Riverhead jazz man inducted into L.I. Music Hall of Fame

COURTESY PHOTO | Riverhead's own Teddy Charles was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame this weekend.

Riverhead’s own Teddy Charles, a jazz vibraphonist, has joined the ranks of Tony Bennett, Simon & Garfunkel, Billy Joel, Louis Armstrong and a register of other notable talents to be recognized in the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.

The 82-year-old musician, who is captain of the Skipjack Pilgrim out of Greenport, still regularly plays gigs around the region. He was among nearly 20 performers to be honored last Tuesday during the Third Annual Long Island Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which was held at Oheka Castle in Huntington.

Roughly 300 people turned out for the star-studded event, which saw the likes of rock icon Joan Jett, a 2006 Long Island Music Hall of Fame inductee, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals and Lee Rocker of the Stray Cats, and Eddie Money in the audience.
Mr. Charles said he was shocked and delighted by his hall of fame induction. He was also pleased that money raised from the event would go to scholarships for young Long Island musicians.

“Needless to say, it’s a great honor,” Mr. Charles said. “I didn’t even know anybody knew that I existed out here. I’ve played a couple of blues festivals and did a couple of great jazz concerts at the Vail Leavitt Music Hall, but never got much press.”
Born Theodore Charles Cohen in Chicopee Falls, Mass., Mr. Charles said he began playing jazz at the age of 14, noting that he’d been inspired by jazz legend and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton.

Having studied at the Juilliard School of Music as a percussionist, he went on to make work as a professional vibraphonist, writing, arranging and producing records. He noted that during World War II, most skilled musicians had found themselves drafted and serving in the military, leaving a large gap for younger musicians to slip into.

“So, they’d hire young guys like us, who weren’t really very good,” Mr. Charles said, noting that he played for servicemen being shipped overseas at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts. “We also played a local ginmill, I’ll never forget, called the Wigwam Café. It was in Springfield. We called it ‘the bucket of blood,’ because there were so many fights there.”

Mr. Charles eventually left Massachusetts and became one of many jazz musicians who hung out at an apartment building at 821 Sixth Avenue in New York City known as the Jazz Loft. There he met Hall Overton, an American composer, jazz pianist, and music teacher.

Mr. Overton became Mr. Charles’ mentor and soon the young musician found session work with musicians and singers as varied as jazz legend Miles Davis and 1950’s pop icon Dion. The vibraphonist noted that he often gets asked about what it was like to work with Mr. Davis.

“Miles Davis and Charlie Mingus were both close friends and it was fun to play with them,” Mr. Charles said. “But, Miles was a little weird. He was sort of a nature boy.”

Mr. Charles has several albums to his credit, including “Live at the Verona Jazz Festival,” “Dances with Bulls” and “52nd Street Burnin.’” As for his plans for the future, Mr. Charles has a simple creed.

“I’ll just keep going as long as I can,” he said.

Other musicians inducted last Tuesday include Eric B. and Rakim, Lou Reed, John Zorn, Dream Theater (John Petrucci and John Myung), The Shangri-Las (Mary Weiss and Betty Weiss), Bob Gruen, Denis McNamara, Michael “Eppy” Epstein (for My Father’s Place), Roy Haynes, Stanley Drucker, Oscar Brand, Carole and Paula (TV’s The Magic Garden), Steve Martin (The Agency Group), Donnie McClurkin, Al Kooper and Eddie Palmieri.