NEEDLE DROP NOTES
January 2, 2017 posted by James Parten

Jack Teagarden and his Walter Lantz Cartunes

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When Walter Lantz began his “Swing Symphonies” cartoons, he called on the right man to handle the musical direction.

teagarden-tronboneDarrell Calker had worked alongside some of the top musicians of the day, as a guitarist and as an arranger. And he seems to have known all the musicians that were going at the time–especially the ones that were working out of Hollywood.

So, when famed trombonist Jack Teagarden became available to do two of their cartoon soundtracks, Calker–and Lantz–leapt at the chance to get this name musician.

Weldon John Teagarden was a Texan, and came out of a musical family. He paid his dues in a succession of regional (“territory”) bands, before hitting New York at the end of 1927. It didn’t take him long to establish himself as the ace trombonist of the age–and an engaging singer, too.

Teagarden worked with the Ben Pollack orchestra (often alongside the likes of Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, Jimmy McPartland and several members of what would become Bob Crosby’s band (from 1928 to 1933), then had his own band at Chicago’s World’s Fair–the “Century of Progress”.

Then, late in 1933, Teagarden joined the Paul Whiteman organization, and enjoyed steady work all through that time.

TeagardenBasinStConventional “wisdom” among jazz fans is that Whiteman kept a lid on Teagarden–but this does not really appear to be the case. Whiteman appreciated all the jazz players who worked for him, and showcased them as part of a larger package of entertainment.

When he left Whiteman, Teagarden was the most respected white trombonist of the time–so much so that, when he played alongside Tommy Dorsey on an all-star record date, Dorsey did not want to take a solo with Teagarden there. (They worked it out so that Dorsey, a proud man with a quick temper, played a “sweet” blues chorus, and “Big T” played around him. )

Jack formed his own big band–a move a lot of star soloists were making–in 1939. Although it did well for a whie, Teagarden did not have a head for the business angles that had to be seen to, nor did he have management of sufficient acumen to keep things going without struggle.

Teagarden first appeared in Culhane’s Pied Piper of Basin Street (1944), playing his solid trombone. The cartoon is a jazzed-up retelling of the tropes of the “Pied Piper” story–the rats, the offer of a reward, the betrayal, the luring away of the children. In the course of things, we get a mayor inspired by Lou Costello (one of Universal’s top money-spinners at the time), right down to one of Lou’s catch-phrases as a curtain line. And, we get a takeoff on Frank Sinatra–the skinny New Jersey boy who had become an overnight sensation with the “bobby-soxers”. The song might have come from one of the pocket musicals that Universal was grinding out at the time.

Dick Lundy’s Sliphorn King of Polaoo (1945) was a more elaborate production. This one gave Teagarden the chance not only to blow, but to sing as well. A lot of sold Frozen-North tropes appear here, with the penguins, walruses, and polar bears all cavorting to the low-down music of a shipwrecked trombonist.

This cartoon is also notable for an early (or certainly one of the earliest) appearance of radio character actor Hans Conried. Hans wold still be doing cartoons thirty and more years later, when he provided the voice for the villainous Doctor Dred on Hanna-Barbera’s short-lived “Drak Pack” series. All this added to other commitments to radio, movies, television sitcoms and game shows. (He was a staple of Mike Stokey’s company of stars on “Pantomime Quiz’/’Stump The Stars”.)

Teagerden finally gave up leading a big band around 1946, and spent several years as one of Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars. (They had gotten together as early as 1929, on the record of “Knockin’ A Jug”, so they knew and respected each other.)

Throughout the 1950′s, right up to his death in 1965, Teagarden worked singe-o, playing trombone, singing in his lazy manner. and cutting all manner of albums, mostly for Capitol.

15 Comments

  • Calker himself has an interesting history. He began playing music as a boy in Washington, DC, and arranged for Grofe and Kostelanetz in the ’30s. Calker and his Swing-Phonics were featured in a 15-minute transcribed radio show in the late ’30s and in December 1939 he was made the music director for Davis-Schwegler, which sold music transcriptions to radio stations.
    I’d love to know how many pieces he used in his swing scores at Lantz.

  • Hello and Happy New Year. Let’s not forget that for Jay Ward (Rocky and Bullwinkle) Hans Conried was the host of “Fractured Flickers”, the voice of Waldo Wigglesworth on “Hoppitty Hooper…and the voice of Snidley Whiplash on “Dudley DoRight.

    • And let us not forget, Conried was the voice of Captain Hook in the Disney catoon feature of “Peter Pan. As an actor, he appears in two classic “I Love Luve” episodes. One as a shady furniture salesman, the other as a prissy language professor that Lucy hires to teach them all “good” English.

  • On the subject of Lantz, could you do a post on Darrell Calker’s and Walter Greene’s (who both composed for Lantz) cues being used as stock music? Not sure if this pertains to you, but I asked Tom Klein on the subject and he wonders out loud if this would be an excellent post for you.

    • Yes! The first season of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER is full of Calker “needle drops.” As that series was produced by MCA, it makes sense that they’d have access to those cues. I heard Calker’s music in LITB long before I was able to see the ’40s Lantz cartoons.

  • Love the Jack Teagarden cartoons that he did for Walter Lantz including Jackson, The King of Polaroo. And speaking of Hans Conried, Jackson the King of Polaroo was Hans’ first cartoon of a stellar career in animation and live action including The 5,000 Fingers of Dr.T, Dudley Do-Right (as Snidley Whiplash) Fractured Flickers, The Hoppity Hooper Show (as Uncle Waldo), The Phantom Tollbooth, the 1970′s redub The Magic Pony, Halloween is Grinch Night and many many others films and tv shows both animated and live action.

  • The always hammy, amusing, Hans Conreid’s credit on “Sliphorn King of Polaroo” also was one of the first, if I’m correct, non-Mel Blanc, non-WB voice credits on a cartoon short..his “Drak Pack” cartoon (1980-81) was his swan and a rare, great example of a latter day cartoon, and of a “Scooby-Doo” type cartoon that actually was funny as it had all male, Universal (Walter Lantz conneciton..!) classic Horror monsters for the lead characters. (the “Polaroo” cartoon’s decade, the 1940s being one of Lant;z best decades, and along with the thirties and early 50s). Conreid also imitated by fellow radio character actor Walker Edmiston for “Beany and Cecil”(both live and the ealry 60s cartoon) for the equally hammy Shakespearan William Wolf, and by the time of the cartoon Beany for Hanna-Barbera’s second season “Flntstones” episode as the hilairous con man, “Monty Gypsum”, in “This is your Lifesacver’ (and in turn, based on John Barrymore, who’d already died in 1942, and is one of Drew Barrymore’s many illustrious celebrity ancesors.l):

  • This current Needledrop series on the good things that flowed forth after the early Lantz association with Whiteman, leading (even if indirectly) to Swing Symphony moments like Calker booking Teagarden for these cartoons, has been first-rate stuff, James! I really appreciate your chronology of this, and putting this all together with so many details and observations. Early curiosities like “My Pal Paul” were the beginnings of much more solid and interesting efforts from Lantz and his creative staff in later years, and your posts are doing a terrific job in showing the progression.

  • Oh and I’ll add I know of Hans credit from having seen the cartoon

  • Darrell Calker was the best musical director ever to work for Walter Lantz.

  • Hans Conreid also had apparently done voices in MGM cartoons as well, including “ABDUL THE BULBUL AMEER” and the narration for “JOHANN MOUSE”, the Academy Award-winning TOM AND JERRY cartoon.

    Thanks for these needle drop efforts, and yes, this is an interesting period for the Walter Lantz cartoons. George Pal’s PUPPETOONS also had some notable jazz appearances which have probably been covered here before, but there have been others within that series.

  • In Disney’s “Ben and Me”, Conried pops up as a fiery Thomas Jefferson, opposite Charlie Ruggles (himself a Jay Ward voice as Aesop).

  • Don’t forget that Hans’ memorable performance as both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in Disney’s “Peter Pan” (1953).

  • Really glad to see ol’ Jack Teagarden being remembered even here on Cartoon Research. The local jazz station here (WBGO) doesn’t play ANY of his records and it’s a damn shame. When I first saw The Pied Piper Of Basin Street and saw Big T’s name I almost fell outta my chair, lol… Until then I had no idea he did any music for animated cartoons. I still need to watch the other one! Great post!

  • I might also add that Hans Conried starred in Arch Oblers’ 1953 classic film “The Twonkey”. A film about a man who couldn’t escape from television. Occasionally seen on TCM.

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