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?