Famed jazz musician, former Ponaganset High School educator, dies at 86

Ted Casher of Mansfield has played or hung out with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Cannonball Adderly, Duke Ellington -- even Bill Clinton. (Staff photo by Keith Nordstrom)

A renowned saxophone and clarinet player, who once led jazz ensembles at Ponaganset High School, has died at the age of 86.

Ted Casher died suddenly on Sunday, Jan. 22.

Considered one of the most respected musicians in New England, Casher shared the stage with everyone from Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin, to Louis Armstrong and former President Bill Clinton, over his long and successful jazz career.

Born in 1937 in Waterbury, Conn., Casher grew up in Maine, and had reportedly mastered the clarinet and the saxophone by age thirteen, playing gigs for seven dollars a night. He went on to earn a bachelor’s in music education from Berklee School of Music and a master’s with the same focus from Boston Conservatory. He later earned his M.A.T from Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Casher began his professional music career in the 1950s, playing in various jazz and big bands. He moved to Mansfield, Mass. in 1964, and took a job with the Ponaganset High School music program in 1976. At PHS, Casher taught jazz workshops and led ensembles, serving as the instrumental music director.

He was also the musical director of the Rhode Island All-Star High School Jazz Ensemble and conducted All-State Jazz Ensembles in Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Casher was a Composer-in-Residence for the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, and was a jazz instructor for The Arts Center in Providence. He also held positions as senior instrumental faculty at Foxboro Jazz Improvisation Camp, Maine Jazz Camp and Rhode Island Music Educators Camp. As a professor at Berklee, he taught jazz-influenced rock, and he also held faculty positions at the former Rhode Island School of Music, Roger Williams University, University of Rhode Island, Community College of Rhode Island and Dean College.

Casher’s impressive performance background included stints with the Harry James Orchestra; the Benny Goodman Tribute Orchestra; the Artie Shaw Orchestra; the Glenn Miller Orchestra; the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra; the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra; the Ray MacKinley All-Stars; the Duke Belaire Orchestra; the Rhode Island Philharmonic and the Klezmer Conservatory Band. His appearances over the decades included performances with Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Michael LeGrand, Tony Orlando, Lou Rawls, Jerry Lewis, Sergio Franchi, and Al Martino.

He toured with John Denver playing the clarinet and the flute, and played with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. Casher was invited to play at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, where he also played with the former president.

He released several albums as a solo artist, and his most popular “Ted Casher Plays the Saxophone,” received critical acclaim following its release in 1958.

Casher remained an active performer into his 90s, playing with acts including The Swing Legacy, the Jazz Tuber Trio, the Bessarabian Breakdown and the John Badessa Orchestra.

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