Following a performance by a quartet of trumpet, piano, bass and drums, a friend observed that “the trumpet player didn’t play half as much as the rest of the band!” It’s true that the rhythm section has to keep the music going even when the front line gets to take a break. Yet the best bands are group efforts where all the players’ voices are felt, even when they’re not playing.
Frank Teschemacher didn’t play the entire duration of the two sides he recorded with the Eddie Condon Quartet, but he’s heard throughout. As Michael Steinman points out in his informative, loving commentary, this session was the Okeh label’s answer to Jimmie Noone’s records, with their two reed front line over rhythm section. Paying for a smaller group pleased Okeh’s supervisor Tommy Rockwell, and just getting to play pleased Teschemacher. Teschemacher’s lead on this session of July 28, 1928 in turn pleased and inspired his three colleagues.
The clarinetist’s spiky tone and jittery lines cue the rhythm section to bear down on the beat with similar intensity for “Oh, Baby.” Drummer Gene Krupa asserts himself on heads, not cymbals, creating a duet for percussion and piano with Joe Sullivan. When Teschemacher trades to a slightly more relaxed alto sax, Condon’s rolling guitar keeps the energy going with a thinner accompanying texture:
“Indiana,” the other side cut that day, sounds more mellow in comparison. The introduction revs up the engine before Teschemacher’s alto and Condon’s vocal offer hot but melodically faithful interpretations of the tune. Joe Sullivan remains characteristically charging after the vocal:
Teschemacher then returns on clarinet, offering some deliciously reedy patter in the lower register, and then, as though a ringer just walked into the studio, returns to crackling upper register and ends the side on a literal and emotional high note. Most “legitimate” clarinet players strive for a unity of sound across the instrument’s three very distinct registers. Teschemacher’s wild, perhaps undisciplined approach spares the listener this form of classical homogeneity, and suddenly Rockwell only paying for four players seems unjust.
Rockwell’s “discount” sides were ahead of their time, yet they remain proud reminders of this era of jazz. The idea of a single horn with rhythm section won’t make musicological headlines these days, but hearing Teschemacher as the lone lead was still unusual at a time when most groups were either divided into sections, or led by the front line triumvirate of trumpet, trombone and clarinet. At the same time the infectiously choppy rhythm is a prewar phenomenon, with no hint of the smooth Swing Era aesthetic then on the horizon.
And of course there’s Teschemacher, whose accolades and influence would increase tenfold following his early death (just shy of age 26) in a car accident. Whether or not his reputation is incidental or embellished by this tragedy, there’s no exaggerating the presence felt on these two sides. Teschemacher was doing his job with or without a mouthpiece.