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