Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Famers David Amram and Washington Rucker Return to Jazz Depot Sunday for Oscar Pettiford Tribute
The internationally known composer, conductor, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist David Amram – a Philadelphia native – remembers how he felt in 2011, when he received the Jay McShann Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
“I looked up at the wall and saw all those pictures and I said, `My God, all these people I played with and knew – I thought they were from Kansas City or New Orleans.'” he says. “I never realized they were all Oklahomans. And I thought, `Man, that’s like the history of jazz right up there.'”
Sunday, Amram returns to the Jazz Depot, where he’ll be joining another famous name on that wall – the innovative Tulsa-born jazz-drummer Washington Rucker – to pay tribute to a third Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Famer, the double-bassist and bandleader Oscar Pettiford. Pettiford, one of the pioneers of bebop, was from Okmulgee; he passed away in 1960.
“We’re going to play some pieces Oscar wrote, and also some of the classic tunes he loved and played so well,” says Amram. “And I’m going to tell people about his part in [jazz] history, in 1945 or 46, when he brought Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker downtown from Harlem to play on 52nd Street [in New York]. Oscar had the gig, and he said, `I want to feature these two geniuses.’ So the club owner said, `Well, okay, Oscar, if you want to do that.’
“Of course, all the musicians knew about them, but that was the first chance for the public to hear those guys together. It was a place called the Onyx Club, and it’s a part of jazz history I try to tell people about whenever I get the chance.”
Interestingly, Washington Rucker never met Pettiford – although, as he points out, “I worked lots of times with his brother, Harry Pettiford, who was a saxophone player here in Tulsa.
“Of course,” he adds, “I knew him through his reputation. I knew he was the inspiration for [fellow Tulsa jazz great] Cecil McBee to become a bassist, and I understood he was from Oklahoma.”
Amram, on the other hand, made the acquaintance of Oscar Pettiford in 1955, when both were working in the New York City jazz scene.
“I was playing [French horn] in the band of Charlie Mingus, and all the bass players were friendly with each other, so Oscar was there all the time and he liked what I was trying to do,” recalls Amram. “He said, `You know, I can’t play with a symphony orchestra, so I’m going to make my own. I’m going to have two French horns – you and Julius Watkins – and a harp player named Betty Glamann – she’s a classical player who can play jazz chord changes on the harp, which is almost impossible. And I’ve got my little cello. So I’m going to have a cello, a harp, two French horns, plus [trumpeter] Art Farmer, [trombonist] Jimmy Cleveland, all these great players.’
“He said, `I’m going make my own band, and we’re going to play.’ And we did. We made some wonderful records, played concerts together, and he was the person who introduced me to the native music of Oklahoma.”
In addition to Amram and Rucker, a half-dozen of the area’s best-known jazz bassists, including former Tulsan Dean DeMerritt, plan to take the stage and play some of their favorite Pettiford numbers with the two Hall of Famers. They include Bill Crosby, Nathan Eicher, Jordan Hehl and Ed Garcia.
“Jazz enthusiasts will be rejoicing when they witness this tribute led by Washington Rucker and David Amram. These two remarkable Hall of Famers’ tribute to one of Jazz’s all time top bassists will be the highlight of our Summer concert series,” commented Jason McIntosh, Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame CEO and producer of the Pettiford tribute. “Speaking with those who were fortunate enough to work with Oscar Pettiford, you get a sense of the tremendous respect and appreciation everyone had for him and his capacity for the joy of living, playing and composing.”
One of the compositions Sunday’s audiences may hear is a classical piece by Amram, which he wrote following Pettiford’s unexpected and early death.
“I wrote it for flute, cello, piano, and percussion, and it first got played in 1961,” he says. “It’s gotten played all over the world since then, with Oscar’s name on it, and then finally, about five weeks ago, it got played in the town where I was born, at the Curtis Institute of Music. I told all those kids in the audience about Oscar, and what he had meant to me, and how he was a bridge for jazz, and Native American music, and classical music – all sincere music.
“He was wide open,” concludes Amram. “He was an extraordinary person.”
A Tribute to Oscar Pettiford, starring David Amram and Washington Rucker, is set to begin at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, July 13, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street.
Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from www.myticketoffice.com, or by calling Bettie Downing 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.
The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2014 Summer Concert Series.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fameis a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through the preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.