Teddy Charles, a jazz vibraphonist who performed with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and other bebop-era jazz greats before becoming a charter boat captain in the Caribbean, died Monday at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead on New York's Long Island. He was 84.
Charles died of complications from heart disease, according to a niece, Sally Phillips.
Although he was grouped with Milt Jackson and Terry Gibbs as a premier vibraphonist of the bebop years reaching from the late 1940s through the '50s, Charles was also well-regarded as a pianist and composer whose cutting-edge recordings of the mid- 1950s were forerunners of the avant-garde jazz of the following decade.
Drummer Ed Shaughnessy, who played with Charles during that period, described him as a world-class jazz vibraphonist, a completely original composer, and a visionary for the musical future."
In addition to his own writing, Charles was closely associated with other cutting-edge musical figures. Composer/arrangers George Russell, Gil Evans and Charles Mingus contributed to his extraordinary 1956 album, The Teddy Charles Tentet." Charles was also one of the original members of bassist Mingus' influential Jazz Workshop.
Charles was concerned with the interaction of improvisation and composition in jazz," wrote Max Harrison and Barry Kernfeld in Oxford Music Online. The written and improvised contrapuntal textures of his own works [of the '50s] looked forward to the collective extemporization in the jazz of the 1960s."
Throughout the '50s, Charles was also an active record producer, most notably with the Prestige New Directions albums featuring artists such as Donald Byrd, Kenny Burrell, John Coltrane and Mal Waldron.
When the '60s arrived and the jazz world began to change, Charles already owned a charter sailboat and was working occasionally as a salvage diver. After performing with Mingus in his 1960 alternative Newport Festival at Cliff Walk, he reduced his jazz activities, eventually devoting full time to his charter boating interests in the Caribbean. Sailing the Golden Eagle, a yacht once owned by the DuPont family, he eventually established himself as one of the premier American charter boat skippers in the area and an experienced owner-operator of commercial sailing charters on the East Coast.