many recordings in which Weatherford participated. A large number, particularly those recorded in the Orient, are of minimal or no jazz interest, and since large sections of his discography have appeared in print elsewhere (noted at the appropriate points) there seems little point in wasting space by duplicating that information here.
USA Chicago 1922-1926
Weatherford claimed to Hugues Panassie that he had made many piano rolls for QRS. None have been documented, although his status among the pianists of that period would suggest he might well have made
With Jimmie Wade — Documented in Storyville 56
ERSKINE TATE’S VENDOME ORCHESTRA 28 May 1926
Louis Armstrong, James Tate, tpts; Ed Atkins, tbn; Angelo Fernandez, clt: Paul “Stump” Evans, Charles Harris, alts; Norvel “Flute” Morton, ten; Teddy Weatherford, possibly Frank Ethridge, pnos; John Hare, Elliot Washington or Frank Ethridge, bjo; Jimmy Bertrand, dms; Erskine Tate, ldr.
See Jazz Records page 1628 for further details.CRICKETT SMITH AND HIS SYMPHONIANSBombay, c. August, 1936
Crickett Smith, tpt/arr; George Leonard!, tbn; Rudy Jackson, Roy Butler, reeds; Teddy Weatherford, pno;
Sterling Conaway, gtr; Louis Pedroso, dms; Creighton Thompson, vcl; possibly others.
At least two sides were recorded in the Taj Mahal Hotel for Indian Rex, no further details known.
For details of the sides made in Paris in June/July 1937 see Jazz Records page 1766.
INDIA 1941-1945 (See Matrix 107/108 for full details)
From this period a total of 72 items have been documented, ranging from piano solos and medleys, accompaniments to a variety of vocalists including Paquita & Zarate, Frank J. Orford and “Bob Lee (USAF)” and band items. A small number of the latter were issued as by the ALL STAR SWING BAND and feature Roy Butler on tenor, of which more in a forthcoming issue of Storyville. A collective personnel of the band was as follows:
George Banks, Bill McDermott, Pat Blake, tpts; George Leonardi, Cedric West, tbns; Roy Butler, Reuben Solomon, Sonny Saldana. Tony Menezes, Sonny Gill, Rudy Cotton, reeds; Teddy Weatherford, Harold Rehling, pnos; Cedric West, gtr; Tony Gonsalves, bass; Trevor McCabe, Jimmy Smith, dms.
Band vocalists included Nester West, Kitty Walker, Diana Whitburn, Sonny Gill, Bob Lee, Teddy Weatherford and Pepita (otherwise Paquita, nee Myrtle Watkins in Boston USA, and wife of Mexican violinist/vocalist Zarate).
The following were issued on JAZUM 9 (LP) believed to be still available: Tea For Two/Weather Beaten Blues/My Blue Heaven/Ain’t Misbehavin’(All Paris, July, 1937)/Remainder from Calcutta. India. Medley - parts 1 & 2 /Birth Of The Blues/Darktown Strutters Ball (all April 1942)/Blues In The Night/St. Louis Bluet Basin Street Blues/Memphis Blues (all August 1942).
Reuben Solomon recalls Paul Gonsalves also sitting in with the band on some recordings on alto whilst serving with the US Quartermaster Corps.
During the period September 1942 - June 1944 some 26 sides (2 unissued) were recorded by a group called REUBEN SOLOMON AND HIS JIVE BOYS. These did not include Teddy Weatherford, but had either “Baby” Menzies or Harold Rehling on piano. The other musicians were all from the Weatherford band and were here much better featured solo-wise.
Shortly after the war it was confirmed that all masters and remaining stocks of records had been destroyed, and only those few items Known to be in the hands of collectors and the participating musicians are known to have survived. What was probably the largest collection of these was in the hands of US collector Harold Flakser who disposed of them many years ago as not being musicworthy!
(special thanks go to the National Jazz Archive for preserving these records online)