by Rick Grant
A few days ago, my dear friend, Teddy Washington passed away at age 80. Rather than be sad, I’m remembering all the times that I covered Teddy’s shows and visited with him. I’m celebrating his life and my special friendship with him.
My last extended visit with Teddy was five years ago when I visited Teddy at his apartment at Cathedral Towers Downtown. It was right after Ray Charles died (June 10, 2004) but we talked for hours about his career and his plans for the future. Then I saw him in 2007 at a 5 Points Show, where we chatted after the gig.
Like many older icons of Show Business, such as George Burns, who lived to be a hundred years old, Teddy always looked ahead. He never retired but kept on performing and making people happy until a cerebral hemorrhage cut him down. As I remembered all the times that Teddy reached out to me as a friend, I was flooded with memories.
Teddy’s career spanned over fifty years. He played or partied with the biggest names in show biz, including Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and B.B. King. During the 1950s through the 1960s Teddy was the lead trumpet player, backup vocalist, and Musical Director for The James Brown Band. In the mid-1960s, Teddy co-starred with Ann Margaret in the movie CC Rider.
During our visit in 2004, I noticed that Teddy’s small apartment was jammed-packed with memorabilia from his many years in the biz. The thing that impressed me the most were the four platinum records awarded to Teddy from his years with James Brown. How many jazz crossover musicians have four platinum albums on their wall? Only a select few.
In 2000, Teddy was honored in Orlando with a prestigious Onyx Award for Excellence in Entertainment. Indeed, this award was well deserved and long overdue.
In recent years, Teddy produced and performed in his annual tribute to local musical luminaries called “Teddy Washington’s Follies at the Florida Theater.” Teddy took it upon himself to give much needed recognition to past and present stellar musicians and other creative artists who made Jacksonville their home, and contributed to the cultural well being of our city. It was a labor of love for Teddy.
In 2004, Teddy expanded his Follies to include local theater activists. The event was emceed by Arthur Crofton, and there were dance numbers. Instead of plaques he awarded honorees marble trophies. When one considers how difficult it is to promote events in Jax, Teddy thrived on the challenge of producing and promoting his Follies.
During the mid to late 1980s Teddy and I would get together frequently and chew the fat. One time, he came over on an unannounced visit. My wife and I were so sick with the flu, we couldn’t lift our heads off the pillow. When Teddy knocked on the door, we said to come in it was open. He found us in miserable shape in bed. He was so concerned, he went out to get us some medicine. That’s the kind of friend he was.
There were so many times that Teddy gave of himself to be my friend. At the Jazz Festivals every year, he would invite Elaine and I into his RV where he had set up a party command central. Man, we had some great times in that RV. It was better than the festival.
Teddy had many intriguing road stories about his long career touring with James Brown. Most of those stories I’ll keep to myself, but if you think that musicians are a wild bunch on the road, then you don’t know the half of it.
He did tell me funny stories about Ray Charles growing up in Jacksonville. He said that Ray ran with another blind boy and they would run down Ashley Street pretending they were sighted, bumping into people and howling with laughter. He went on to say that Ray loved women and would pretend he was sighted to get a rise out of women at clubs.
Of course, it was no secret that Ray loved to drink copious amounts of gin in his coffee, smoke Kool cigarettes and reefer, which started when he was in his teens. Teddy said that he played in bands with Ray when they were both just teenagers-Teddy was 15, Ray was 14.
They played together in Tiny York’s band on weekends. Funny, Teddy knew Ray as RC, and it wasn’t until Ray had a hit record did Teddy realize that this guy Ray Charles was the RC he knew. Teddy joked that Ray was a hell raiser and womanizer at 14. Later, Ray moved to Washington State to get as far away from Jacksonville as possible.
Over the years, I’ve cherished my friendship with Teddy. Much to my chagrin, as I got older, (I’m now 68) all my friends have died or dropped by the wayside except for Teddy. He was always there for me. I’d just call him and we’d get together.
As a journalist, I covered countless shows headlining Teddy in a variety of venues. Teddy’s spirit will always be with me and since I believe in the afterlife, I can picture Teddy with James Brown and Ray Charles jamming and talking about old times. It’s a comforting vision that consoles me whenever I think of Teddy.
Teddy Washington Passes-A Celebration of His Life as My Friend
by Rick Grant