I decided to have a little fun with this post. In the years since Jazz Baby first saw publication, some readers have been curious as to what happened to Emily Ann “Baby” Teegarten. Did she ever make it to New York? Were her dreams of singing jazz professionally ever realized? Did she find success? Well, presented here, is an interview with Baby Teegarten, which takes place ten years after the novel ends. This is meant to be a glimpse into the life our protagonist may have created for herself.
The Baby Teegarten Interview!
April 15, 1935
She chose the meeting place. I could lie and tell you readers that I arrived thirty minutes early just to get a feel for the room. But the truth of the matter is, I get a little nervous with this one. Most of you have been reading my column for the better part of 15 years. You know the names that have graced my page: Babe Ruth, Harry Houdini, Clara Bow, Harold Lloyd—even Charlie Chaplin agreed to a sit-down chat back in 1924.
Still, this one is different.
The she I’m referring to is popular jazz vocalist Baby Teegarten. They don’t come any bigger than Baby these days. Three consecutive years as the country’s highest-paid entertainer proves this fact.
I lock down a table at the rear of McSorley’s Tavern on East 7th Street—which also happens to hold a strict policy for not allowing women inside.
But Baby Teegarten, well, she’s not just any woman.
“This is her neighborhood,” the fellow tending bar tells me. “She has a swanky place overlooking Central Park. Bought it from Babe Ruth himself.”
It’s the Babe who introduced Baby to McSorley’s.
“Nobody bothers her in here,” the barkeep explains. “Besides, if she’s pals with the Babe, she’s all right by us.”
I knock back a Scotch and soda. It’s what steadies my nerves. Only Mae West ever had me taking a nip before an interview.
I’ve seen Baby perform a dozen times easily—this going back to those first shows she did at Swelby’s Joint. Two thousand patrons lined up every night just to witness the Baby. She’d been just shy of her fourteenth birthday back in those early shows. But any fool with eyes and ears could tell she was special.
Oh, sure, we all recall the backlash at allowing a mere child up on those club stages. But nobody could—or would—stand in that girl’s way. No, sir. She’d have busted any full-grown man in the chops, should one be so bold as to try.
Prompt, this one. She arrives at 3 o’clock sharp, with her entourage in tow. By entourage I mean her manager, Abe Horowitz, and Job Pritchett, husband of Baby.
Mr. Pritchett, he’s a large fellow, to be sure. Tall and wide, real sturdy; the sort of man who likely spent his youth throwing bales of hay around the farm, maybe even punching cows—literally. Hollywood handsome: blond hair worn messy, pale blue eyes, an easy laugh. He’s more threatening than threatened. Famous in his own right, he’s known the world over for his paintings and sculptures.
Baby is a true vision, greeting patrons by name up by the front door. She’s resplendent in a violet-colored summer dress that falls just below her knees. Diamonds sparkle on her fingers and wrists, her ears, at her delicate throat. There’s even a gold bracelet on her right ankle.
Eyes as green as emeralds track me down in my corner.
There’s a subtle sweetness in her scent.
“Hey, there,” she says. “I’m supposed to talk with you today?”
I’m lost for words in this moment, so I just nod like a mute fool.
“You don’t mind it here, do you?” Her accent is rich, wrapping her every word in a southern twang thicker than molasses—and just as sweet.
My voice carries a slight tremble, but I manage a quick, “No, ma’am.”
Baby Teegarten settles on a bar stool next to mine. “This is Mister Pritchett, my husband,” she says.
Job Pritchett’s massive hand takes mine with a gentle squeeze. “Good to meet you,” he tells me in a boyish tone. A lucky fellow, this one.
Abe Horowitz needs no introduction: Club owner, manager of a handful of singers and musicians. Connected. He mined gold when he discovered Baby Teegarten.
Job’s lips brush Baby’s lips. His voice comes soft, almost a soothing thing. “Me and Abe will be up at the bar—if you need us.”
It passes there in the space between them: his subtle caress of her cheek, her gentle squeeze of his hand. These two are infatuated with one another.
“Lord a-mercy, I love that boy,” she says, once we’re alone. “We got our tenth anniversary coming this summer.” She waves her right hand in my face. “He just got me this one right here.”
She means the full five carat diamond set in white gold on her ring finger.
“What does it feel like to make more money than the president of the United States?” I ask, leading us into the interview.
Her petite shoulders give up a shrug. “Just means I can buy whatever I want—’Cept Jobie’s the one buys my jewelry. That boy makes nearly as much as me.”
She’s a tiny thing, maybe five foot two. I’m guessing it might take an extra big lunch to push her past a hundred pounds. And though she doesn’t mention it, this day is her twenty-third birthday.
I ask, “When did you first start singing?”
“Since I can recollect. Pastor Pritchett first had me up in front of the congregation when I was just five. That’s when I took to singing for other folks who ain’t just my kin.”
Her head tips a short nod. “Down Rayford—up a piece from Biloxi.”
“A Delta girl, huh? You pick cotton down there?”
A silver cigarette case finds her hand. “Picked a bunch. Mister Kuiper used to pay me a dime for each sack I managed. I made a dollar a day most days.”
“Doesn’t sound like much.”
“It does to a little girl ain’t got much of nothin’.”
A Lucky Strike settles between her lips. Smoke rolls from her dainty nose.
Questions my editor suggested filter through the small talk. “You’re working a lot with George Gershwin. How’d that come about?”
“Georgie’s sweet,” she says, sending smoke rings chasing after her words. “His family knows Mister Horowitz’s family. He liked my voice and wrote some songs for me—’Cept I’m the one writes the words, since I’m the one has to sing ’em.”
Sales figures wedge their way into the conversation—nobody sells more phonograph records than Baby Teegarten.
“A million,” she offers. Says it as if she doesn’t really believe it herself. “I mean, a person can reach into his pocket, grab a hundred of something, and toss it on the floor and say, ‘Yep. That’s a hundred.’ But nobody can throw a million anything on the floor and count that.”
She’s had three of them reach that plateau in recent years.
“Where’s your favorite place to play?” I ask, scratching off another one from my editor.
“Paris is nice.” Her hand gives up an abbreviated wave, catching the barkeep’s attention. “What’s so amazing there is, those folks don’t speak no English, but they sure know all the words to my songs.”
A bottle arrives at our table. Not exactly what I expected.
“Co-cola,” she says, drawing a long pull. “Mister Horowitz don’t like for me to drink liquor while I’m gabbing with newspaper fellas. He says I just might talk too much.”
I feign shock. “Secrets?”
There’s an endearing sweetness in her giggle. “Oh, I got plenty of secrets.”
“Horowitz really looks after you, huh?”
“He’s the best. Like a second daddy. Doesn’t let anybody get close enough to take advantage.”
She spends a lot of time on the road, traveling by train, singing in places like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Big theaters, is where she sings these days. Gone are the smoke-filled clubs with dance floors and drunken revelers.
“I like the theaters,” she says. “And I really like seeing different places. But I do miss the New York clubs. I could do two shows a night and be at home with Mister Pritchett by one in the morning. Now, I do one show for five thousand people—nobody drinking or dancing—a night at a hotel, then up before the devil and off to the train station and the next city.”
There’s a weary tone creeping into her answers. Well, maybe weary isn’t the right word. Cautious, perhaps.
“Do you ever take time off? Maybe stay home for a while?”
She does—but only because the men in her life force her to do so.
“Once Mister Pritchett and Mister Horowitz get together, they’re worse than two fathers.”
Baby Teegarten will soon add actress to her resume. She just this week signed to play a role in a new James Cagney movie.
“It’s only a small part,” she explains. “I play a singer in a jazz club. I’ll sing two new songs they wrote just for the film.”
Just one. But that’s fine by her. “I ain’t no movie star.”
No, she’s not. But that doesn’t stop the real movie stars from turning out wherever Baby Teegarten treads a stage. It’s fashionable to be seen at her shows.
“Jean Harlow got my autograph last summer in Chicago.” She says it like it’s a normal thing that happens to most people.
“How’d you come to be friendly with Babe Ruth?”
That shrug raises her shoulders again. “He came to my shows most nights he was in town—back when I still played the clubs. Once he decided to buy a house in the country, I bought his apartment.”
“I guess that makes you a Yankees fan, huh?”
It’s a playful thing, that sideways glance she throws at me. “Ain’t no self-respecting Mississippi girl gonna ever cheer on no Yankees.”
Abe Horowitz’s approach signals a wrap to our discussion. I’d been promised twenty minutes, Baby gave me thirty.
“Gotta get ready for the trip to Hollywood,” she says, gaining her feet.
She offers a handshake, which abruptly becomes a friendly hug.
Job Pritchett, arm around Baby’s shoulders, sweeps the girl away, following Abe Horowitz out the front door, into the crowd moving along 7th Street.
It takes a few moments for my head to clear itself of her scent, her voice, her very presence. It’s not a difficult thing to see why so many have fallen for this lovely young woman.
“She just has a way about her,” the barkeep says as I make my getaway.
She certainly does, I tell myself. She certainly does.