Teddy Charles—Musician and Caribbean Boat Skipper—Passes Away

Teddy Charles (born Teddy Cohen), a jazz vibraphonist who performed with jazz greats such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Charles Mingus before becoming a charter boat captain in the Caribbean (based in Martinique), died last Monday at age 84. See excerpts with a link to the full Los Angeles Times obituary below:

Although he was grouped with Milt Jackson and Terry Gibbs as a premier vibraphonist of the bebop years reaching from the late 1940s through the ’50s, Charles was also well-regarded as a pianist and composer whose cutting-edge recordings of the mid-1950s were forerunners of the avant-garde jazz of the following decade. Drummer Ed Shaughnessy, who played with Charles during that period, described him as “a world-class jazz vibist, a completely original composer, and a visionary for the musical future.” In addition to his own writing, Charles was closely associated with other cutting-edge musical figures. Composer/arrangers George Russell, Gil Evans and Charles Mingus contributed to his extraordinary 1956 album, “The Teddy Charles Tentet.” Charles was also one of the original members of bassist Mingus’ influential Jazz Workshop. [. . .]

When the ’60s arrived and the jazz world began to change, Charles already owned a charter sailboat and was working occasionally as a salvage diver. After performing with Mingus in his 1960 alternative Newport Festival at Cliff Walk, he reduced his jazz activities, eventually devoting full time to his charter boating interests in the Caribbean. Sailing the Golden Eagle, a yacht once owned by the DuPont family, he eventually established himself as one of the premier American charter boat skippers in the area and an experienced owner-operator of commercial sailing charters on the East Coast.

Born Theodore Charles Cohen in Chicopee Falls, Mass., on April 13, 1928, he was the youngest of four siblings. After taking some piano direction from his older brother George, he decided to concentrate on the drums. In 1946 he auditioned for Juilliard, was accepted and moved to New York City. Hanging out on the 52nd Street jazz scene, he jammed with the likes of Stan Getz, Brew Moore and Shaughnessy — who eventually became one of his closest friends. But Charles soon felt that the drums were not the right instrument for him and switched to the vibes, quickly gaining skills via his piano background. Soon joining the young cadre of players in the burgeoning new bebop jazz movement, he became an in-demand vibraphonist by the time he was in his early 20s. In addition to performing as a sideman with the likes of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Coltrane, Bill Evans and Aretha Franklin, Charles also recorded more than 20 albums as a leader. And his work as a producer resulted in a series of influential, cutting-edge jazz performances by important young artists.

When he moved to the Caribbean to begin his decade-long career as a charter boat skipper, he did not make an overnight transition. “It was like playing piano the first time,” he told Newsday in 2009. “I didn’t know beans about chartering, but I learned.” And he did so quickly enough to establish his identity as Capt. Ted Charles, while living on the island of Martinique. But he never completely abandoned his passion for jazz.

Returning to New York in 1980, he rekindled his playing and recording career, and spent the rest of his life blending his two primary interests. As recently as 2009, his album “Dances With Bulls” — his first studio recording in 40 years — received widespread critical acclaim.

For full obituary, see http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-teddy-charles-20120419,0,1829380.story

For more on Teddy Charles (and photo by Hans Speekenbrink), see http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=5651

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