Frank Teschemacher was born in Kansas City, Missouri on March 13,
1906 to Charles and Charlotte McCorkell Teschemacher and was
the youngest of their three children. Charles Teschemacher
relocated the family to the west-side upper middle-class
Austin neighborhood of Chicago in 1912 when he was transferred by his employer, a railroad company.
Frank took the "customary and obligatory" piano lessons as a
youngster, but soon gravitated to banjo on which he was
largely self-taught. His parents preferred him to study a
more conventional instrument and compromised with him
in selecting the violin when he was ten years old. He did
well with this instrument and in the process became a very
good sight reader. His preference was clearly for popular
music, and shortly before entering Austin High School a friend
introduced "Tesch" to the alto saxophone. Soon he had
purchased one of his own.
The new high school social scene was not easy for Tesch. He
was slight of stature, non-athletic, noticeably cross-eyed,
bespeckled, acne afflicted, quiet, shy and (with the exception
of musical subjects) academically below average. His social
life came to revolve around the musical interests he shared
with a group of fellow students which included the brothers
Jimmy and Dick McPartland, Jim Lanigan and Bud Freeman. The
group became enthralled with the recordings of the New Orleans
Rhythm Kings, a hot white band built around New
Orleans musicians George Brunies, Leon Roppolo and Paul Mares.
The New Orleans
Rhythm Kings were playing a long residency at the Friar's Inn, a
Loop speakeasy owned by nightclub entrepreneur Mike Fritzel.
The Friar's Inn was probably all the more interesting to the
boys because of its wide reputation as a gangster hangout.
The Austin High School Gang soon added pianist Dave North,
drummer Davey Tough (from nearby Oak Park High School) and
named their band "The Blue Friars" in homage to the Friar's
Inn. It was not long before the Blue Friars were playing
local dances for hire and taking an occasional out of town
Along the way Tesch had been introduced to the clarinet by
Bud Freeman; he quickly mastered basic technique and soon came
to prefer it to the saxophone. Tesch always remained a multi-
By 1923 the members of the Austin High School Gang were
becoming sufficiently well known around town to attract the
attention of Husk O'Hare, an aggressive and well connected
band promoter. O'Hare changed the name of the band to "The
Blue Dragons" and landed them both radio and dancehall work,
including, eventually, an engagement at the popular White
City Amusement Park where they performed under the name
"Husk O'Hare's Wolverines".
To the disappointment of his parents, Tesch spent less and
less time on his studies and finally dropped out of school
entirely during his senior year. He had fallen in with a
growing cadre of young white Chicagoans including the likes
of Eddie Condon, Gene Krupa, Joe Sullivan, Muggsy Spanier,
Benny Goodman and Floyd O'Brien, all of whom were obsessed
with absorbing the Chicago jazz scene and most especially
with absorbing the style and technique of black jazz
musicians. Johnny Dodds became Tesch's particular favorite
for his driving, cornet-like phrasing.
With his dedication to music, his versatility (banjo, violin,
clarinet, saxes and piano) and a willingness to take any job
that came along, Frank Teschemacher worked regularly,
including stints with Wingy Manone, Sig Meyers, Charley
Straight, Floyd Town and Art Kassel. Though he did some
touring, most of his paying jobs were in dance orchestras that
played the neighborhood dancehalls and amusement parks which
had become ubiquitous in and around Chicago during the period
Tesch recorded in the Spring of 1928 with two other
McKenzie/Condon groups, the 'Chicago Rhythm Kings' and the
'Jungle Kings'. On April 28, 1928 Tesch cut his first
recordings under his own name for Brunswick ("Jazz Me Blues"
and "Singing the Blues"). The group recorded under the name
"Frank Teschmacher's Chicagoans". The masters from this date
were rejected and destroyed, but a test pressing of "Jazz Me
Blues" was made, filed away and later discovered. It was
finally issued in 1939 on the United Hot Clubs of America
(UHCA) label and later reissued by Decca.
With successful recording sessions on their resume, promoters
Condon and McKenzie sought bigger opportunities to spread
the "White Chicago Jazz" gospel.
By mid-1928 the focus of the jazz world was shifting to New
York City so Tesch joined Eddie Condon, Joe Sullivan, Gene
Krupa, Bud Freeman, Jimmy McPartland and Red McKenzie in
search of those greener pastures in the Big Apple. They found
little work as a group, but individual bandsmen managed
spotty employment. Tesch did better than most, playing
during this time with the orchestras of Sam Lanin, Ben
Pollack, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, the Dorsey Brothers and Don
Redman. After only five months in New York, Tesch became
homesick and returned to Chicago ... and to Helen, his bride
of only eight months.
1931 found Teschemacher still working the Chicago dancehall
circuit as a member of the Benny Meroff Orchestra at the
Granada Ballroom where he struck up a friendship with
trumpeter Wild Bill Davison. The pair eventually decided to
form their own big band, so during the winter of 1931-32
they found themselves auditioning and rehearsing with
carefully selected sidemen. The fledgling band was finding
only limited work, but played to good reviews; eventually
they landed a steady booking at Guyon's Paradise Ballroom in
the "West Madison" neighborhood on Chicago's West Side. The
job was to start in early March, 1932.
The Paradise was owned and operated by J. Louis Guyon who
had been involved in the Chicago dancehall scene since 1909
and had opened the Paradise in 1914. The venue was located
on the west side of N. Crawford Avenue (now Pulaski Road)
about a block north of W. Madison Street. It was just two
miles east of Austin High School where Tesch had attended
with other members of the "Gang."
On the blustery evening of February 29, 1932 Tesch invited
Davison to spend the night at his apartment to prepare for a
band rehearsal the following day. They took Davidson's
Packard Phaeton convertible and made a few stops on the way,
one of which was in the company of drummer George Wettling at
bandleader Charlie Straight's speakeasy. At about 2:00 am
Davison was northbound on Magnolia Avenue in the city's Uptown
neighborhood approaching Wilson Avenue with the Packard's top
down. Tesch was hunched down against the wind and cold in the
front seat with his hands thrust deeply into the pockets of
a heavy overcoat. As Davison began to cross Wilson Avenue,
his car was struck broadside by a Yellow Cab travelling on
Wilson Avenue with its headlights off. The Packard was spun
into a tree and both occupants were thrown over the
windshield. Tesch struck his head on the concrete curb,
suffering a very severe skull fracture. He was transported to
Ravenswood Hospital (about a mile west of the accident site)
where he died four hours later. The doctors believed that
Tesch's chances for survival would have been much improved
had his hands been free to protect his head.
Although Davison was briefly detained by the police, a
coroner's inquest absolved both him and the cab driver of
negligence. Still, the accident weighed heavily upon
Davison and caused him to leave Chicago for several years.
Frank Teschemacher was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in
Forest Park, IL (not far from Austin High School) just ten
days short of his twenty-sixth birthday and with his ex-wife,
Helen, in attendance. His pallbearers included bandleader
Floyd Town, drummer George Wettling and pianist Jess Stacy.
For the Paradise Ballroom job Teschemacher's saxophone chair was taken by Kensel C. "Toasty" Paul , but the band was not the same without Tesch. According to the band's part-time pianist Oro "Tut" Soper, when the ensemble lost Tesch it also lost its musical integrity and became "doomed". Tesch's death and the pressures of leadership were such a burden for Davison that he did not finish the Paradise gig, possibly turning leadership responsibilities over to Toasty Paul, according to Soper's recollection.
The enigmatic Frank Teschemacher remains controversial due in
part to the brevity of his recording career. Most will agree
that his technique was certainly fiery, energetic,
unconventional and primitive, perhaps even poor in some
respects. Some will say that any deficiencies simply indicate
a work in progress and that had he lived only a few years
longer, his musical thinking would become widely imitated and
history would show him to be a brilliant innovator. Others
will say that his approach to the clarinet was so
fundamentally flawed, fumbling, downright odd and eccentric as
to be self-limiting.
Teschemacher ignored his critics. He knew where he was going
even if he did not always get there, and he usually seemed
unconcerned about whether anyone else understood or cared.
Frank Teschemacher played hot jazz for Frank Teschemacher.