For a brief period in 1939, Teddy Powell led one of the top big bands in jazz. With an ensemble full of top musicians, Powell had a very successful six-week run at the Famous Door in New York. Powell bragged that he had done in a short time what it taken Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey years to accomplish. But once he took his band on the road, the lack of name recognition resulted in small crowds, money began to be lost and the more notable sidemen left for other lucrative jobs. The fantasy was quickly over! Teddy Powell began playing violin when he was eight, picked up the banjo when he was 14 and led his first band the following year. Powell worked locally with Lou Singer and Ray West (1927) before joining Abe Lyman's Orchestra where he remained until 1934. Powell worked with Lyman on the business side of the music business through 1938, organizing radio bands. In late 1938, Powell put together his own big band and after its initial success and difficulties on the road, the Teddy Powell Orchestra managed to survive as a second-level band for several years. A disastrous fire at the Rustic Cabin in New Jersey in Oct. 1941 resulted in the orchestra losing all its instruments but Powell was able to keep the big band (which underwent a lot of turnover) going into 1944 although not recording anything after 1942. Earlier editions of the band made swinging recordings for Decca and Bluebird. Among Powell's sidemen through the years were clarinetist Gus Bivona, pianist Tony Aless, clarinetist Irving Fazola, tenor-saxophonist Charlie Ventura and trumpeter Pete Candoli. After his big band's breakup, Powell concentrated on composing and arranging. He wrote several hit songs (including "Bewildered" and "If My Heart Could Only Talk") and led occasional big bands including in Connecticut and Miami. In later years (particularly after 1957) Teddy Powell was mostly involved in his own music publishing business.
Share this page