Obituary: Teddy Buckner

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The Independent Online
John Edward 'Teddy' Buckner, trumpeter: born Sherman, Texas 16 July 1909; died Los Angeles 22 September 1994.

'HE was capable of playing almost anything,' wrote Digby Fairweather of the trumpeter Teddy Buckner. When Buckner burst upon the traditional jazz scene in Los Angeles in 1949 he changed the rules.

His first job was with Speed Webb's band during the Twenties, but he soon moved to the West Coast. He already had such power and technique that he could more or less choose his jobs. His style was based firmly on that of Louis Armstrong and, unlike some of the more imaginative trumpeters like Red Allen or Rex Stewart, he never found it necessary to develop his playing away from Armstrong's.

In 1934 he was part of the ground-breaking band which the trumpeter Buck Clayton led to China for a year. At the time Buckner was a more advanced player than Clayton. When Clayton's job fell through and left the musicians stranded in Shanghai, Buckner was one of the few who had put by enough money for his return fare. In 1936 he worked as Armstrong's stand-in in the film Pennies From Heaven. That same year he took over the leadership of Lionel Hampton's band when Hampton left the West Coast. During the Forties he worked for many leaders including Fats Waller and Gerald Wilson before he rejoined Hampton's band where - in the middle of what was virtually a bebop band - he insisted on playing a feature in Armstrong's style. He also worked regularly with the smooth and highly skilled Benny Carter band.

In 1949, when work with Carter became thin, Buckner left and joined the New Orleans-styled band of the veteran trombonist Kid Ory. Buckner, a schooled big- band veteran, was a most unlikely candidate for the job with Ory, but Ory's clarinettist saw his possibilities and persuaded Ory to give the trumpeter a hearing. Stylistically the move was a retrograde step for the extrovert Buckner. It was the end of his big-band career but his years in Dixieland which followed made him a lot of money.

Ory's band was an institution; hallowed ground to traditionalist followers. Its style followed the gentle, relaxed New Orleans manner, or at least it did until Buckner erupted inside it. He brought the show-boating side of Louis Armstrong to the music and the original New Orleans style of the band was immediately coarsened and the delicate ensembles lost. But Ory was never one to turn away from an easy dollar and he rode the tide of swelling audiences with some satisfaction. However, Buckner made some splendid records with Ory and on Blues for Jimmy No One (1951) showed himself capable of controlled and deeply felt emotion in the vernacular.

When the clarinettist Joe Darensbourg left Ory to form his own band, Buckner went with him, and it was only a short time before Buckner too formed a group of his own, which Darensbourg joined.

In 1965 Buckner took on the grinding, but remunerative, work of leading the regular band at Disneyland and his flashy technique meant that he continued to be called on, as he had been from the Thirties onwards, to take parts in Hollywood films. His work was particularly notable in Pete Kelly's Blues (1955) and Louis Armstrong: Chicago Style (1975). Buckner led his bands on the West Coast through the Eighties with overweight and high blood pressure restricting his abilities to tour.

(Photograph omitted)