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Arranger with the Hit TouchCopyright © 1999The Scotsman, 1999
McRae, TeddyThe composer and arranger is often a neglected figure in jazz, but played a crucial role in the swing era in particular. Teddy McRae, a successful saxophonist, bandleader, arranger and composer who died at his home in Manhatten last month at the age of 91, provided hits for several leading bands of the era, notably "Back Bay Shuffle" (1938) and "Traffic Jam" (1939), both of which were big selling recordings for clarinetist Artie Shaw.
He was born Theodore McRae in Waycross, Georgia, on 22 January, 1908, and brought up in Philadelphia. He began studying medicine, but quickly switiched to music, and organised his first band in the mid-20s with four of his brothers.
He formed his own band in New York for a time in 1927, and picked up valuable experience playing tenor saxophone for various bandleaders, including Chick Webb, Elmer Snowden, violinist Stuff Smith, and pianist Lil Armstrong. He made his recording debut as a member of a band led by trombonist Benny Morton in 1934.
He rejoined Chick Webb's band in 1936, where his credits included the song "You Showed Me the Way," which he co-wrote with the band's soon to be illustrious singer, Ella Fitzgerald, in 1937. He was with the band as saxophonist, arranger and musical director until the drummer's death in 1939, and stayed on after Fitzgerald assumed the nominal leadership until the band dissolved in 1941.
He had recorded with pianist Teddy Wilson and trumpeter Henry 'Red' Allen during his stay with Webb, while the success of his compositions in the hands of Artie Shaw and his work with the Webb band ensured that he would find himself in demand from some of the major names in jazz and swing.
He worked with Cab Calloway in 1941-2, with Jimmie Lunceford in 1942, with Lionel Hampton in 1943, and with Shaw in 1943, before joining Louis Armstrong's big band as musical director in 1944-5. He formed his own band in 1945 and toured for a time that year, but thereafter decided to concentrate on playing in his own small groups, and principally on writing and arranging.
In 1955, he cut a novelty record under the name of Mr Bear, and in 1958 he joined forces with Eddie Wilcox to set up the Raecox record label. They produced and released numerous albums, including recordings by trombonist Bennie Green and the New Orleans clarinetist Edmond Hall.
In his later years, McRae contributed to the important Jazz Oral History Project of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He is survived by his wife, a son, and five daughters.