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Jazz vibraphonist Teddy Charles dies at 84

Teddy Charles died of heart illness at age

Teddy Charles died of heart illness at age 84 in Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, his family said. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Vibraphonist Teddy Charles, of Riverhead, was a prominent jazz musician in the 1940s and '50s who drifted into a second career skippering sailing ships in the Caribbean in the '60s, and returned to the music world late in his life.

Charles died of heart illness April 16 at age 84 in Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, his family said. Cremation was private, the family said, and a jam session was held in his memory Sunday at D'Latte coffee shop in Greenport, where he lived before moving to Riverhead several years ago.

Max Feldschuh, 22, of Riverhead, who attended the jam session, said he had been taking private vibraphone lessons from Charles for six years. "He was a strong guy . . . in his playing and his personality," Feldschuh said.

"He would sit down at the instrument and he was always thinking," Feldschuh said. "He was always five moves ahead. He knew what he wanted to play and how to get there."

Charles was born April 13, 1928, as Theodore Charles Cohen, in Chicopee Falls, Mass. In the 1940s, he dropped the Cohen at the suggestion of a manager.

He tried to enlist in the Navy late in World War II, but the war ended before his paperwork was processed. So he moved to New York City in 1946 to study music at The Juilliard School during the day, and in the jazz clubs that dotted 52nd Street at night. He was soon playing professionally and got his big break when he filled in one night for a Thelonious Monk.

He toured, composed and recorded for two decades, appearing with the likes of Benny Goodman and Miles Davis, but dropped out of the jazz scene, which was fading in popularity, in the early '60s and took to the ocean.

His 1964 marriage did not last, he said, and he and his wife, Diana, had no children.

Charles spent the next couple of decades skippering tour and cargo sailing ships in the Caribbean and Martha's Vineyard. He came back to New York about 1980, then moved to Greenport, where he took tourists on trips aboard the Mary E, a 75-foot schooner.

In recent years he gave private music lessons at his home on Northville Turnpike, played in small clubs in New York City, and often played at the Vine wine bar and cafe in Greenport on Sunday afternoons.

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