Teddy Edwards was one of the few successful jazz musicians from Mississippi. Living and playing mostly in Los Angeles, he made more than twenty jazz albums under his own name beginning in 1947 and performed on many others as a side musician.
The son and grandson of musicians, Theodore Edwards was born in Jackson in 1924 and started playing alto saxophone in jazz bands as a child. As part of the Great Migration, he moved to Detroit in 1940, playing as a professional with the Royal Mississippians. After touring in jazz bands he settled in Los Angeles in 1944, switched from alto to tenor saxophone, and joined Howard McGhee’s band and became part of California’s developing bebop scene. Edwards recalled the mid-1940s as “the most creative period in history because everything was at its highest tempo.”
In the tradition of jazz cutting or soloing contests, Edwards made a reputation for trading extended improvisations with fellow musicians. Most famous was “The Duel,” a 1947 bebop song that featured Edwards and fellow tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon. For much of his career Edwards played in quintets and sextets with piano, bass, drums, and multiple horns. Edwards’s best-known song was “Sunset Eyes,” which he first recorded in 1954 as a member of a Clifford Brown–Max Roach group. Five years later, Edwards released an album under that title. Edwards also played with Charlie Parker, Benny Carter, and Hampton Hawes, and his longest partnership paired him with Gerald Wilson, a trombonist and composer born in Shelby, Mississippi. A versatile jazz musician, Edwards performed as both a leader and session musician, and he was responsible for the music in at least two films.
Edwards’s fans have often considered him underappreciated. Toward the end of his career, Edwards again began attracting attention both for the body of his work and for songs recorded with singer Tom Waits on a 1991 album, Mississippi Lad. Shortly before Edwards’s death in 2003, The Legend of Teddy Edwards, a film biography, presented historical footage of Edwards and interviews with and about him.
- Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler, The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Seventies (1976)
- “A Fireside Chat with Teddy Edwards,” All About Jazz website, www.allaboutjazz.com
- Jean-Louis Ginibre, Mississippi Lad (1991), liner notes
- The Legend of Teddy Edwards (2002)