The Troy Street Observer

September 29: Miss Teddi King, Part 2

There were two Teddi Kings. The first was the jazz singer introduced here on September 18, the one who worked with Nat Pierce and George Shearing, and recorded for Storyville. The second was the major-label pop singer we meet today.

Teddi King became an RCA Victor recording artist in 1955, and jazz listeners weren’t pleased with the change in direction that followed.

Photo of Teddi King, 1956
The Show Business Teddi King, 1956

First came the singles made for release on 45 rpm records. King was whisked into the studio to work with Hugo Winterhalter, who scrapped simplicity in favor of a full studio orchestra and strings. There were songs of questionable merit. But there was also advertising, and touring with the RCA Parade of Stars, and the result was King’s biggest commercial hit, the syrupy “Mr. Wonderful,” which made it to number 18 on the Billboard Hot Hundred chart in March 1956.

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Sam Parkins and the Excalibur Jazz Band

Leroy Parkins, who usually went by “Sam,” was a musical wonder, and if a character with a more varied resume shows up on this blog, I’ll be surprised. Born in Boston on September 23, 1926, his claim to fame in this post is his Excalibur Jazz Band. But Parkins played with bop with Dick Twardzik, R&B with Sam Rivers, mainstream swing with Dave Frishberg, and trad with Danny Barker. Sam played in every musical setting imaginable over a career that stretched across six decades.

Ad for Excalibur Jazz Band
The Excalibur Jazz Band at the Savoy Cafe, 1955

Parkins was still playing at the time of his death in 2009. But in music circles he’s probably better known for his work from the 1960s into the 1990s as a producer and recording engineer. He  recorded both jazz and classical music, for which he was nominated for four Grammy awards. Along the way Parkins was also a composer of film music, piano sonatas, choral works, electronic music, and chamber jazz.

Leroy Parkins—I’m still not sure where the “Sam” came from—entered the New England Conservatory in fall 1950. While he worked steadily on his masters in composition, he played Dixieland at the Log Cabin in Dedham, R&B in the sailors’ joints, and polite dance music for debutantes in society bands. He continued this practice long after his Boston days. In 1953, he continued his musical mixing-and-matching by playing bop at the Melody Lounge with Dick Wetmore and Al Walcott, but he stopped playing modern in order to indulge his growing interest in traditional jazz.

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September 18, 1929: Miss Teddi King, Part 1

Teddi King, born in Revere, Mass. on September 18, 1929, was all of 22 when Nat Hentoff proclaimed in Down Beat that she was “the most gifted vocalist this city has ever produced.” The list of serious contenders wasn’t that long—Peg LaCentra, Evelyn White with the Sabby Lewis band, and of course Frances Wayne—but the definitive statement resonates.

Photo of Teddi King, 1954
Teddi King, 1954

Her father was a song-and-dance man, a vaudeville veteran, and her mother a singer. Teddi came up in the postwar 1940s as a singer with Boston big bands, first with trumpeter Georgie Graham (Al Vega was the pianist), then Gene Jones, Jack Edwards, Ray Dorey, and finally with Nat Pierce.

King made her recording debut in May 1949 with the Pierce Orchestra, on “Goodbye Mr. Chops” (Motif M003A), a record she never liked; it wasn’t her kind of tune. It was the first of five records she made with the Pierce Orchestra, although it would be almost 30 years before we heard all of them.

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ASRC Certificate of Merit for The Boston Jazz Chronicles

It was Detroit’s year, not Boston’s, in the jazz category of the 2013 Association for Recorded Sound Collection awards. I was recently notified that The Boston Jazz Chronicles was awarded one of three Certificates of Merit for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research in Jazz. The two top awards went to books about musicians originally from Detroit. The winner for Best History went to Rob Palmer’s Mr. P.C.: The Life and Music of Paul Chambers (Equinox Publishing), while Best Discography went to Gary Carner’s Pepper Adams’ Joy Road: An Annotated Discography (Scarecrow Press). Congratulations to the winners, and my grateful thanks to the ASRC for continuing to recognize those of us documenting activity that took place outside of New York and L.A.

The university presses usually do quite well when the ASRC hands out its awards, so it is something of a departure for the association to recognize both a history and a discography published by other presses. In fact, it’s the first time since 2006 that a book from a non-university press has captured the best history award.


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