Dick Fregulia Trio/Good Vibes Quintet

 

"What Now?" liner notes for new digital cd

What Now? (cd liner notes)

The steady jazz gig has all but disappeared, most recently resulting in  our dismissal from a 12-year monthly  run at Cafe Claude in San Francisco. It left me  with drink in hand in front of the mural across Claude Alley, wondering "What Now?  Millenial Techies like the evil Zacque (former “sound boy,” now "Music Director" at Cafe Claude) had apparently taken over and declared us outdated.

 

So far I have been able to retreat  back to solo jazz piano (at the Sand Dollar in Sausalito and Marin Joe’s in Corte Madera) for paid practice time, and that has generated enough profits to  produce several  concerts  with my North Bay  group at San Rafael’s JB Piano Company under the enthusiastic support of owner Glenn Woodruff. These recordings by Adrian Wong are a product of those events, which in a way have been  superior to many  club gigs because  we have our choice of any one of the outstanding pianos, the acoustics are excellent, and the audience, although small, is  very appreciative.

 

The cd we  have put together here honors the traditions of great jazz recordings (“Kind of Blue”), the evolution of the jazz piano trio, and the role of the vibes as my favorite fourth member. Everything is firmly rooted in acoustic sounds, classic harmony, sophisticated rhythms, and lyrical melodic lines.

 

Ultimately, though, the  cd medium is disappearing as fast as the live jazz gig. If you had bought this as a physical cd, chances are you would never  be able to play it in your car cd player because there wouldn't  be one.  What then? Hence the digital version cd.

 

On the positive side, that gives us the advantage of keeping this as an ongoing project.  We can keep adding tracks, changing the sequence, taking out or editing tracks, re-writing the liner notes, even changing the cover.  The process will continue, and as long as it does we can stay alive producing the last Blue Koala album.

                        dick fregulia, CEO Blue Koala Records

                         June, 2017

Bill and Me - a promo piece for film screening and trio performance

Bill and Me                                                                                                May 1, 2017

by Dick Fregulia

 

             I met Bill Evans one night when I was playing my solo piano gig at Washington Square Bar and Grill in North Beach. He came in with local singer  Linda Goldstein and they  sat at the bar.  I was used to playing for the occasional famous person, but not used to playing for the most influential jazz pianist of the modern era.

 

            I managed to get through a couple of tunes but ultimately decided I'd rather go over and chat a bit. Linda was a friend and, in fact, had sung with me at the Square.  She introduced me and we exchanged  a few comments.  Bill offered up that he and Linda had, in fact, been talking about the plight of the background pianist, concluding that if he were playing the Yamaha piano against the wall people in the restaurant would be just as loud and seemingliy indifferent to the music as they were being for me.  So we traded places: Bill went to the piano, I stayed at the bar with Linda, and it didn't make any difference.

 

            So we suddenly had this new overlap of experience to go along with the similarities of both having grown up white, 1950's middle class pianists drawn to the  exotic world of jazz. Because it was the 1970's and jazz had by now been almost totally beaten down by Rock and Roll and related pop styles, we also shared the indifference of the mainstream to our music.  But that only made Bill more heroic, the fact that he had sucesfully imposed himself as a jazz star.

 

            The Time Remembered documentary opens  with a segment from an interview Bill did with his brother Harry, a music professor at Southeastern Louisiana College.  Bill explains how the search for truth and beauty are  the core values to his musical philosophy, so his brother asks how he managed to evolve into professional success as a pianist. Bill replies that by nature he is very shy, that he does not seek out attention,  but that he was dedicated to serious and honest work at his craft.    "Ultimately I came to the conclusion that all I must do is take care of the music, even if I do it in a closet. And if I really do that, somebody's going to come and open the closet and say,'Hey, we're lookin' for you.'"

 

            The film traces Bill's evolution through his college years and early years in New York,  leading to the first trios, his time with Miles and the Kind of Blue album, the change of his trios after the death of Scott La Faro, and the wide variety of musical contexts in which he played up to his untimely death in 1980 at the age of 51.  The cornerstone , however, was always his jazz trio, a musical format he transformed from essentially a piano lead with bass and drums support to a conversational 3-way creative process that both followed his lead and encouraged new directions and dynamics dictated by the bassist and or drummer. The film traces the evolution through three great trio periods: the Scott La Faro/Paul Motian trio, the middle trios with mostly but not exclusively anchored by Eddie Gomez on bass and Marty Morrell on drums,  and his concluding trio with Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera.

 

            It also traces Bill's  "domestic" relationships with Peri, Ellaine, Nenette, and Laurie, and how intimately his personal life interweaved with his tragic and extensive addiction to drugs, particularly heroin. The description of his death is poignant and inevitably connected to everything. In a way it is a beautiful film about a wonderful jazz pianist, but it is also a painful film and sometimes difficult to watch.

 

            This is where Bill and I differed.  I became addicted to distance running for highs, maintained a full-time job as a high school teacher, played gigs as much as the market would allow, raised a family, made recordings from time to time,  and so far outlived him by 25 years. But at best I remain a Triple-A minor league jazz pianist.

 

            I did realize something interesting about 7 years ago, though. It suddenly came to me that Bill Evans had been dead for 30 years. My god, how did that happen?  Many people - friends, fans, and musicians - had commented over the years how similar my style was to Bill's....not so much as a pure technical transposition but largely for my touch, my sense of lyrical phrasing,  my adoption of a number of Bill's phrases, and for my attitude.  It became clear that I should put together a Bill EvansTribute Trio, an idea underlined by a recent gig I had played with a Scott La Faro inspired bassist named Piro Patton, who loved my use of "Bill Evans triplets." I contacted Bill Moody, the jazz drummer who also writes jazz mystery novels featuring a lead jazz pianist character suspiciously named Evan Horne. The three of us started putting together set lists of Bill Evans material and got several gigs at Osteria Divino in Sausalito.  That led to a chance to play at Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, a fine concert gig that was fortuitiously recorded by Adrian Wong. That led to a CD entitled "Re: Person I Knew."

 

            We managed to get a few more gigs over the succeeding years, but the reality was that we were destined to stay mostly in the closet. Just recently, though, opportunity knocked. A piano friend of mine,  Neil Adler,  got wind of a new Bill Evans documentary that was being screened at a small college in Vancouver, hostessed by Bill Evans' last girlfriend , Laurie Verchomin.  He flew up to the event, made the contacts, loved the movie, and came back to the Bay Area encouraging the local community to stage a screening.  I opened the door, recognizing the opportunity to help renew Bill's legacy,  publicize my favorite piano store, and create a gig for my trio.

 

            So come on over to JB Piano in San Rafael Saturday evening, May 13,  and celebrate Bill Evans.  Doors will open at 6:30 and my trio will start the evening with a set featuring the repertoire and style of the Bill EvansTrio. This will be informal and clubby, with plenty of opportunity to move about and socialize. If you don't listen to everything it really won't make any difference, as long as you enjoy the ambiance. At 8 p.m. we will all sit down and watch the feature length documentary projected on to a professional-quality, rented 10-foot movie screen. The evening will end with a half hour to unwind, converse, and perhaps touch a few more keys.

                                                -30-

ny memories

After 18 years:

Jazz Pianist Returns

to New York City

 

 

November 10-16, 2016

yet another Dick Fregulia travel article

 

   Our United flight was four hours late, so our jazz-and-theater trip to New York City was immediatey compromised.  We would arrive too late to catch the second set at Birdland. Our cab didn't drop us off at the Lexington Hotel (Lexington and E. 48th) until near midnight, but suddenly all was forgiven. Greeting us was Nancy Wilson and George Shearing piped out to the front steps from the lobby sound system. It was the perfect music to begin a trip celebrating my 75th birthday.

   Turned out that jazz background was a 24-hour feature of the hotel, combined with live cocktail-hour jazz concerts in the lobby and a wide assortment of jazz photograhs and graphics throughout the building. This was the right place to be.

   We checked in, then zipped around the corner for late night  lamb chops at the wood panelled Irish pub Wollensky Grill, the after hours annex to the famous Smith and Wollensky Steakhouse. We indulged appropriately , and we  were still able to get to bed by 3 a.m. Reminder: stay on California time, function between 11 a.m. and 3 a.m. while in the Big Apple.

   By the next morning   the gridwork map of Manhattan and the subway system was locked firmly into my mind, so we went from there. During our stay we took the Grand Central-Times Square shuttle to BIrdland for Pancho Sanchez, jumped the #1 train down Broadway to check out the Jazz Standard and the Blue Note, rode the Lexington line to the Cornelia St. Cafe, walked to the Village Vanguard,  jumped the #1  line back uptown to  ColumbusCircle, where we heard a live bebop quintet before even leaving the subway station, then hiked up the stairs to the Time Warner Building with the marque "Jazz at Lincoln Center" sign greeting us on our way to   Dizzy's Coca Cola club.

   Our favorite clubs were two basement clubs in the West Village: Smalls and Mezzrow. Both had intimate settings allowing the audience to sit in arm's reach of the musicians, and both had grand pianos on  bandstands that could accomodate 3-5 performers, Most the names I didn't know and don't remember, but saxophonist NIck Hampton led an excellent bebop group at Small's, and Jon Davis, a pianist I had  actually known from San Francisco, played a cutting edge duo set with bassist at Mezzrow just up the street. Hanging out with him after the set I found out that San Franciscan's Mike Greensill and Kitty Margolis (on separate occasions) had recently been in to hear him and say hello. The  San Francsico  connection is being well maintained, I thought to myself.

   And  we went for the theater as well.  First night was Al Pacino in China Doll, a two-character David Mamet play in which Pacino pontificates outrageously on his situation as an older millionnaire with a younger fiancee, life-change challenges, and tax problems. The third night we saw  Clive Owens in a revival of Harold Pinter's Old Times , a three-character inner adventure involving an older  married couple re-connecting with an old female friend. Pinter was especially interesting because the pauses and  repetitions, the play on words and the pattern of themes  and variations all began to sound musical to me.

    We also came to eat. After China Doll we popped into Junior's Deli two doors down for corned beef  on rye and a long unsolicited conversation about Broadway theater with the man next to us at the counter.  When hungry during the day we would sample the wide array of international flavors at street delis. Or we would discover a great little Italian wood oven trattoria (Tavola) in Hell's Kitchen for a late lunch, or a charming French brasserie (AOC) in the West Village for soup, salad, and a glass of wine before going to Smalls, or a lively Italian place (Morandi) between Small's and Mezzrow. One night we went back to Smith and Wollensky, the real place, for a world class steak.

   That still gave us time for a bookstore and a couple of walks. We walked up Lexington to E. 59th to check out the Argosy Bookstore, featured in a wonderful  New Yorker article June 23rd, 2012.  A walk around the reservoir in Central park became a walk across the park and a return to the hotel via the #1 line and shuttle.  The walk along the high Line was completely different, and very fulfilling. On our last day, running out of time to walk, we took a Circle Line bay cruise around Manhattan, something everyone who loves New York should do periodically.

   Our last night we ended up back in the Village. Walking down Bleeker I described the past to my wife  ("That CVS Pharmacy across the street used to be the Village Gate...)"  Further down the block we bought a nice leather purse and reminisced with the shopowner, eventually leading us to a walkthrough Washington Square Park  where the arch had been dramatically lit in French colors to show support for the victims of the terrorist actions in Paris. We ended up at  a place that hadn't changed much, the Knickerbocker Tavern on University Place. Although the menu graphics no longer were an exact  copy of San Francisco's Washington Square Bar and Grill menu, the food and the music remained true to tradition. A very good trio, led by a young Japanese pianist whose name I never got, played a set for us, followed by midnight violin-flute-bass trio. The service was slow, but it gave us a nice 2-hour dinner and time for reflection. Around 1 a.m. we took the  Lexington line back to Grand Central, walked through the now empty main concourse and exit passageway out to Lexington Avenue, and up to our hotel for our 3 a.m. (midnight in San Francisoc) bedtime.

   The next day we cabbbed to Penn Station, grabbed the air train to Newark, boarded our flight, and settled into our special treat: a 3-course meal, a couple of drinks, and a long nap in our first class seats. I dreamed of the classic New Yorker cover showing the relief map of the United States with New York City in the foreground, San Francisco in the background, and not much in between.

 

Trios I Have Known

  

 Trio's I Have Known

            ....the story behind the story of the Dick Fregulia Trio tribute concert

to the great piano jazz trios of the last half of the 20th Century. 

            October 29, 2015 at JB Piano in San Rafael CA.

 

 

The concept was simple: I could produce a  trio concert of the "Evolution of the Modern Jazz Piano Trio" from Art Tatum to (who else but) the Dick Fregulia Trio. My trio could play our way through 15-20 nods and winks to historically significant jazz trios, comment on the style and significance of each, and finish with a rousing version of one of my own tunes. We would charge $10 at the door of the JB Piano Store  and if we drew 50 people cover our costs. My gigs were disappearing, so it was time to invent one of my own.

Turned out out be a process of much soul-searching, confusion,  self-doubt, revelation , unexpected inspiration, and eventually brutal organization.

 For example, I first had to decide where and how the piano-bass-drums jazz trio started in history. I concluded, unfortunately, that it actually began with the Nat King Cole Trio composed of piano-bass-guitar.  That evolved on through the trios of Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, all of whom employed the same drumless instrumentation. My trio of bassist Steve Webber and drummer Bill Moody did not fit the format, so how were we to get there? Then I backtracked and realized that Teddy Wilson had elements of both Cole and Tatum but was very comfortable working with bass and drums (especially Jo Jones). So Teddy became my starting point.  

 

 

The next step  was the transition.  Those devoted to bebop go straight to Bud Powell, but I thought of equal importance was Erroll Garner.  They were both influenced by current radical changes in jazz and each created a style that was a distinct departure from stride/swing piano predecessors - modern in its harmonies and horizontal lyrical lines and much more open and interactive in its relation with the drums and bass.

 

So that's sort of the way every step of the process went. Fortuntaley I was playing a weekly gig with  Steve at the Sand Dollar, so we were able to rehearse a whole variety of things (at the public's expense).  I typed out the program, copied lead sheets, and scripted educational commentary I could make between tunes.  I also planned on our doing a one-hour sound-check/rehearsal with Bill before the concert to go over basic arrangements, keys, tempos, etc.   Adrian Wong, who several years ago had recorded our Bill Evans Tribute concert at Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, offered to record the event, so we were now operating on two levels: originally a concert at a local piano store, now it was also a serious recording session with the possibility of producing a cd.

 

The evening of the concert we convened at 5 on the stage to go over18 tunes.  From the start we were pretty bad: tempos were out of control, execution marred by mistakes and misunderstanings. Fortunately we were veterans, so we  listened more carefully, settled in,  and played our way through it. We stopped at 6 because  chairs had to be set up, mics arranged, mundane things attended to. At 6:30 the first two audience people arrived. We were in business, but as a result I found myself sitting at the entrance table sorting money and greeting newcomers rather than refining chords at the piano.  At 6:55 I decided it was time to ask a friend to take over the front door because I had to go play piano.

 

We started right on time with a brisk version of I Got Rhythm a la Teddy Wilson Trio for an audience of about 30. We settled for a slower tempo than originally rehearsed, bounced through it with enthusiasm and optimism, and finished to a rousing applause. Amazing how things go when it's just a matter of being at your instrument and doing what you do. My well prepared commentary was a different matter, though, as I tried to begin an intelligent introduction to piano trio history. The big problem was that I couldn't read my notes without putting the paper right up to my face, so I did as any respectabler jazz musician would do - I faced the audience and improvised.  And it worked. I talked, and people listened, better than my students used to when I had to entertain a high school class. That got us into a Bud Powell Trio version of Bouncing With Bud (same basic chord structure as I Got Rhythm, noticeably different approach). We got the point across.

 

Erroll Garner's Trio, although not always honored by critics, was my next choice of a significant trio, so we went into Red Top from his Concert by the Sea album. We got more comfortable with every lively measure.  Then the Big Three - our real confort zone with the trios of Oscar Peterson (Easy Walker by Billy Taylor), Ahmad Jamal (New RHumba by Jamal), and Red Garland (the ballad Gone Again by Lionel Hampton).  Audience response was enthusiastic to say the least., but  I don't remember much else.

 

George Shearing was originally going to be left out because he didn't really perform with a trio, but his infuence was so great on trio pianists that Ichose to include him.  We played a hip version of  his bebop composition Conception, which in fact had been, over the years,  recorded by Bud Powell, Bill Evans,  and Keith Jarret.  That pretty much confirmed his inclusion. We covered the blues-gospel trio tradition with a funky version of Ray Bryant's Cubana Chant and closed the first set with a VInce Guaraldi Trio bossa nova version of his composition Ginza Samba.  Time for a break right on cue at 7:53.

 

The second set started out  15 minutes later in a much more casual manner. Bill never likes to cut a break short, and Steve was nowhere to be found,  so I went back on stage and started an extended Bill Evans introduction to Nardis. Bill and Steve eventually showed up and on cue we all hit the first two notes of the melody.  Without having talked about any arrangement we managed to wonderfully wend our way through extended solos, segue into a free section after the out chorus, then conclude by playing the melody one more time.  Now we were really having fun - the classic example of smart,energetic  improvised musical interplay in the manner created by the Bill Evans Trio.

 

The rest of the evening stayed in the same zone: As the McCoy Tyner Trio we settled into a slow but periodically explosive version of Search for Peace. As the Chick Corea Trio we swung confidently through his composition of Tones for Joans Bones.  We gave a nod to the Keith Jarret Trio by playing one of his solo hits,  My Song, in the manner that his later trios might have treated it.  We injected a favorite of mine, , the Kenny Barron Trio, by playing his waltz compositon Delores Street, SF. We returned to our Marin roots by  following with an obscure bossa nova by Denny Zeitlin, Offshore Breeze. That, of course, allowed me to reveal to the audience that the Trident (famous Sausaito waterfront club) had been a world-class jazz trio venue featuirng Guaraldi, Bill Evans, Joao Donato,  Denny Zeitlin and many others before rock and roll took over and Janis Joplin found her famous table in the corner.

 

So where did this all lead? To Italy, I reasoned, because Italian culture - and European culture in general - simply supports jazz more than does American culture.  My favorite Italian jazz pianist is the Genoa/New York dual citizen Dado Moroni, so we did a trick multiple-time-signature piece by him called Jamal. This was part of the reinforcement and review part of the evening.  Another Italian favorite, the Enrico Pieranunzi Trio, has  roots in classical and cinema  music. We played his composition Fellini's Waltz which explored dimensions of chamber music combined with 3/4 time bossa nova.  The grand finale came in the form of my rousing stop-time Latin jazz romp, Green Lights. We got through it in spirited fashion, in spite of some unfortunate sloppiness,   and the audience responded with a demand for an encore. A much more satisfying conclusion came by our playing a slow original of mine, I Guess I'll Say Goodbye to Lady Day. 9:05 p.m.

 

 

In the end we had an immensely satisfying night. We loved what we had been playing and the audience loved us back. We sold tickets for $15 to about 25 people, added a few more to our guest list, paid most of the overhead, and came out of it with an hour and a half of recorded performance.  We actually created a  gig that worked. Glen, the JB owner, wants to do more. We had succeeded in creating a gig that we all believed in.  Who needs Cafe Claude, anyway?

New Management

a sad farewell to the mural in Claude Alley

dick fregulia

My trios played once a month at Cafe Claude for over 10 years. Most often it was the Good Vibes Trio (piano-vibes-bass), but on occcasion i used a piano-guitar-bass or piano-bass-drums format. Cafe Claude was located in downtown San Francisco in an alley between Bush, Kearny, Post, and Grant. The restaurant was up a stairway half-a-floor above the alley. A small zinc bar was located  in the front and   two  wings opening out at right angles  seated about 40 diners in each. Just to the left of the entrance, parallel to the entry stairs and in front of the bar, was a glass enclosed (3 sides)  alcove that accommodated two tables during the day and a jazz group most nights.

 

At Cafe Claude the intimacy and dynamic between musicians and audience was perfect for jazz. The "Good Vibes" sound suggested George Shearing in Paris,

and  we were able to skip deftly through bebop classics, quality standards, contemporary jazz esoterica, bossa nova, and a few originals. The Good Vibes Band Book included Pent-up House, Django, C'est si Bon, i Love Paris, Afternoon in Paris, the entire Miles Davis Kind of Blue album, a Porgy and Bess suite, Giant Steps, Two for the Road, and a wide variety of totally esoteric jazz compositions from European jazz musicians. We knew how to play the gig, and we did it well.  We concluded each evening by celebrating over a "three-star" French meal and a glass of fine Bordeaux.

 

It all ended abruptly, however,  when Zaque, the club's formerly innocent techie "sound boy, " was named the new new Music Director. The announcement came in the form of an e-mail from him in early February, a week before Valentine's Day. It was wordy and pompous, but the sentence that caught my eye immediately was, "The first thing I want to express, all of you will continue to get booked at Cafe Claude."

 

We, of course, never got booked again...

 

It's a long, ugly story, but it was predictable. Most likely it was the "New Management Rule #1: Fire a musician!" The oldest guys, of course, would be the easiest target.

 

That's the short of it. If you want to learn more about the evil  Zack Eyn, go to his website at https://www.linkedin.com/in/zaqueeyn and use your imagination. If you don't, stay on this website and continue to enjoy the tasteful jazz that used to fill Cafe Claude.

V-I-C-T-O-R-Y

(actual date August 2017, originally a letter)

My Boyle Park 3.5 Summer Tour singles tennis match last Sunday was excellent. My opponent Ryan was a 50-something athletic lawyer, parent, local resident who I vaguely remember having played several years ago, but hadn't bothered to look it up. It was only my fourth match of the tour and I was coming off a frustrating loss to my old buddy/retired warehouseman Jim, who used to beat me most the time until I started beating him most the time. This time he had beaten  me 2-6/6-4/10-8 tiebreak.  

 

 

 

I started out serving well in the first game against Ryan,but he was managing to return everything.  After trading solid shots both ways he would somehow win the point. We were both playing well, but he broke me right away.  The set continued and I failed to find a weakness, even though I was playing fairly well myself. Before I knew it I was down 0-5. I finally served to win a game, but lost the set 1-6.  He's simply better and younger than me, I figured. After all, I had just turned 77.

 

 

 

We enjoyed  playing and had time to get to know each other a bit during crosovers.  He was interested that I had tought journalism at Tam and told me his oldest daughter, who had been at Tam after I had retired, was a professional journalist.  She started on the East Coast, where she had gone to college, then landed a great correspondent gig in London.  That ended unexpectedly after a couple of years, but her friends back in New York connected her for a new job, at the New Yorker.  She now writes Talk of the Town pieces, the most recent being a mini-portrait of a Japanese Buddhist priest in New York who lectures on the history of the swastika as a sign of peace and good luck in Jodo Shinshu tradition. 

 

 

 

But we had a second set to play, and it began pretty much the same as the first, except that I won the first game.  I was making some great shots, and missing some of course, but I was playing relaxed. Ryan came back and won his serve, then I won mine, and it continued. At 2-2 I thought it would be satisfying to win a third game in this set, so I did.  At 4-4 I began to think that I could win the set simply by winning my serve and breaking him. I won my serve and attacked, with renewed confidence, his  one weakness I was having some success against. His serve was o.k., but just that, nothing intimidating and apparently something I could return on my own terms.  
In essence, I could play his service games as if they were my own service games by seizing the first opportunity to control. I started moving him out of position with my return, then going to the net to volley back to the open space. I prevailed and closed the set at 6-4. As is the tradition at Boyle Park, we agreed to a 10-point tie break to determine the match.

 

 

 

I was on a roll and broke out with a 3-0 lead, then 5-2, then 8-5. Then I began to think about it. He's younger and better than me, so what am I doing in this position? He was making some spectacular shots, usually returns against an equally spectacular shot of mine, and most our points were  going several rounds into each game.  And he was not going away. The score got to 8-7 with me holding the opportunity to close it out on service.  
The first point I won on an unforced error forced by a solid ground stroke I made on his return of my serve. The second point started with my spin serve from the deuce side that drove him out of position to the far side of the court.  But he returned it as I approached the net. My volley to the opposite side was careful but weak and he was able to cross the court and return it back. With lightning quickness I stretched for my low return volley and flicked it back across the court just  inside the line but completely out of his reach.

 

 

 

"Victory! Victory! Hear my cry, V-I-C-T-O-R-Y "I  yelled to my wife and cat Turtlebug as I entered the house after bicycling home.  We all celebrated. I had won 1-6/6-4/10-7in a great match.  After things settled down I looked through my tennis records for the previous match Ryan and I may or may not have played. I found it in the 2012 Fall Tour, where I had written the score: 2-6/6-4/10-7  tiebreak and the remark "Great Match."  History repeats itself. I then picked up my current New Yorker and read a  Talk of the Town piece entitled "Cross-Cultural Dept: Dialogue"  about a Buddhist Monk lecturing in New York about the swastika.

 

 

Is tennis larger than life?    

Washington Square Bar and Grill Memories

The evening of Wednesday, January 2, 2008, was to have marked the beginning of my 33rd consecutive year of playing jazz piano Thursday nights at Washington Square Bar and Grill. Much of the time I played alone, but there were periods when I also worked with singers or bass players. In the last few years I was even able to add a jam session with my quartet the first Wednesday of each month.

The first Wednesday of the new year was a little different, though. The drummer and I had driven over from Marin together. We found the perfect parking place across from the Square. Omar rolled out of the passenger side, looked across the street, and asked, "Are you sure we have a gig tonight?" The place was dark. We crossed the street and read the sign on the locked door. It said basically, "Washing- ton Square B&G has closed its doors. Thanks for the Mem- ories."

To most people the Wasbag (ouch, call it "The Square") was a watering hole for serious drinkers who sec- ondarily had business to attend to, connections to make, sometimes even appetites to be satisfied. Lunches were fa- mous and lasted forever. Nightfall brought on new circum- stances, though, which could easily have spiralled out of control. What often held the joint together, even raised it to a new level of sophistication, was the jazz piano.At least that's what I liked to think.

"What a bunch of assholes." original co-owner Sam Deitsch used to comment looking down the lineup at the bar on a normal busy night. "But I'll put my assholes up against anybody else's in town," he'd conclude. Sam was authentic New York City - hip, smart, and caustic - and he knew musicians like Ed Moose, his partner, knew politi- cians. He was our advocate and our protector. He
was also fastidious about removing any coffee cups or empty ash trays that had been left on the piano top, and when pushed, he would even "86" a customer who was ha- rassing the piano player.

As one of the house pianists in the 1970's and 80's I frequently had to deal with more than my share of noisy, obnoxious groups while I was playing serious jazz. Invariably, though, the worst one of the group would come up and compliment me on the obscure Monk or Clifford Brown tune I had just been playing. That was one of the most redeeming qualities of The Square. People were, by in large, multi-dimensional, and one of those dimensions had an appreciation for jazz.

What often held the joint together, even raised it to a new level of sophistication, was the jazz piano.

One of my niceest memories involving audience atten- tion was the night that a good looking woman with a little glow came up and requested What Are You Doing the Rest of you Life? by Michele Legrande. I played it with sensitivity and intensity worthy of my favorite pi- anist, Bill Evans. Shortly after the tune she came back up, this time in tears. "My boyfriend just proposed to me," she explained joyfully.

Most of the time I was left to my own devices, which were often highly contrived. . The night of a full moon I would play all the moon tunes I could think of (Old Devil Moon, Blue Moon,...etc). If I felt like travel- ing I could play a musical trip around the world (Au- tumn in New York, April in Paris, Turna a Surriento, East of the Sun). Sometimes I would play a set of Harry Warren or George Gershwin or Horace Silver. Playing all the tunes on one classic jazz album (Miles' Kind of Blue, the Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderly album, or Erroll Garner's Concert by the Sea) also worked, often taking up a whole set. Generally most people didn't get it. Invariably, though, someone did, and would come up to let me know. That made all the difference. page1image38168 page1image38328

One gimmick that only one person got was my 2 "Songwriter Competition Applause Meter" show. Amandio Cabral, a North Beach musical institution himself, was a successful songwriter, singer, guitarist, independent CD producer, and former club owner. When he came in to hang out I would greet him by playing one of his songs, which was generally followed by an applause. Then I would play one of my originals, which would also muster some applause if I utilized a gimmick ending that demanded attention. Then I would alternate between his tunes and mine with the two of usjudging the amount of applause generated by each.

The late Neal Riofski, a fa- vorite bartender through the 80'sand 90's, was another who got it. I could string together a series of Sinatra-on-Capitol tunes and he would respond with the name of each album. Dick Broderick, an- other bartender from that era, knew just what to do at the end of the evening. Recognizing my last tune of the night (Walking My Baby Back Home), he would cue up a CD with the finesse of a jazz disc jockey. As my last note faded out, he would ever so gently fade in the voice of Willie Nelson singing Stardust.

In general my modus operandi was to challenge myself musically, satisfy most the customers superficially, keep the pulse going, and play the room like a bebop film score. Scanning the mirror I could pick out a romantic couple or someone tapping his foot at the bar, or possibly a private investigator unconvering an important clue in the mirrors. On second thought, maybe it was all done with mirrors.

So how did I get this gig, and how did I manage to survive so long?

I first worked there in the fall of 1974, in its first year of operation. I had heard on the KJAZ hotline that a local jazz pianist Jim Lowe (also keyboardist for the Cleveland Wrecking Company) was playing at a new place called Washington Square Bar and Grill. I later fig- ured out that he preceded the actual piano and was play- ing his own electric grand in the front window alcove. I was just cynical enough to guess that by now he had lost the gig and it was up for grabs.

I went in and grabbed it. The new piano was just to the left of the entrance, comfortably spaced between the front window table and the end of the bar. There was no mirror, no second room. If I looked to the right I could converse with someone at the bar, to the left I could con- verse with the couple at the window table.

One night several weeks into the gig I was called to the phone by the bartender during a break. On the phone was Ed Moose (the dominant co-owner), in- forming me that I was to be replaced by another local jazz pianist who had an actual following and was going to play five nights a week. It was about that time that they also knocked out the walls and expanded into what had previously been a Chinese aquarium store next door. The Square rapidly be- came the hottest spot in town, and I was banished to the Hungry Tiger in the Cannery, where I worked in obscurity five nights a week for almost a year.

When the Hungry Tiger gig folded I renewed my efforts to get the Square gig back. By then the place was mobbed. They had piano players six nights a week, but reserved Thursday as "audition" night. I went in and played for free several weeks. Sam, who was now in charge of booking the music, took a liking to me and told me to study Norma Tea- garden, the Wednesday night pianist, and how she played the room. I did, and several weeks later Sam offered me the gig. It was a union contract, with Sam adding that it was good "for life, and included all the pasta I could eat." "But," Sam later added, "You need to generate three times what we pay you in bar revenue."

The pay was reasonably good at $60, but I was particularly drawn to the food. At the beginning it was too busy to take my pasta sitting in the dining room , so I would eat at a little fold-down shelf in the kitchen be- tween the dishwashers and the cooks. When that was too busy I would take my dinner out to the deadend alley behind the kitchen and eat by moonlight.

Out front in the main rooms everybody was a celebrity, which is probably why the real ones always felt comfortable there. Tom Brokaw would come up and give me a shoulder rub as I played. Bobby Short would walk in with a group and wave to me through the mir- ror over the piano. Frances Ford Coppola would come in around midnight and eat by himself several tables away from the piano. Lauren Bacall once settled in with the Eden Brothers at the table right next to the piano. Even George Wendt (Norm from Cheers) walked past my back and ordered a beer from the bar. Unfortunately, I had to be told who it was because Cheers was originally a Thursday night program, the night I always worked.

The musicians who came in were also special. Bill Evans, probably the most influential jazz pianist of the last half of the 20th century, came in one night with Linda Goldstein, a singer with whom I shared the bandstand for awhile. They were having a drink at the bar when Bill re- marked that if he was playing piano it would probably command no more attention that I was getting. He was telling Linda the story of how a waiter once led a couple directly between him and the piano keyboard (while he was
playing) in order to seat them in a crowded lounge. So we decided to switch. I went to the bar to chat with the Linda, while he worked his way to the piano and
played. Nothing changed.

Earl Fatha Hines, perhaps the most influential jazz pianist of the first half of the 20th century, would also come in with his daughter. Unfortunately he was well into his 80's and suffering from dementia, so he could no longer play. He seemed to enjoy the scene , though. A more alert Dave Frishberg, a pianist-singer- songwriter who bridged both halves of the jazz century, walked by one night when I was playing one of his tunes, includ- ing a wrong chord in the second measure. Two days later I re- ceived a lead sheet with the cor- rect chord changes in the mail.

At some point I became a celebrity of sorts. My 15 minutes came in 1983 when I was the subject of a Bill Mandel column on the second page of the SF Examiner, complete with a 3-column portrait by photogrpaher Fran Ortiz. The column survived the day, but the photograph was replaced in the home edition by one of Queen Eliza- beth arriving at some special event. Nevertheless, I contin- ued to be named Bill's favorite saloon pianist in his annual Billy Awards. Another column and picture of me appeared in the now defunct North Beach Gazette. Amandio came in one night reporting that he had been walking down the street and saw my picture looking up at him from a dis- carded Gazette on the sidewalk.

Herb Caen (whose favorite song was Topsy as played by Benny Goodman) never mentioned me in his column as the pianist, but we did play on the Les Lapins softball team together and that gained me mention twice as a "slugger." I also achieved immortality on page 59 of Ron Fimrite's book The Square, beicompared to the other pianists as a "somewhat more modern stylist." In retrospect, my star status existed only in the context of being a pianist at The Sqaure.

After twenty years the Ed Moose-Sam Deitsch era came to an end, Ed having his fill of union contracts, health care benefits, and retirement fund payments. Ownership was passed on to Peter Lomax, a restaura- teur who had been helping out at the Square and who had previously owned the Coachman and Monroe's. Without Ed and Sam, though, the energy level dropped precipitously, and so did mine. I almost lost the gig as a result, but I took hold and managed to re-invent myself with some new faux-stride piano stylings.

A couple of years later a young on-the-rise Peter Osborne bought the place and brought his own Ed Moose persona with him. Things picked up immedi- ately, and as a bonus we got a new piano. The original Yamaha studio upright had done well, but it was worn out from 20 years of nightly playing. It had been a perfect instru- ment for the room. The ac- tion was easy and the sound traveled well around the walls so it could be heard anywhere without being obtrusive. A small microphone, probably unnecessary, was placed behind it and a second mic ex- tended above the piano for vocals. Amandio, a cabinet- maker by trade, had been in charge of maintaining the wood finish. Lynn Kennedy, who managed the books at times for all four owners, recognized the need to update it, though, and heroically put together the plan to re- place it with a brand new version of the same model.

The fourth ownership of The Square came early in the new century when Guy and Rose Ferri bought it and converted to the Cobalt Tavern. Live music was not part of his original vision, but Guy had heard the clos- ing night jam session of the Osborne Square and got caught up in the spirit of it. He called me the next morning to find out the number of another piano player he wanted to hire, but I convinced him that I was the ranking pianist and that we should sit down and talk. He agreed to continue the jazz piano tradition, even though the place had a new color and a new name, and he gave me my Thursday nights back as well as the responsibility of scheduling the other pianists.

Cobalt Tavern immediately received top reviews from Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer, who loved the food but found the noise level (music) annoying. It was his habit to either ignore restaurant music altogether or to add it as an- other bell to his noise rating. At Cobalt we experimented with singers, small groups, guitars and jam sessions, but ended up settling back with piano as the traditional sound
for the room. After two years Cobalt closed for a week, Guy retrieved all the original artifacts
from storage, repainted, and then re-opened as the 21st Century Washbag. Hanging on the
wall to the left of the piano was a framed copy of my first album, Sunday Morning at
Washington Square.

Most the local good jazz pianists played The Square at one time or another. There were the great stride and swing players like Burt Bales (the first real draw at The Square); Norma Teagarden, , Ray Skjelbred, Mike Lipskin, John Horton Cooper, and Ed Wettland. The modernists like myself included Dick Conte, Mike Greensill, Don Alberts, Mark Levine, Chris Huson, and Ken Fishler. There were black pianists like Hyler Jones, Federico Cer- vantes, and BJ Papa, women like Gini Wilson, Susan Sutton, and Jeannie Hofman, and blind pianists like Alex Kalleo and Federico Cervantes. The longtimers who started in the 70's and finished in the 21st century included. Ken Fishler, Mike Lipskin, and myself..

At times we had sidemen, or even groups, which gave the place the aura of an actual jazz club. Norma had a group of joiners that included trombone (whose slide occa- sionally got caught up in passing waiters), clarinet, and bass. Mike Lipskin was often accompanied by a drummer, Skjel- bred by soprano sax Dick Hadlock. John Cooper started with bassist Vernon Alley. Since there was a microphone available, I was able to couple with jazz singers, including Dorothy Moskowitz and Kitty Margolis. The last 13 years I was frequently accompanied by bassist Vince Gomez, a re- tired music teacher who had grown up in North Beach. Playing with me on alternate Thursday nights, he brought back the spirit of his early hero, the Square's first bassist, Vernon Alley. Facing the audi- ence as he played, Vince could chat up old high school mates, fellow Giants fans, or anyone that got too close to the bandstand. He was also very good at directing confused customers to the right bathroom

Possibly the best thing about the gig, though, was just being in North Beach on a regular basis.. My breaks, if not taken up by hobnobbing, were for wandering and scouting the neighbor- hood. In the 80's I could go around the corner to a jazz spot called Peta's, co-owned by my friend Amandio, and sit in with the rhythm section for a tune. The bar at Grant and Green also had a jazz group led byDick Partee. I could always walk up Colombus and catch half a dozen small groups at cafes or other restaurants. Other times I would go up to Capps to watch a basketball game with Neil (who eventually left the Square). I could grab a cappuccino at Mario's, or a cup of tea at a cafe on the site of my great grand- parents’ home 100 years ago.

Now I walk the streets of North Beach and try to enjoy the concept of being on one long break. I can leisurely enjoy my stops at Gelato Classico or Stella Pastries or Ristorante Ideale, and I still hear jazz from several venues along the way. When I get back to The Square, though, it is dark. Oftentimes someone else will show up, peek in the window, and we will strike up a conversation. Inside, the piano sits there under the mirror that reflects the set tables and the long empty bar. "There is no sound, not from the bar, not from the tables, not from the piano. There's nothing left to be heard.

Palo Alto Jazz History, 1955-65

 

 

Palo Alto/Jazz origins

October 21, 2007

Dick Fregulia

 

            Harlem it wasn't, but it's where I was first introduced to and learned to play jazz.  I'm speaking, of course, of Palo Alto, my home town, a quiet middle-class, college community about as far as you could get from New York, Chicago, or the Mississippi River.  During World War II,  pre-school rhythm classes at the Community Center introduced me to the basic concepts. From there I mixed piano lessons and trumpet playing in school music programs with lots of sports, which literally brought me to the other side of the tracks and the necessary cultures of color.

            But real jazz - bebop in particular - didn't come to my life until  I turned 14, in 1954. It started in the listening rooms of Palo Alto's two downtown records stores: Hagues on University near Ramona, and Melody Lane, further down University by the Varsity Theater. Each had a row of glass-enclosed phone-booth sized rooms, with a three-speed record player and  small bench that would squeeze two if you had a date. The rooms smelled thick with the sweat and stale cigarette smoke of the preceding listeners, who sometimes had tattoos. You could bring in several l.p.'s at a time to sample. Shrink-wrapping had not yet been invented, and you wouldn't considerr buying a record (lp's were $3.95) without thoroughly sampling both sides.

            Hague's was the hipper of the two and was particularly well-stocked with the new long playing albums of Milt Jackson, Clifford Brown, Diz, Miles, Monk, Bird, Bud Powell, Hank Jones, Erroll Garner, etc. The album covers were an enticing mix of pop art and film noir and the sounds seductive and challenging. The man behind the counter was often the stern, bespectacled Chuck Travis, a Palo Alto native a generation ahead of me. At night he became a Ben Webster inspired tenor sax player who had worked in the Dorsey band through the war years and now gigged with all the major jazz musicians in the Bay Area. Without realizing it, I was formulating the basis of my musical style as well as entering the aura of a fine musician with whom I would  play gigs later in life.

            My second source of jazz sounds found their way to Palo Alto over the airwaves from Oakland's KROW-AM radio station. Patrick Henry was the d.j of the evening program to which I'd fall asleep trying to absorb the tantalizing sounds of Stan Kenton, Mose Allison, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, and Shorty Rogers.

            Stanford was the third source of jazz. When the hip 16-year-olds at Paly High were driving up to the city to Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts, I was crossing El Camino to concerts at Stanford's Memorial Auditorium. There I  saw in person for the first time the likes of Cal Tjader, Vince Guaraldi, Brew Moore, Kenton, Dave Brubeck, and Paul Desmond. The concerts were part of a revolutionary movement that brought jazz out of the big city bars and on to college campuses.

            By the time I entered Paly High I had quit my piano lessons and the marching band to concentrate on sports, grades, and popularity. On the sly, though,  I started picking out jazz chords and improvising tunes on my own. Jazz pianist Billy Taylor came to me over Channel 9, the only local PBS station at the time, with a jazz program that explained the basics of improvisation. I'd watch, then run into the living room and try emulating him on the home piano. Friends were now collecting jazz albums instead of baseball cards. By junior year some of us tried jamming. And once we turned 16 we were able to venture to the Blackhawk jazz club in the city to hear our favorite bebop artists. Palo Alto had become too suburban for our new interests.

            In the summer of 1959, however, the downtown scene underwent a significant change. The conditions of the Leland and Jane Stanford will had always stipulated that no liquor be served within two miles of the Stanford campus, hence there were no bars in any of Palo Alto. Two coffee  houses, each serving a variety of espresso drinks, frappes, and sandwiches managed to open, however, and soon featured live jazz, folk music, paintings and photographs, dramatic performances, and a full cast of students, artists, and shiftless intellectuals.

            St. Michael's Alley was the hippest, quickly becoming the new soul of the local bohemian scene. It was dark, woodsy, cozy, and intimate.  Just two doors down from the Varsity Theater, it brought to University Avenue a new alternative to the hip scene at Kepler's bookstore.  When it became apparent that all that was lacking was a piano, I helped Vern, the owner, pick out an old upright with a speckled green paint job. which we placed against the wall in the darkest corner. It became a favorite place for  jam sessions, usually involving some combination of drums, bass, a guitar, and/or saxophone. 

            If St. Mikes was downtown, the Outside at the Inside was uptown. Actually located above the Zack's electronics store on High Street, the theater/gallery/coffee house was the creation of local artist Sheila Dorcy and Michael DuPont, an actor-producer from New York with lots of disposable family money. The layout defied description, but S.F. Chronicle writer Joel Pimsleur submitted the following  in a 1960 review:

"Modeled, loosely, after a Greek open theater, the interior stresses simple, classical lines, suggests not so much a night club as an atrium - complete with stone fountain.  Ionic columns flank the club room, furnished with Belgian, Greek, and Italian marble tables. Greek keys and theater masks spike the red, black, and gold inner awnings. This is the "outside" room - under the sky roof - skirted on the one edge by a small enclosed theater, on the other by an art gallery. Presiding over all, above the center stage, a familiar figure: a cherub-cheeked bust, with the ringlet beard and gaping maws of Bacchus."

 

            Outside at the Inside catered to a more upscale crowd. Weekends brought in jazz names like Red Norvo, Cal Tjader, Jackie and Roy, Jimmy Witherspoon, Ben Webster, Red Mitchell, Lord Buckley, Vince Guaraldi, Al Cohn, the Mastersounds, and jazz tap dancer Tommy Conine. Cutting edge theatrical productions were presented in the  adjoining theater, and local artists displayed in the gallery. The weeknight entertainment was either local folk music  or a local jazz trio - mine, for instance.

                Also worth noting in 1959 was a  greasy spoon  on University at the north side of the Circle, the Electric Kitchen.  It was one of a few small downtown black-owned businesses and for awhile featured blind pianist  Freddie Gambrell  playing with his trio, which had just recorded an album for Atlantic records.   Alcohol, however, could still not be legally served in Palo Alto. The fact that it flowed freely at  Stanford parties meant that most  local jazz players played gigs for college dancers. In the hills west of the campus, weekend beer bashes featured both aspiring Stanford jazz musicians as well as groups like Bob Scobey's Dixieland Band and Buddy deFranco's bebop quintet.

Up and down El Camino Real just outside the two-mile limit jazz was also pressing the limits.  In 1962 a jazz spot called the Percussion Room opened on El Camino right on the Palo Alto-Mt. View border. The following ad (written by the owner) appeared in the Stanford Daily:     "Is Jazz the Death Rattle of a Decadent Society? LISTEN To Stanford's Own DICK FREGULIA 'Reply to Fate by 88' HIS PIANO & JAZZ DUO EVERY FRI.& SAT NITE"  

 

      We played there to a mixed audience of students, locals, whites,blacks, straights, and at least one ex-con from San Quentin (a guy who used to spit on me in basketball practice, in fact.).The jazz ambiance was attacking  all the stereotypes we had been raised under in Palo Alto. We created jazz beauty in our youthful anger as we continued to rebel against our own suburban culture.    

            At the other end of the 2-mile limit , the Band Box on El Camino in Atherton  featured a local jazz dance band with a full bar and dinner. Bernie Kahn, the booking agent/band leader,  brought in major  big bands on occasion, most notably Count Basie and Duke Ellington, as well as locals Chuck Travis, Kermit Scott, and Ernie Royal.    

            In spite of all the societal changes in the 1960's, however, the downtown liquor restrictions remained. It wasn't until 1971 that Henry's Pub adjacent to the President Hotel broke the barrier with the first downtown liquor license. In the late sixties, though, you  could go to the other end of University where the Nairobi Corner managed to serve food, beer,  and small jazz groups, one with bassist Ray Drummond and a trumpeter named Tom Harrell.

    Tom was, in fact, the most exciting young jazz musician on the scene.   Having graduated  from Los Altos High in 1961, he developed a local reputation as a bold, lyrical, adventuresome trumpeter in the Clifford Brown tradition. As a Stanford student  in the mid-1960's Tom also played at a classic jazz dive called Easy Street , which opened just south of Oregon on El Camino. Originally a convenience store, then a massage parlor and topless dance joint, it evolved for a short time into a bebop-oriented decadent jazz club  often featuring Tom  with a full quintet.                

            During this ten year period between Eisenhower culture and the takeover by rock and roll a number of mid-peninsula jazz musicians nurtured their talents.  Tom Harrell went on to play with Horace Silver and Stan Getz and has become a New York based international jazz star in his own right.  Ray Drummond achieved status as one of New York's top mainstream jazz bassists. Many musicians playing Palo Alto's scene continued into a lifetime of jazz performance. Even I eventually achieved  the distinction of holding the longest-standing jazz piano gig in North Beach (33 years at Washington Square Bar and Grill, and still going strong).   

The institutions that were part of this special jazz era went various ways. St. Michaels Alley closed in 1966 over a lease hassle, then re-appeared on Emerson in 1973 as a restaurant. The original site on University is now occupied by Peet's Coffee and a new gelato cafe called, coincidentally, Michael's.  Outside at the Inside failed financially after a couple of years and reverted to being a storage room (a very fancy one) for Zacks Electronics  Now the building houses a yoga studio and several offices upstairs. In the middle still stands an  outdoor courtyard, the original "outside" showroom of Outside at the Inside. Pat Henry, the KROW dj, created the 24-hour jazz radio station KJAZ, the premier Bay Area jazz station for over 30 years. Palo Alto mainstream embraced jazz with street fairs and special summer jazz series, and Stanford, which used to have a policy of no jazz in the music department practice rooms,  became a major player in jazz education with its summer jazz workshop.              

By the time liquor came to Palo Alto, rock and roll had replaced jazz as the music of social relevance, but for  that short era from the mid-50s to mid-60's  Palo Alto provided a subculture that  helped  nurture  the further evolution of America's great indigenous art form. We didn't have our Apollo theater or Minton's Playhouse, but we did have a visionary alternateculture that broke through barriers of a social system that needed change. And we did it to a soundtrack of live jazz within and around the city limits of our home town.

 

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