It is a well-known fact amongst fans and followers of the DFQ that what modicum of success and notoriety we have is a result of our almost 10-year residency at the now legendary 5th Street Dick’s Coffee Company in the Leimert Park section of LA. Having a steady gig for 2 nights every week from 1991 through 2000 is truly a musician’s dream. Most importantly, it is the single-most factor in my growth both as an instrumentalist and composer. For almost 10 years non-stop, I’ve enjoyed the pleasure of composing music and hearing it played within seven days: learning and analyzing what worked and what didn’t work. I’ve often been asked why I never became a member of other bands, even great bands like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver, Woody Herman and Lionel Hampton whom I have opportunities to work with and was even sought out as a member to join.
The reason is that I’ve had the “Karma” of playing and writing for my own bands pretty much since I first started gigging. I started writing very early, in high school where I would transcribe the popular tunes of the day for the school’s pep band to play. That’s where it started for me. By the time I reached college, I had heavily come under the influence of Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Charles Mingus and Wayne Shorter compositionally. After entering college at Pitt in 1974, from about 1975 through 1978, I co-lead a quintet in Pittsburgh with my brother, tenor saxophonist Guy Fielder that featured future jazz great Geri Allen on piano during our last years. We first enjoyed a year’s residency every week at a local club called “The Black Magic”, where a local FM station, WYEP ran a live wire through there to broadcast our Saturday night performances. It was my first experience witnessing how jazz that is ‘home-based’, naturally creates a scene around the music. I have many fond remembrances of the various people out driving on a Saturday night tuning into our broadcast telling me we were swinging so hard that they HAD to come down and check us! Next, we enjoyed a 2 year residency at the famous “Crawford Grill” in the Hill District section of Pittsburgh; a venue that was a major stopping point for national touring groups like the Miles Davis Quintet, John Coltrane Quartet, Bill Evans, -all the stars of the day back in the late 1950s through the 1970s. Everybody came to enjoy the great scene there every week. My fondest memory of those nights was the presence of the again, future great playwright, August Wilson who came every night we played and sat in the corner writing while we played! So I’ve truly been ‘bitten by the bug’ so to speak and I’m sure other musicians/composers who have experienced even a fraction of this type of ‘performance consistency’ would understand and agree with me: that writing and playing your own music with your own band every week is WAY more fun and fulfilling that just playing in somebody else’s band. No matter how great they are. If you are a writer, there isn’t even any discussion about which you would rather do. Having a band and a gig to write for, taught me the discipline of writing something every day, even if it is just a sketch. Those sketches would turn into a complete song by the end of the week and sometimes those sketches would even turn into a full extended suite! I still love doing this; it is my true passion! The only downside is that when you don’t have a gig, it’s like you don’t have anything or a reason to write for.
And that is the kiss of death for me. So having a reason to write becomes my motivation for finding not just merely a gig, but always seeking a ‘home base’ from which to work from. My past experiences taught me that this allows me the sustenance and platform to develop in music on my own terms, without having to be a part of the rat-race that is the normal business of proceeding in a music career. Having that home base, you don’t go looking for opportunities; opportunities come looking for you! What you build in that space becomes powerful on an exponential level always. We started working 5th Street Dick’s in 1991 for $125/night by the time we finished, jazz writers from as far as Sweden would come to review our performances. Great artists who were in town sought us out to jam into the wee hours of the morning. And again, the experience of ‘scene-creating’ as we contributed to creating a “scene” that inspired a national TV show: “Moesha”which used the location to shoot from. Because no alcohol was involved, there was a type of serious consciousness that was prevalent, and we were smack-dap in the middle of it swinging and throwing down with hard-hitting jazz!
Since the year 2000, this kind of thing became rarer to create as American culture shifted. We became less and less inclusive as a society and more self-serving and bottom-line oriented. The type of venue owners such as the legendary Richard Fulton of 5th Street Dick’s became a dying breed. And after the collapse of the economy in 2008, most clubs stopped advertising, promoting their venue and paying musicians a fair salary. Now, you HAVE to work strictly for the door and promote your own gig. Those who don’t do that well, will not have any place to work. Because of my past experience, I’ve always had absolute faith in what works with the right opportunity, venue, and venue owner. Through the years there were a few such as Cabrini Schnyder who really created a great scene at both her venues “Jazz Alley” and “Nola’s”; as well as Dennis Anthony of H.O.M.E. [House of Music and Entertainment]. But that bottom line always brought things to an end.
Because of my ‘never give up’ attitude, I continued to search and through my Uber driving met up with Christian Page of Hotel Normandie. One look at the place and I immediately knew of the possibilities! He’s got all the elements: beautiful and iconic venue built in 1926 by the famous architects Walker and Eisen, and Christian’s passion: FOOD! His nickname is “Chef” and what a chef he is! His food and menus are simply divine! I laughingly remember our first planning meeting, the first thing he does is hand me a menu and asks “what do you think?” He puts his passion into food and drinks the same way we do with music: -like your life depended on it! Because this guy is a real visionary, I KNEW this was going to work! On our inaugural night, I remember sitting in our green room looking out at the corner of 6th Street and Normandie feeling that I’ve come home!
Here are videos from our inaugural performance at our new home base: Hotel Normandie in the Koreatown section of DTLA (downtown LA). These videos are from my personal documentary collection and not recorded for commercial use.
As you can tell, it’s a very happening place! This night it rained all day and those in the know, KNOW how rain affects Angelinos. THEY STAY HOME!! LA is the only place I know of where when it rains, the local weather broadcasts say: “Storm Watch”! The rain did affect our regular fans where many stayed home. Imagine our surprise that throughout the night, the constant full house was due to simple street traffic! Hotel Normandie is DA BOMB, -especially on a Saturday night! The vibe is very much like being in New York City! I knew it would be a great place for us to base ourselves and we are appreciative of Christian Page, his partner, and staff for their support and love of what we bring. Starting in July, for the rest of the summer, Christian is moving us to the rooftop!!! So, here you are seeing our very first performance held in the hotel lobby. Of course on board are my longtime partners for 22 years, Jane Getz-piano, Bill Markus-bass and Thomas White-drums. Also on board is our “secret weapon” Ms. Rita Edmond doing the vocals.
For the Quartet portion of the evening we did a mixture of originals and standards and in true “DFQ fashion” relied heavily on the originals and the few standards were more obscure tunes written by jazz greats. Far from being a perfect performance (which I NEVER care about) but perfect in spirit and ‘hard-hitting’ swing (which I DO care about) -it’s always in the tradition of great jazz music. Just to hear a living legend like Jane Getz is truly worth the price! Her style of jazz piano ie. Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan is fast disappearing from the earth. These are the last jazz pianists directly influenced by the immortal Bud Powell, the father of modern jazz piano. Most of the great jazz pianists of today are more directly influenced by later generation greats such as Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner who, btw were contemporaries of Jane’s when she lived in NYC. While this lady is still walking the planet, you need to get yourself out to hear her! I still pinch myself and can’t believe she has been my pianist for over 22 years! I’m getting ever more convinced like Sonny Rollins, that the true authentic jazz experience is in the live performance, not on recordings. I may never record another CD! Maybe I should just release videos of my gigs here on YouTube? Especially if I can figure out a way to make a few dollars out of it! No worries! Just kidding!!!
All in all, what our first night at Hotel Normandie proved and reinforced to me, is that jazz is more than just music. It is a cultural phenomenon that spurs and gives light to many things! It is a lifestyle, a ‘way of life’; -the creative life; It is creativity’s fuel, it’s soundtrack! Word on that!