Dean Demerritt Performs at The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame

Dean DemerrittWeb

 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.asleep at the wheel

“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.”20140710_224436

”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.”

Dean DeMerritt’s Bass Face concert is set to begin at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, August 17, 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 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.

jazz hall at night

 

David Amram and Washington Rucker Perform at The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame 7/13/2014

oscar pettiford trib

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 PettifordPettiford, one of the pioneers of bebop, was from Okmulgee; he passed away in 1960.pettiford

“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.

Oscar-Pettiford in germany

 

“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.

jazz hall at night