DEAN DEMERRITT PUTS ON HIS BASS FACE FOR SUNDAY’S JAZZ DEPOT SHOW
First of all, here’s the reason for the unusual name of the Sunday concert featuring veteran bassist Dean DeMerritt and his group of equally top-notch jazz players:
“I’m calling it Bass Face, because I met a great bass player out of Detroit, Ray McMurtry, in Atlanta one time, and he asked me to sit in,” explains DeMerritt. “I was kind of nervous, because he was a great musician. So after I got done playing with him, I asked him what he thought about my playing. And what he said to me was, `I’ve finally met someone who makes uglier faces than I dowhenI play.’” He laughs. “So, you know what? I’ll take that.”
Until about a month ago, DeMerritt was living and performing in the city where he metMcMurtry, having moved to Atlanta in 1996. If you’re a jazz fan, however, you can hardly miss noticing DeMerritt’s recent impact on the Tulsa scene, where he seems to be featured on some stage or other just about every night.
“It’s been great so far,” he says. “I’ve been really fortunate to hook up with some great musicians here in Tulsa. I’ve been playing with Mike Cameron, Scott McQuade, Frank Brown, and, gosh, Cindy Cain and Tim Shadley, just to mention a few.”
DeMerritt’s move to Tulsa is of the circle-closing variety. The son of a Tulsa jazz pianist and graduate of the University of Tulsa’s music program, DeMerritt had barely finished taking his finals when he was invited to go on the road with the Texas-based, hard-touring western-swing andboogie-woogie outfit, Asleep at the Wheel. That was in 1979, and during his years in the group he would be joined by several other Tulsa musicians, including piano player Falkner Evans, saxophonist Pat “Taco” Ryan, and drummer Billy Estes.
“I played with Asleep at the Wheel four years or so, and then I came back to Tulsa briefly and played in a few bands,” DeMerritt recalls. “Then I moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and played gigs down there. I played with the Fort Worth Symphony for a little while.
“That was 30 years ago, so it’s been 30 years since I lived in Tulsa full-time. I have family here, so I’ve come back and hung out and played, but I haven’t actually lived here since 1984.”
The reason for his return to Tulsa, he adds, has to do with both aesthetics and finances.
“I’ve finally reached a point in my life where I have so few debts, my overhead is so low, that I can finally afford to be a jazz musician full time – and Tulsa’s inexpensive to live in. Extremely inexpensive. Food and shelter and fuel costs are very, very little. So finally, I don’t have to have a dreaded day job. I can play music, write music, breathe music all the time.”
It’s a good thing, too, because he’s getting the opportunity to do just that.
“I’ve lived in Tulsa a month now, and I’ve had more informal people, calling me at midnight and wanting to come over for a jam session, than I had in years in Atlanta,” DeMerritt says. “The scene in smaller and people can get to my house in 15 minutes rather than being an hour away in another part of town.
“The venues are really good in Tulsa, considering the size of the city, but the camaraderie, the people who are willing to come over and bring an instrument or sing until the sun comes up – that’s really nice.”
”It’s great to have him back in town,” says Jason McIntosh, Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame CEO. “We’re looking forward not just to Dean’s shows, but to the impact he has on music education, and our next generation of Jazz Hall inductees.”
For Bass Face, DeMerritt will be joined by saxophonist Cameron and guitarist Brown, along with Jeff Newsome on piano and Michael Bremo on drums. Together, he says, “We’ll do one original and some little-known jazz nuggets. Because these Tulsa musicians can play so many different kinds of things, we’ll do everything from gypsy jazz to Snarky Puppy, and we’ll do some stuff by Oklahoma composers like Sam Rivers, a great sax player, and Oscar Pettiford. We’re doing “The Plain But Simple Truth,” an Oscar Pettiford song he did with Lucky Thompson. We’ve also arranged a Beatles tune for jazz improvisation. So it’s going to be very eclectic.”
Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from www.myticketoffice.com, or by calling BettieDowning at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5. Refreshments will be available for purchase.
The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2014 Summer Concert Series.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomansthrough the preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.