Theodore "Ted" David Wald

Theodore 'Ted' David Wald

Port Townsend, Wash.

Feb. 24, 1929 – Jan. 29, 2016

From the time he was a boy, Ted Wald knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life, and now, at his passing, we can say that he more than succeeded.

Theodore David Rosenwald was born on February 24, 1929 in New York City, NY. His parents were Theodore Rosenwald, Jr. and the former Marion Sheahan. He was the oldest of four children. Ted shortened his surname to Wald after he started his career.

While in grade school, Ted heard one of his mother’s records – Billy Holiday singing “Detour Ahead” – and his path toward a life in jazz was set. He actively sought out other jazz experiences. Early on, before he discovered Charlie Parker, he listened to Don Byas and Nat King Cole, even singing his version of Cole’s “Sweet Lorraine” to his grade school class.

Although no one else in his family played a musical instrument, he fashioned his own bass out of his mother’s wash tub, a broom handle and a piece of rope. Before long he was playing the Ivy League circuit in fraternities reachable by train.

Gifted with a good ear, Ted was self-taught and did not learn to read music until his college days. He never was a sight reader and relied on his good ear to pick up the tunes. He was always one to know just the most tasteful note rather than playing by rote. He was a minimalist often saying, “virtuosity doth not always good music make.” He was sought after as an accompanist playing with such singers as Bette Midler, Patty Waters, Rosanna Vitro and many more.

When Ted was 12 he began to pocket his Sunday collection basket money. He would use the change he saved for train fare (they lived on Long Island at the time) to go to jazz clubs in Manhattan such as the Three Deuces and Café Society. Thus he became an eyewitness to the earlier days of be-bop and a participant all his life.

On the night his father was to leave for the War, he asked Ted to take him and his mother to one of the clubs that Ted had been frequenting. They went to the Three Deuces where Don Byas was playing and both Charlie Parker and Billy Holiday sat in. Ted pronounced that someday he would play with Charlie Parker which seemed improbable at the time. That night, Billy Holiday performed “Strange Fruit,” a mournful song about lynching in the South. Ted’s father wept at the rendition.

Ted initially attended Wittenberg College in Springfield, Ohio but soon became discontent with the lack of the music he loved – jazz – which at the time was looked down upon at Wittenberg. He then enrolled at Wilberforce College, near Xenia, Ohio, a black AME college with a poll-winning collegiate big band. Since he was doing reverse integration in 1947, Ted was well ahead of his time. That year, the band toured with Billy Eckstein and Sarah Vaughn. At school Ted was befriended by Frank Foster who eventually became the leader of the Basie band, and a young man who was later known as Ahmed Jamal.

As soon as he could, Ted made his way back to New York and began his life in jazz in earnest. He did indeed get to play with Charlie Parker and spent the last weeks of Charlie’s life hanging out with him.  This can be found in “Bird: The Legend of Charlie Parker” edited by Robert Reisner.

When he was 30, Ted married Joan Tierney and together they raised two daughters, Kathleen and Celia. They separated in the late 70s.

Raised a Roman Catholic, Ted later found Islam as an adult. His religious practice was a deeply personal one. He said his Salat daily, always keeping friends and loved ones in his prayers and earnestly praying for a better world. 

Although very little is recorded of Ted’s career he did play with such noted musicians as Buddy Rich (his first professional job), Sonny Stitt and countless others too numerous to list, for the next three decades of his life. One outstanding job that he loved was working on the Claude Thornhill band during the last 6 weeks of its existence.

Of all the gigs that Ted had there is one of which he was most proud. In 1980 Ted put together a band for a club called the Tin Palace. He chose Walter Davis, Jr. on the piano, Clarence “C” Sharpe on alto saxophone, and Jimmy Lovelace on drums. They played at the Tin Palace on a regular basis for some duration of time. Some of this music still exists on the “C” Sharpe tapes.

In the mid 1980s Ted relocated to Santa Cruz, Calif. and within a few years became reacquainted with Virginia (McEwan) Arnott whom he had met at the Jazz Loft in New York in 1961. They married within a few months and remained married for the last 26 years, moving first to Seattle, Wash. and eventually to Port Townsend, Wash. Ted passed away quietly at home on Jan. 29, 2016 a few weeks short of his 87th birthday.

Until the end, Ted mentored younger musicians. Just hours before he passed he was encouraging a 10-year old violinist from his bed. Ted has now joined the big orchestra in the sky and is reunited with all the great jazz players who have gone before him. As he so often said, “Peaceful, peaceful.”

Ted is survived by his wife Virginia; daughters Kathleen Brennan and Celia Wald; son-in-law Ron Wasserman; grandson Michael Brennan; step-daughter Laura Lee MacMahon and step-son Gabriel Butterfield.

A celebration of Ted's life will be held over the weekend of Feb. 20 – 21, 2016. Contact gin@olypen.com for more information.

(1) comment

Steve Touger

I will always remember the love and the special care Virginia provided Ted in his later years. I will also cherish the times Ted and I played and listened to music together. His sound as an upright bass player was huge and beautifully drove the music forward. He was living history with personal funny and sad stories about so many of the great and lesser know jazz musicians. Peaceful peaceful to you too Ted.

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