Margo (Mrs. Jack) Teagarden
by Jim Beebe
The Chicago Jazz scene has always been a rich and flavorful one with wonderful musicians and bands of every stylistic description. This has been made possible by the many venues—from nightclubs to dance halls—that have used jazz music as for entertainment. From bands that feature very early traditional-classic style jazz to very contemporary jazz modes, all seem to find venues in which to strut their stuff.
Supporting this vivid musical palette has been an exotic cast of jazz fans, and out and out characters, who fill the jazz clubs and to whom jazz has become a core part of their lives. One very colorful fan was Margo Taft (Mrs. Jack) Teagarden. Her love for jazz took on a life of its own. I found myself right in the middle of it. Let me go back a few years....
My phone was ringing off of the hook. I finally answered it. "Is this Jim Beebe?" "Yes it is," I replied. "Is this Jim Beebe, the bandleader?" I assured her that it was. "Jim, I'm sorry to have to tell you that your vocalist, Margo, has passed away. We found her in her bed this morning."
I was completely taken back and said, "There must be some mistake, I don't have or know a vocalist named Margo, and my vocalist, Judi K is here with me." The caller insisted that she had the right Jim Beebe and that her tenant, Margo sang with my band at the Braxton Seafood Grill in Oakbrook. Again, I was taken aback as I did, indeed, work at the Braxton with my band but with Judi K as vocalist.
The caller told me that she was in Forest Park and that Margo and her husband rented an apartment from her there. The caller gave me Margo's last name, but it was one that I didn't recognize. Margo had told her that she was an entertainer and sang with my band. She was going through Margo's things to find relatives and friends to contact. She said that Margo's husband was ill and could not help. As we spoke things finally started to click and I finally realized that this caller was talking about Margo (Mrs. Jack) Teagarden. I had not seen Margo 'Teagarden' in some years and I was sorry to learn of her passing.
Margo was one of those wonderful colorful characters who were such a lively part of the Chicago Jazz scene. She surfaced in Chicago somewhere in the late '70s or early '80s. I remember her as she began attending, seemingly, almost every jazz event.
I had a band in the Flaming Sally's room at the Blackstone Hotel and she began to come there often. She presented herself as Margo Teagarden, and as I am an ardent Jack Teagarden fan, we became friends. Margo told me that she had been married to Jack Teagarden in the early '40s. I knew that Jack had been married 3 or 4 times so it seemed quite plausible to me.
She knew a lot about Jack and this added to her plausibility. She liked to be introduced as Mrs. Jack Teagarden. Later she disclosed that she was from the Taft family and she would often refer to herself as Margo Taft Teagarden.
Eventually, I took my band into the Braxton Seafood Grill in Oakbrook for a Friday and Saturday gig which has continued to this day...14 years. Margo became one of our regulars. She was a vivacious, flamboyant woman and looked like someone straight out of the early '40s nightclub scene.
She often arrived in a limousine or someone would bring her. She wore large colorful hats and would usually make a Maria Callas entrance. I began to introduce her to the audience as Mrs. Jack Teagarden and I would say something about her having been married to Jack in the '40s. The audience was thrilled with a real jazz celebrity in their midst and Margo loved it. These introductions became a regular bit.
Margo began calling me a lot and was also calling my vocalist, Judi K almost every day. There were some musicians who didn't believe her story of having been married to Teagarden and thought that she was a fake. I had some doubts myself and I asked both Bobby Lewis and Barrett Deems about her, as they had both worked with Jack. Neither seemed could recall Jack ever mentioning an ex-wife named Margo.
Margo seemed to know a lot of well known musicians on a first name basis. During her phones calls she would say, "Oh, Buck just called me and he is doing such and such..." or "I talked with Zoot today and he is going to England," etc. She seemed at the center of many jazz happenings. Every phone call was like this—it all seemed on the level, as many of the things that she related did, in fact, take place.
At one point Margo told me that she was from the Taft family and intimated that there was old money there and there was an estate on the east coast. Every now and then she would announce that she was going back east to visit the estate and we wouldn't see her for several weeks. She said that her housekeeper would look after her retarded brother who was in her care.
She told me that after the divorce from Teagarden she had been married to three pilots—two military and one commercial—and that each one had crashed and died, leaving her with their pension money.
As these stories became more embellished and outlandish, I decided to order a Jack Teagarden video from Joe Showler in Toronto. Joe is a Teagarden enthusiast who puts out rare Teagarden recordings and videos. I wrote a letter to Joe and mentioned that Margo Teagarden was a regular where my band was playing. Joe fired back a letter in which he said that I had opened a can of worms in mentioning Margo.
He said that he believed that Margo was a phoney and was never married to Jack, and that he wanted me to find about the truth about her. I wrote back that Margo had become a friend and that I couldn't pry into this, but if I found out anything more I would let him know.
Judi K is the one who inadvertently got on to Margo. She had befriended her but was puzzled. Margo had presented a very affluent picture of herself—with Taft money, an estate, pensions etc. One day she called Judi and asked her if she would help her by taking her to the bank. She gave Judi directions and Judi went there expecting a residence that would reflect Margo's lifestyle. Instead she found a shabby upstairs apartment that hadn't seen a housekeeper in years. I remember Judi's complete bafflement as she told me this.
One day, just after Judi had finished reading a Chicago Tribune article about some piece of jazz history, Margo called. She started relating almost verbatim the same information that was in the newspaper article. But with one big difference...Margo was now in the story. Judi told her, "Why Margo, I just read about this in the paper." Margo coughed, sputtered and hung up the phone.
Judi called me and bells went off as we realized that a lot of the things that Margo had told us were things that Margo had read that had become part of her personal history. She would read about some jazz musician or event and would interject herself into the story, ala Woody Allen. I realized that the marriage to Jack Teagarden was a fraud. Actually, I really didn't care.
Margo never called or came to the Club again. I don't believe that anybody in the jazz world ever saw her again. There was a brief period that got rather ugly as Margo started calling some musicians who work with me trying to spread negative, false stories about Judi. That soon stopped and we never heard of Margo Taft Teagarden again until her landlord called me.
Sadly, the landlord said that she had contacted a daughter and cousin but neither of them wanted anything to do with her. A cousin said, "Well this explains why she would never play the piano for us. She had us believing that she toured the world as a singer and pianist." Margo's retarded brother turned out to be her husband who had worked in a factory.
This seems a sad ending to a jazz life. But I look at it in this light. Margo had invented a vivid fantasy jazz life for herself and she lived it to the fullest. She seemed to have a genuine love of good jazz and knew quite a bit about the music and the musicians involved. She added a bit of zest and flavor to our already rich Chicago jazz scene.
As Jack Teagarden sang so many times, "Who's going to know.....a hundred years from today."