KING Teddi 1954

Teddi King "In the beginning" liner notes by Ted Takashi Ono, Producer (May 1999)

"Ah, the marvelous simplicity of it all! Here’s a girl, this Teddi King. A girl, a woman, a musician, a singer and a jazzman. A wondrous slip of a thing with a voice that can either fill a hall, or whisper the tender love poems of this mixed-up mid-century with equally telling effect. This is a girl who has a superb relationship with her music. She becomes intertwined, intermeshed and interdependent with a song, and both she and it grow a little in coming to know each other. And, oh, her songs! They reflect the impeccable taste of this warmly wistful creature. Teddi King, pinned to a stage by a stiletto of surprise pink, has a wonderful way of digging down deep in the old stab wounds of love, and of then binding them up with the fresh, clean, crystalline purity of her way with a song. Largely, I guess, Miss King’s specialite is the straightforward, the honest, the eyes-open declaration of love or war. It’s an unabashed
statement she makes, whether of hurt or of joy. When Teddi King sings a song, she reveals it. She has the quality of taking a pop tune and turning it out a classic-like that other greatly honest singer, Helen Ward. She has a deep respect for the inner meaning of a lyric."
One David Drew Zingg wrote on the album notes for her 1956 album TO YOU FROM TEDDI KING. Since Mr. Zingg put it so well, I thought it was silly for me to try to capture the essence of what he had written with my own words. If there was such a thing as a "semi-legend", Teddi King should be the top qualifier for it. Although she never was a big star in either field of pop or jazz, she was always highly regarded as an artist with very special qualities. A big stardom was not meant for her, nor could she ever be a diva a la Lee Wiley. Teddi was a lady, together, very intelligent, witty, and down to earth. She had clear visions about who she was and what type of performer she wanted to be. She was a rarity in the field that was dominated by ones who were arrogant, eccentric,
and screwed-up. To name those who were somewhat like Teddi, I can only come up with Jackie Cain of Jackie & Roy fame, and Irene Kral, Jackie’s sister-in-law, both warm, genuine, sincere, together ladies. Still, there was no one exactly like Teddi, whose career was rather mysterious with many unusual turns and twists.
Theodora King, the only daughter of vaudevillian Roy King, was born on September 18, 1929 in Revere MA. Although she always sang to entertain her family and friends and studied classical piano, her dream from
childhood was to become an actress. She played some lead rolls during her years with her high school drama club that, after graduation, led her to a regional theater group called "The Tributary Theatre of Boston". One of the directors candidly cautioned her that her height (4'11" when she was 18) might become a major obstacle for her dramatic pursuit. Because she could sing, he suggested that she study legitimate singing to expand her horizon toward light opera and musical comedies. It took only three months of studying classical singing before she landed herself a featured role with a solo number. That role, a mermaid in "Peter Pan" got her great praises from every direction, so much that it persuaded her to consider a singing career in nightclubs and dance halls.

In 1949, dance halls were still popular places to listen to bands, even though Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker had raised the stature of band music from dance hall entertainment to an art form, something to sit down and listen to at a jazz club, a couple of years earlier. Sarah Vaughan and June Christy were the new important songstresses whom kids were trying to emulate. It took a while for Teddi King to convince herself that she could make it as a professional pop singer, but winning a Dinah Shore contest in a local RKO theater out of a field of 500 contestants did it. She went around to sing with one local dance band after another: George Graham, Jack Edwards, Nat Pierce, Ray Dorey, and again Nat Pierce. She made her recording debut with Pierce’s band on May 19, 1949. The song "Goodbye Mr. Chops" (issued on Motif) was a regional hit, but she really hated it. It was because she was told to imitate June Christy on this record. She simply could not find anything to relate to when the "cool school"
of jazz singing was concerned. She loved Mildred Bailey and Billie Holiday, and that was her taste.
Nat Pierce’s band was a be-bop influenced jazz band. By the time she began to tour with Pierce, Teddi was hooked on Sarah Vaughan’s sound. She said, "I know it is only a superficial aspect of singing, but I can’t stop playing Sarah’s records. Mildred Bailey is my idol, but I am totally addicted to Sarah’s sound". Like Jackie Cain of the same
period, Teddi’s singing was heavily influenced by Sarah Vaughan. She cut five sides (although only two of them were issued) with Nat Pierce. On "Mr. Chops" and "Crazy Moon", she had to do her June Christy imitation, on the rest, Sarah’s influence on her is evident. Unlike Jackie Cain, who totally dropped the Sarah Vaughan mannerism and found her own sound quickly, it manifested frequently in Teddi’s singing throughout the 1950s.
We are fortunate to be able to include five extremely rare acetate demo disks Teddi made in this collection. She (in 1976) did not remember when she cut these sides, whether before her debut with Nat Pierce’s band or later. The band that accompanied her on two sides was John Farrell’s. For the rest, she was accompanied only by piano. Judging by the maturity of her voice and style, I believe that they were recorded after her last Nat Pierce date. Five of the seven demo discs had no credits. I contacted ASCAP and BMI, but I could not find the name of the composers for four of these originals. She left the band business to focus on her jazz club and television
work in 1951. She quickly became a familiar face on local Boston TV stations. George Wein, jazz pianist and the owner of Storyville (both the club and the record label) became her unofficial manager. It was at Storyville where George Shearing discovered Teddi in early 1952. Shearing rarely worked with a vocalist after he worked with Sarah
Vaughan at Café Society Uptown in 1946, but he was utterly charmed by Teddi’s singing and personality. He hired her to tour with his combo throughout US, Canada, Mexico, and England for nearly two years. Their association continued on and off till 1959. By then, the tour package had grown to George Shearing, Teddi King, Billy Eckstine, and the Ray Charles Singers. It is rather disappointing to us fans that Shearing had Teddi on only six sides as far as recordings were concerned. On these sides, her Vaughan obsession is noticeable. She likes to dip down to unnecessarily low notes, though effortless, which I find is out of character. Still, "Midnight Belongs To You" is hauntingly beautiful.

In 1954, Teddi and her husband, drummer Josh Garber, were spending more and more time in New York. George Wein had promised her a recording session, but days went by without a clear commitment from Wein. George
Shearing’s manager was booking Teddi as a solo act by that time, and he got together with composer-promoter Joe Green to organize her first leader session. Teddi and her friends also chipped in to pay for the session and they hired Dick Jecobs (her old acquaintance) to orchestrate. They went into one of the MGM recording studios to cut "The
Dragon", "In the Year You’ve Gone", "My Funny Little Lover", and a song closely associated with Mildred Bailey, "I’ll Never Be the Same". Ironically, George Wein finally came through for Teddi, and she had to rush down to Boston on the following day to record her first LP, "Round Midnight", for Storyville. Wein also presented her at the first Newport Jazz Festival in June that year. The four sides she recorded with Dick Jacobs were brought to MGM, but
they were turned down due to the record company’s fear of causing any type of competition between Teddi and their big star Joni James. As a result, she had to wait over a year until she at last managed to license those sides to Decca. They were issued on Brunswick EP and Coral 45s simultaneously. Meanwhile, she recorded her second LP, "Miss Teddi King", for Storyville. I consider it her best album, even though it was only a 10-inch album. It is because she had the best possible jazz backing (a quartet led consisted of Ruby Braff, Jimmie Jones, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones) and she was totally free of Sarah Vaughan’s influence for once. RCA Victor was the first major label to sign Teddi King at last. In the typical George Wein manner, he rushed in to do another LP with Teddi, 12 inch at last, only a few days before her RCA contract was to start. That Storyville LP, "Now In Vogue", and her first Victor session for the album "Biding My Time", were recorded only 10 days apart.
Although she had one top 40 hit, "Mr. Wonderful", and subsequent offers to play major theaters and hotels, she felt uncomfortable with her new status as a pop singer. She preferred playing jazz dates but jazz programs on radio and television completely ignored her. She especially hated 16 pop single sides she had to record for RCA. In the middle of those frustrating days, she was asked to appear on the series for the Navy recruit program "Out Of Blue" with Dick Hyman’s small jazz group. Each tune was very short, but she truly enjoyed the "Out Of Blue" dates,
on which she could sing with such jazz giants as Roy Eldridge and Charlie Shavers. As a bonus program, we decided to include 4 songs from about 30 she recorded for the series. Here she is once again a wonderful jazz singer, even when she does such pop tunes as "Tammy", "An Affair to Remember", and "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing". She sings them with aplomb and gusto.
In 1954, Lena Horne returned to recording when she signed a long-term contract with RCA Victor. Teddi liked the way Lena was doing Harold Arlen tunes, so she started emulating Lena’s dramatic singing style. To my personal taste, it was not the right thing for Teddi to do. I think the strongest point of her singing, intimacy, began to diminish. Her singing became sometimes too controlled. Still, nothing could change the fact that Teddi King was a wonderful and unique singer.

At the end of 1958, her contract with RCA Victor ended. Her own feelings about her RCA years remained terribly mixed for the rest of her life. I think many of the 52 songs she recorded for RCA were wonderful. In 1959, she recorded one album and two singles for MCA Coral. After that experience, she was totally disillusioned by the recording business; she never went after a record company. In a sense, she never recorded again. 
Teddi King cut two more sides around that time. Even though they were completely pop oriented, we decided to include them just for their historical value. "This Magic Moment" was a big hit for the Drifters in 1959. Teddi’s recording was pressed on Champion. The 45 does not have any issue number, therefore, it was possibly a promotional record. It is very difficult to date the session, but I believe it was after her Coral sessions. There are also rumors that Teddi recorded some jazz sides under a pseudonym during her RCA years. If anyone knows about
those recordings, please contact me. I will truly appreciate it.
Between 1962 and 1970, Teddi disappeared from the public consciousness. It was not that she stopped singing. Actually she was working all the time and making a great deal of money. She signed an exclusive contract
with Playboy Clubs. According to my sources, it was such an exclusive agreement that she could not appear on television, nor any concerts or nightclubs, nor could she record for anyone. It was strictly at Playboy Clubs only. A rumor has it that they were planning to release some Teddi King recordings on the Playboy label. They actually recorded a considerable amount of her "live" performances, but nothing materialized. Some believe that it killed her career completely. That might have been true in a sense, but she was happy traveling far and wide, Europe, Asia, South America, and Australia.
In 1970, Teddi began to make New York club appearances again, but she became ill and was diagnosed with Lupus. She had to slow down considerably from that point. She, however, managed to do some impressive work, especially her "Mildred Bailey Tribute" program at Hotel Carlyle in 1975. She sounded like her old self there. For the rest, I felt that she was too Lena Horne-influenced. All of her albums from the 1970s were "afterthoughts," for they were not originally planned for commercial releases. She and pianist Dave McKenna finally wanted to do a real studio recording and put down some Ira Gershwin tunes as a demo. Before she could do the actual session, she suddenly passed away.

My friend Art Zimmerman saw her in early November 1977. She was fine that day and flew down to do a concert in North Carolina a few days later. After her concert, a fan got so exited that he could not restrain himself from giving Teddi a kiss. He had active meningitis and that was enough to make her violently ill because of her compromised immune system due to Lupus. She could barely return to New York and died two days later. She was only 48 years old. There is really such a thing as "a kiss of death" in real life. It took one of most angelic and lovely human beings away from us.
Since her untimely death, all of her eight albums from the 1950s have been reissued on LP and CD in Japan. Spain has one RCA album on CD. They are such fine legacies of this wonderful lady singer that it is truly a shame that they are not readily available for fans in North America. At least, this album is a nice start. We are hoping to talk
to BMG and Universal MCA to get a license to re-issue everything she recorded for Victor and Coral. If you are interested in such projects, please give us your name and address. We do need fans support to find our incentives. We really appreciate your writing us. 

"Remembering Teddi King" by Nat Hentoff (June 2002)

Whatever I've done as a reporter, novelist, organizer, and general pain in the ass has its roots when I was 11 and discovered jazz. Some people find God. I found Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Lester Young, and Billie Holiday. I was working then as a delivery boy on a horse-drawn fruit wagon in Boston, and so was able to buy recordings by my discoveries (three 78 rpms for a dollar).
On Sundays, I sneaked into jazz clubs to absorb this life force directly. At the Ken Club, moonfaced Sidney Bechet from New Orleans played his soprano saxophone with, it seemed to me, the impact of a typhoon. At the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1964, Martin Luther King said that black music, very much including jazz, had provided much of the momentum for the civil rights movement.
At 19, I got a job in radio, at WMEX, and the boss let me have a jazz program in the airtime he couldn't sell. That expanded into remotes from jazz clubs. I got to know many risk-taking improvisers, and some became my mentors -Rex Stewart, Count Basie's drummer Jo Jones, and Charles Mingus.
One night, Ben Webster, the tenor saxophonist, who could be volcanic but also intimate and tender when it came to ballads, gave me a credo for the rest of my life. He had left Duke Ellington, much to his later regret -that was the big leagues- and working on his own on the road, he had to rely on local rhythm sections. During a gig in Boston, the local musicians he'd hired were trying to find the groove, but came up short. Sitting at the bar between sets, Ben Webster said to me, "If the rhythm section ain't making it, go for yourself!" Or, as Count Basie used to say, "Every tub's got to stand on its own bottom." That brings me to Teddi King.
There was a lively local jazz scene in Boston during those years: Ruby Braff, who became a world-class cornetist, Roy Haynes, Nat Pierce, Toshiko Akiyoshi newly arrived from Japan and George Wein already a resourceful entrepreneur as well as an exuberant jazz pianist. And there was a vocalist, Teddi King, who was also a musician. Not all singers are.
As New Yorker critic Whitney Balliett later described her -after Teddi had become a national presence in jazz- "She was barely five feet tall, but her voice was large and relaxed… She had a rich contralto and a wide vibrato, and a peaceful, spacious way of phrasing. She never hurried a note, even at fast tempos, and she gave each song a serenity that carried it though the noisiest room."
Teddi's time was jazz time. And as her peers, the musicians, used to say, she was "a great audience". You can tell when a group is making it by the attention the players give to each other, and Teddi moved, grooved, with the band.

In the summer of 1970, while Teddi King was working a gig in Nantucket, she developed symptoms of what was eventually diagnosed as lupus [….] Teddi, as the disease took hold, kept working, and her audiences were unaware of her pain and fear because what came through, as before, was "her sheer joy in singing", as John S. Wilson wrote in The New York Times.
As Ben Webster's philosophy put it, her bodily rhythm section wasn't making it, so her spirit, her life force, was keeping her keeping on.
Lupus, however, did change her approach to singing: "I was afraid I might not have the voice I'd had, and I began concentrating on lyrics." Her mentor was Mabel Mercer, who was also a key influence, along with Billie Holiday, on Frank Sinatra.
Mercer, who mesmerized her listeners, me included, told Teddi that no matter how beautiful a song's melody might be, she would add it to her repertory only if the lyrics had meaning for her. And Teddi, using that criterion, deepened her singing. As she said, "If there is a person in the lyrics, I became that person. The lyrics direct my choice of notes . . . and the sound follows".
"So", she told Whitney Balliett, "I don't think ahead in my phrasing, and every time I do a song, it comes out slightly differently".
For those who never had a chance to hear Teddi King, there is "In the Beginning: 1949-1954", a Teddi King compilation produced by Ted Ono, who devotes his Baldwin Street Music label in Toronto exclusively to singers he cherishes. The collection is in record stores, and on his Web site Among her colleagues on the recordings were Nat Pierce, George Shearing, Dick Hyman, Milt Hinton, and Don Lamond.
In his notes, Ted Ono points out that although in her brief career Teddi "had one Top 40 hit, 'Mr. Wonderful,' and subsequent offers to play major theaters and hotels, she felt uncomfortable with [her later] status as a pop singer. She preferred playing jazz dates but jazz programs on radio and television completely ignored her".

On In the Beginning, there are such jazz sides as "'Swonderful," "Who's Sorry Now?", "What Is This Thing Called Love?" and "This Magic Moment," with Charlie Shavers on trumpet. And the early pop tracks are models of their kind.
Ono quotes David Drew Zingg on Teddi: "A girl, a woman, a musician, a singer, and a jazzman . . . with a voice that can either fill a hall or whisper tender love poems . . . with equally telling effect. . . . It's an unabashed statement she makes, whether of hurt or joy. No fancy type she. No echo-chamber carom shots off steely-edged tonsils."

I completly agree with Ted Takashi Ono to say that this second Storyville recording is quiet surely her best work on record. The musicians playing here are for something in this result. Jimmy Jones piano, Jo Jones drums, Milt Hinton bass and Ruby Braff trumpet. No less !!! That's why I'm happy to share it with you and specially with Patricia who requested for this post…


1949-1954 In The Beginning (CD Baldwin Street 2000), 'Round Midnight (RCA 1953), Storyville Presents Miss Teddi King (Storyville 1954), Now In Vogue (Storyville 1956), Bidin' My Time (RCA 1956), To You From Teddi King (RCA 1957), A Girl And Her Songs (RCA 1957), All The King's Songs (Coral 1959), Lovers & Losers (Audiophile 1978), ...This Is New (Inner City 1978).

1 comment:

Joates said...

I first discovered Teddi King as a teenager in the 80s. A picked up a copy of Storyville Artists perform Rodgers and Hart. There was one track by Teddi King - A Ship Without A Sail. I was amazed by all aspects of her singing. I have wanted to hear her work on Storyville, but her records always sold in the hundreds because they were so rare. In the CD era they are always out of print or sell for outrageous prices. I went to Amazon .com and saw that this album is currently unavailable. I am very grateful to this blog to allow me to hear music that has been out of reach for me. Thanks!