Be THERE Now (cd liner notes, 2022) 

This cd is the answer to the question presented by my last cd, What Now? in which I was left wondering what to do after getting rudely dismissed from my trio gig at Cafe Claude in San Franisco. The original album, which we recorded at concerts in 2015 and 2016, had some very good trio and quartet tracks, some borderline ones, and a cover/concept that struggled. In 2017 I printed 75 copies, put it on for digital sales only, and gave away more copies than I sold. But I always liked parts of it and wanted to see it continue to evolve. 

The next chapter: Bill Moody sufffered a fatal heart attack in 2018, the trio gigs all disappeared, and the Covid pandemic was coming. By 2020 I was firmly entrenched in playing weekly solo piano at Marin Joe's in Marin County. But I had recently met Jimmy Hobson, a fine drummer playing with bassist Steve Webber in Larry Moss's trio at Joe's, so we put together a couple of concert gigs as a trio. Jimmy also ran a small recording studio in San Anselmo, which would ultimately facilitate this cd. When the pandemic hit I withdrew to an online Facebook piano bar from home, then moved on to this recording project. I selected my best tracks from the What Now? album, recorded a batch of new tunes with Jimmy and Steve, re-mastered the combined results, and moved forward to honor the past. 

The tracks with Bill Moody are from the JB Piano concerts, accompanied sometimes by Piro Patton on vibes. The remaining tracks were recorded with Jimmy on drums in 2021. Ultimately the cd hopes to honor the traditions of great jazz recordings and jazz firmly rooted in 

acoustic sounds, classic harmonies, sophisticated rhythms, and lyrical melody lines. Significant inspiration came from memories of San Francisco's long defunct Jazz Workshop and Blackhawk clubs and the sounds of Miles Davis' classic 1961 Kind of Blue album. 

In the process of getting there we might have given a passing nod to the "Be Here Now" mantra from the late 1960's, but the answer we claearly settled on was "Be THERE Now!" 

Dick Fregulia, CEO Blue Koala Records, 2022 

Be THERE Now! Dick Fregulia Trio BKCD27

Review of "Jazz on a Summer's Day" for EatDrinkFilms

August, 2020 

by Dick Fregulia 

I'm feeling like there's not much to look forward to these days, so I am enjoying re- discovering the past much more. One of the better experiences I've had with that lately is viewing the new video print of the 1958 Newport Jazz Frestival documentary, "Jazz on a Summer's Day". 

The Newport Jazz Festival was in its fourth year and had established itself as a true ambassador for the jazz world. Each year it was recorded by Voice of America radio and released in several best-selling jazz record albums, which only spread the relevance of jazz in the late 1950's even further. Although the festival itself had a rocky history through the 1960's, moving to variety of venues and even out of town in the 1970's, it did create the template for the founding in 1958 of the Monterey Jazz Festival, which flourished for years and is still going strong. It was also the forgotten prototype for the emergence of outdoor rock concerts that started in the mid-1960's. 

Produced and directed by Bert Stern, this award winning documentary captures an inspiring array of images of musicians inventing and inter-acting, audience flowing with the vibes, and sailboats dancing the waves of Newport Bay. The digitalized restoration brings to it an impressive new life of color images and complex sounds. 

The film begins with seductive abstracts of flowing water in the bay, several references to the sailboats gathered for the America's Cup Race in the same area, and then cuts to close-up facial expressions of Jimmy Giuffre on saxophone and Bobby Brookmeyer on valve trombone playing a set on stage. The audience is entranced, responding in a vareity of ways with body, miond, and soul. 

The cameras wander through space and time, giving glimpses of sound checks, wandering dogs, dancers, candid moments, parties, lovers young and old. But it is always the music that holds us to the photograhic details of the scene. 

Classic performances abound. The most remembered performance for me (lasting 60 years and still going) is Anita O'Day brilliantly reworking Sweet Georgia Brown and Tea for Two. The segment , lasting about 10 minutes, truly captures an inspired jazz vocal improvisation and the personal, uninhibited audience response. 

Preceding that is the trio performance by Thelonius Monk, introduced by Voice of America jazz broadcaster Willis Connover. "Next is a man who is a complete original - who lives in music, thinks in music, and lives and thinks of little else." The cameras focus on the opening tune of Blue Monk, move to a fascinating variety of audience close-ups, then scan out of the arena to a long montage of sailboats in the rolling waves. 

A few sets later we get Louis Armstrong, looking young and energetic in spite of the lyrics of Ol' Rockin' Chair's Got Me, which he sings with Jack Teagarden. The dynamics of the two singing together brought variation to the instrumental interaction of Giuffre and Brookmeyer in the opening set. 

Among my many other lasting memories are Dinah Washington singing All of Me, then jamming on vibes with Terry Gibbs, George Shearing rocking with his Latin rhythm section, Chico Hamilton rehearsing his group in a studio, then performing on stage. 

The film also covers sets by Henry Grimes, Sonny Stitt, Sal Salvadore, Gerry Mulligan, Big Maybelle, Chuck Berry, and shots of street Dixieland musicians at various locations around town. The concluding set, starting at midnight, features gosspel singer Mahalia Jackson . She begins her set with a mid-tempo, grooving blues, then concludes an hour later with a musical treatment of the Lord's Prayer, which brings the crowd to a dramatic and respectful silence through the entire song. Amen. 

Although the water images nicely frame the fluid sounds of the jazz, they also provide a constant reminder of the privileged white culture that surrounds the festival. Historical perspective doesn't allow the viewer to overlook that, and some will dismiss the film for that. This was, however, a period of important transition in changing racial attitudes, and it was the jazz world that was leading the way to the dramatic changes of the 1960's. The concept of "black lives matter" is clearly at the heart of the music, the musicians, and the audience, although perhaps not yet reaching the sailboats. 

The film is not highly structured, but actually going to a festival like this is only a loosely structued experience anyway. The charm of this film is in the many bits and pieces, like the row of girls in the audience snapping their fingers on the off-beat. Nobody does that any more, and nobody feels syncopation, but nothing apparently swung like the Newport jazz festival on that summer day. 

Interview for, November, 2017 


For what it's worth, here is an interview I recently completed for an interesting jazz website called  Check it out if you're so inclined.

1. First let's start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

I grew up in Palo Alto (Stanford University) in the 1950's.  Music was an active part of the culture and I participated in school bands and orchestras (as a trumpet player and trombone player) as well as the obligitory piano lessons from age 5-13. The proximity of San Francisco drew me to the jazz clubs of North Beach and introduced me to Cal Tjader, Dave Brubeck, and others in my early teens. I was interested in trying jazz trumpet, but had no  idea how to approach jazz piano.

2. What got you interested in picking up the piano?

We had a baby grand at home and my mom played occssionally.  I picked it up quite naturally at age 3 and started lessons at age 5.  The piano basically chose me. I was always very good at it, and I agreed to go along with the program.

3. What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of plaing you have today?  What made you choose the piano?

Kids took piano lessons in those days. There was no such thing as guitar lessons.  My teachers, particularly Harold Griffen (for about 7 years), saw me through the standard repertoire and had the foresight to steer me through Mozart, Chopin, and on to Debussy and Gershwin.  I quit when I entered high school. I was always much more interested in sports.  My contract with mom was  that I would practice for 30 minutes each day. I would set the alarm clock on the piano, a comic book next to my music, and my baseball glove and bat on the floor. When the alarm went off I was out of there,  even if I was in the middle of a piece. My interest in modern jazz began in my teens, after I had quit taking lessons. I remember watching Billy Taylor explain improvisation on television ("The Subect is Jazz" on PBS) and then run into the living room to copy what I had heard. From there I was mostly self taught, with an occassional venture into a specialized program like the 3-week School of Jazz in Lenox, Mass (organized by the MJQ in the late 1950's) and the Berklee correspondence course in music theory and arranging.

4. How did you evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

My sound/touch had been cultivated nicely by the classical instruction. When I entered college I decided to get into combos and play gigs, so I played every weekend and learned as I went along.  I would copy the styles of Erroll Garner, George Shearing, and Oscar Peterson as dancers would foxtrot, jitterbug, and mambo. I played with older musicians as well as musicians my age, and I learned from every gig.  Playing for dancers was great practice in maintaining swing, energy, and a steady tempo. As the dancers got more inebriated we could move from current hit tunes to straight bebop.  I was also able to get low profile jazz gigs at local coffee houses,

5. What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm.

For the past year or so I have maintained my iRealPro app plugged into a speaker next to my Steinway grand downstairs in my studio.  I can activate any one of several thousand songs, pick a tempo, a rhythmic style, a key, a format, and then play along with it.  Using a speaker rather than earphones keeps me tuned to room sound and balance. I can edit in new alternate chord changes or add entire new lead sheets.  This keeps my trio chops at a good level, so I am always ready when  the rare combo gig comes up. As for solo , I play once or twice a week at restaurants, allowing me to practice jazz piano at the public's expense. I always think of it as jazz, and I am lucky to be able to impose that on my listeners.


6. Which harmonies and harmonic patternds do you prefer now?

Still prefer playing interesting chord changes - standards or bebop. Also like to extend on pedal points if they are a transitional section in a larger structure.  I like piling major 7ths in interesting ways, but I do not like altering everything into modes and scales. I play lyrically .

7. Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this busines?

             -Don't quit your day gig, but don't get a day gig that prohibits time for music.

            -The best comes when you are collecting retirement from that day gig.

            -Get your name in the paper or on the radio.  Name recognition gives you

                         a level of acceptance among your peers.

            -Hang out and sit in whenever possible.  Your best source of gigs is from   other  musicians, not necessarily from actual   employers.

           -Keep the business part a game, and stay honest to your own musical style.

            -Maintain both a union identity and a non-union identity. You will need both    to maximiae your opportunities.


8. And furthermore, can jazz be a businesss today or some day?

            It's always a business, but the rewards for me were more lifestyle than profit or fame. Keep your own list of business b.s. and learn to deal with it.  As a piano player your strongest foundation is to be able to play solo gigs, which often lead to adding a bass, drums, a horns, and/or a vocalist (for the same gig, or a new gig).

9. How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

            School jazz band programs do a good job, and they are often nowadays a cheaper alternative to offering orchestra or marching band programs.  A foundation in classical music and acoustic instruments can also lead to a natural interest in standard tunes.

10. John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you undertand the spirit and the meaning of life.?

I'm not very spiritual, and avoid ritualized spirituality. The zone you get into playing music can certainly be transcendental, though, and that can happen whether you are playing solo or with a group. Music might be the vehicle for the spirit of life, but the real stuff comes from all the other things you do and experience

11. What are your expectations of the fuutre? What brings you fear or anxiety.

            "The Last Gig (ever)" brings the most anxiety. The passing/aging of musical peers and the dying of  important traditions (cd's, jazz radio stations, etc) is bad.  But I can always create projects: self-recording, money-losing local concerts, etc. It always helps to have one gig on the calendar, though

12. What's the next musical frontier for you?

            Continue to come up with ways to honor the art of the jazz piano trio. Ultimately that is the jazz activity for  which I have the most intimate feeling. Any thing I can do to create opportunities to present trio jazz With my own independent record company I have produced more than 25 albums (solo, trio, quintet, etc) and will continue to do so, even though there is really no market for cd's any more. The process and musical result continues to be worthy, though.

13. Are there any similarites between jazz and world music, including folk music?

            In spirit and in crossover rhythms and harmonies, yes. Not so for pianistic matters, though.  Most world music influences seem to be dominated by guitar, voice, and drums.  Piano remains a separate world of its own, and "otherworldly" similarities are more likely to occur with classic music.

14. Who do you find yourself listening to nowadays.

            -Dado Moroni (Italian jazz pianist)

            -Unknown Europeans

            -Bill Evans,

            -Old piano favoriets (Jamal, Peterson, Garner, etc)



15. What's your current setup?

            -two omce-a-week restaurant gigs, one with a bassist, the other solo with occasional accompaniment by my iRealPro app

            -Occasional  gigs with trios, quartets, etc., some self-produced at an acceptable financial loss..

            -Downstairs studio with 1908 Steinway A , iRealPro, lots of fake books  cd's, computer, recording  equipment, etc.

            -webiste at


"What Now?" liner notes for new digital cd 


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.


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 to 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 tricky 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 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.

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