Theodore McCord

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The apparently highly swinging music department at Ohio's Wilberforce University was responsible for a surprising number of accomplished jazz musicians in the early 1920s including one of the genre's…
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The apparently highly swinging music department at Ohio's Wilberforce University was responsible for a surprising number of accomplished jazz musicians in the early 1920s including one of the genre's rare sets of twin brothers, Castor McCord and Theodore McCord. Both were reed players, and in some details their careers were nearly identical. The differences include Theodore McCord's more active use of the alto saxophone -- the siblings shared an interest in fondling the larger tenor sax as well as the clarinet. Castor McCord managed to show up on a few more recording sessions than his brother, at least if the stitch-counting of discographer Tom Lord is to be taken seriously, but demand for Theodore McCord on studio jobs continued for several years after Castor McCord's last known studio recording in 1939.

Quite often credited as Ted McCord, this instrumentalist should not be confused with the Hollywood cinematographer of the same name. The Ted McCord of the movie business has his own seams to the historic jazz scene by virtue of having worked on the biopic potboiler Young Man with a Horn, a portrait of trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke. Beiderbecke's music was not the type of jazz that inspired either of the musical McCord brothers to tie their career knots -- that was bandleader Horace Henderson, whose student ensemble at Wilberforce University was the pride of Xenia, OH. Although college students, the twins came to Henderson with professional experience already under their belts, having both been members of Edgar Hayes' Blue Grass Buddies circa 1924.

The bluegrass genre associated with acoustic string instruments, white lightning tempos and white gospel harmony singing had nothing to do with this, having not even been named as such at this point. That fact does not stop occasional attempts to claim the McCord twins as part of the Nashville freak scene.

No, Xenia was its own incredibly rich theater of live music in the '20s, as difficult as that is to believe

based on the portrait film director Harmony Korine created of the town in his 1997 film Gummo. The idea of twin saxophone players working in rowdy local jazz bands is a detail kooky enough for the Gummo connection, yet by the '90s any wealth of cultural diversity had long since vanished from this part of Ohio, leaving as little a trace as Theodore McCord did when he dropped out of music in the '40s.

Castor McCord also quit performing during this time, but was known to have become a hairdresser in New York City. The brothers frequently worked in the same groups, including the Mills Blue Rhythm Band. In terms of discographical activity, that association is directly responsible for the ease with which interested listeners can examine and even compare the reed work of the Xenia twins. Louis Armstrong utilized the group to accompany him on a series of recordings in the early '30s, material that has been reissued several times. Theodore McCord also performed and recorded with McKinney's Cotton Pickers.