Jazz Memories

Ed Rosenback, a founding member of the Vallejo Jazz Society, is an accomplished musician and singer who plays the bass, violin and piano. Below he relates some interesting stories about some of the great musicians he’s met and played with.

Jazz Memories

by Ed Rosenback, VJS Staff Member

Jazz evokes many things in the listener. For me, it’s memories of days and events long past, yet as clear and vibrant today as ever.

I felt this especially during the recent VJS concert by Soul Sauce. That music transported me back to the heady days of the mid-70s, when I’d hear Cal Tjader and Vince Guaraldi live at the El Matador club on Broadway in San Francisco. What memories!

The sounds still resonate in my mind amidst the smoky club atmosphere captured forever in a timeless eternity. I can still hear the glasses clinking on small tables, the undercurrent of private conversations (not too loud to interfere with hearing each note and nuance from the performers onstage), and the anticipation and joy expressed by the audience during and after each solo and selection.

My life in and around Jazz has been mostly positive and enriching. Over the years (don’t ask how many), I’ve had the great fortune to know and perform with some wonderful musicians (some widely known, some not). Unfortunately, in too many cases, it seems, fame and financial success elude musically-gifted persons, particularly in Jazz.

This was not the case with my friend Vince Guaraldi – he reaped well-deserved financial rewards (largely from his “Peanuts” music for Charles Shultz), but it came after paying his dues playing clubs for “peanuts”. He ended up with a nice house in Mill Valley which I visited, but he wasn’t really a “social” cat – he always had music running through his brain, and that’s what had his full attention. Vince was all about the music, but club managers seldom understand that.

I recall one night at the El Matador, Vince and the sidemen took a break in the downstairs room offstage; the manager, obviously upset with something (whether the timing of the break or something else) followed, apparently in a huff and returned shortly afterward.

A few minutes later, Vince, who probably felt insulted by the manager, burst through the door from downstairs, muttering something like “he can’t say I’m not conscientious!” (sort of a ‘take that!’ comment aimed at the manager) and began playing what seemed like a 20-minute medley, solo, while the side-men were still on break. Club managers, unfortunately, frequently don’t seem to understand that musicians need breaks and fail to give them due respect for their talent.

It’s never an easy life for jazz folk. But Vince was cool, and he was always open to help educate younger folks like my friends and myself in the finer points of Jazz.

I mentioned “nuances” earlier when talking about performers at the El Matador. That was something Vince always emphasized: the subtle nuance of a phrase, the implied phrase that ran under the melody and the essence of harmonies and rhythms chosen in a moment of inspiration – truly a theory of music not taught in university or conservatory classrooms.

I recall moments, all too few, in his company, and I treasure them, for during those times I “sat at the feet” of a Master. He left us ‘way too soon (he died on a break at a gig at Butterfields in the South Bay).

I mentioned how fame and financial fortune often elude gifted musicians, particularly in Jazz. I made the acquaintance of legendary jazz violinist Joe Venuti, and in one of our conversations, he told me that Jazz is appreciated in Europe far greater than in the United States, its country of origin. Overseas, he told me, “they treat us like kings,” but here at home, not so much. (He also gave me some advice I’ve tried to follow when possible; he said, “Kid, always play for cash – cash up front!” Try to convince a club manager to do that!)

But Joe Venuti could convince a club manager to do just that! He ran the show, and could he ever negotiate with managers! They either did as he wanted or he was out, and, by the way, they’d have to pay everyone in the band double because it was in the contract that if he walked out, for whatever reason, the management paid everyone double! Joe protected his side-men, big-time! He was a unique character, and came from a time when a violinist could hold more sway than most other Jazz musicians.

He was the first jazz violinist in history, pioneering a genre called Chamber Jazz, featuring strings. He later led big bands – imagine that, a guy with a fiddle leading a big band full of brass, reeds and percussion! But he always “held his own”, be it a tour de force pitting him against the sections or his riding over the top of the band on a final chorus.

I met him at the McClellan Officer’s Club in 1972. I was 25 and he was about 50 years my senior, but we clicked, and he even asked me to sit in with him! If only I’d brought my axe! I’d have never dreamed in a million years that could happen. He had a standing invitation at my folk’s house anytime he was in the Bay Area.

We used to joke about his longevity; he’d say he would probably die playing, and I’d say “Yeah, and you’ll probably finish the chorus before you drop!” And we’d have a good laugh about it. It nearly happened that way – he was scheduled to perform at the Concord Pavilion in the summer of 1978, but was put into the hospital in Seattle a week before leaving town; he died two days after that scheduled date.

I went to his funeral, and it was the best send-off I’ve ever attended. The band played the first tune, by Joe’s request: “Back Home Again in Indiana” – that was Joe, an original to the end!

It was through Joe Venuti that I met saxophonist Zoot Sims and guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli and George Barnes. George Barnes and I hit it off, and actually began planning a record (yes, we called them “records” in those days), but he died before it materialized.

Another “great” I had the good fortune to befriend was Cal Tjader. I met him at the bar of the El Matador while he was on a break during one of his engagements. He was drinking what looked like scotch and ice in a rocks glass. He was a quiet, easy-going guy, and, like Vince, fully engaged in the music. It was fortuitous that the two of them recorded and worked together so often; each was a kind of mirror to the other.

I suppose that we clicked because of the Guaraldi connection we both enjoyed. I loved following Cal to venues whenever I could. One time at the Matador, my girlfriend at the time wanted to get his autograph, and I said I’d see if that could happen. I asked, and he reached over and grabbed a cocktail napkin and wrote his name on it and inscribed it to her. (He seemed amused, but I did want to “make points” with the girl.) I have no idea whatever happened to that autographed napkin. I doubt if she still has it, but, if so, she should put it on E-Bay!

I mentioned the Soul Sauce concert at the onset of this piece. The Co-leader of that group, Jon Eriksen, not only plays so similarly to Cal, but even resembles him, which made my déjà vous experience even more intense! I mentioned that to him, and he said he does that intentionally, and for a time even wore horn-rimmed glasses and Hawaiian shirts (both a trademark look of Cal’s).

One of the unsung geniuses of music is my longtime friend and schoolmate, Mark Krunosky. A virtuoso pianist in both classical and jazz idioms, Mark is also adept on alto sax and cornet, and is a top-notch arranger & composer, writing “serious” concert pieces and symphonies as well as songs. We met in high school and continued our association in music later, in college, in clubs, and on stage.

He was responsible for my affinity with Vince Guaraldi (he too was enamored of Vince’s skill), and we’d make periodic trips into San Francisco to visit El Matador. Mark and I would perform at Vallejo schools to introduce students to Jazz (something the VJS continues to do), and after Vince’s death Mark put together a stage presentation of the “Peanuts” music Guaraldi was famous for and we took it to several college campuses. Another local legend participating in those college shows was Kenny Ilusorio.

Yet another local musician-extraordinaire was David Froehlich, my Music Theory and Piano for Music Majors instructor at Vallejo Junior College. He was not only an accomplished teacher, but a phenomenal pianist. He told me once of going to hear Dave Brubeck, and getting to speak with him after one of the sets. He said, “My name’s Dave Froehlich,…”, and before he could get any further Brubeck said, “Yes, I’ve heard of you – you’re teaching up in Vallejo, aren’t you?”

Mr. Froehlich, stunned to be on Dave Brubeck’s radar, said, “Yes, I am.” Brubeck then asked him if he was happy teaching, and Froehlich replied, “Pretty much, yes; are you happy doing what you’re doing?” Brubeck said, “Not so much – these damn people don’t know what the hell we’re doing up here.”

Mr. Froehlich (I later got to call him “Dave”) appreciated students who really took to Music Theory, and I was one of those. While I was at the University of Oregon, I’d correspond every now and then, and send him a draft of something I was working on, which he seemed to like.

After college and a stint in the Army, I returned to Vallejo, resumed my association with Mark Krunosky and began playing gigs with several local bands. To my great joy, Dave Froehlich wanted me on some of his gigs. Every time I played behind him, I played better than I ever had; he just drew the best music out of people!

I still recall during his Theory classes at Vallejo Junior College, Dave would come in, sit at the piano, and ask for someone to call out a popular tune of the day. He’d play it, and then say, “Now here is how Bach would have played it,” and launch into an elaborate contrapuntal solo; then, he’d say, “Now this is how Beethoven would have done it,” and once again play a classical masterpiece. He would do this through all the Masters of Music, and then he’d say, “And if Dave Brubeck did it, this is how it would sound,” and he would do an improvisation in the style of Brubeck.

Dave Froehlich was a genius, musically, and I’m proud to say I shared the stage with him on many occasions. We recorded some gospel songs with a group called “The Joyful Noise,” but Dave was never given the chance to shine, just played the chords underneath the other instruments, a gigantic waste of talent and a sadly-missed golden opportunity.

On the subject of missed opportunities, one was remedied years later, when I met legendary guitarist Eddie Duran. Eddie was a frequent sideman with both Vince Guaraldi and Cal Tjader, yet despite all the times I’d hung around Vince and Cal, I’d never met Eddie. When the VJS contracted with Madelyn and Eddie Duran to do one of our concerts at Ariane Cap’s Step-Up Music in 2011, things began to turn around.

Bob Nadler (a charter member of the VJS) and I were doing a gig in Yountville one Sunday and Bob had been invited to go to Eddie’s birthday party in Sonoma that same day. It was one week prior to Mad & Eddie’s concert in Vallejo, and Bob asked if I wanted to dovetail a visit to Sonoma on our way home from the gig. It sounded like a good idea, so we went.

After we made our way through the house, Janice King of the Sonoma Jazz Society asked if I wanted to sit in with Eddie on the back porch. This was too good! My mind hearkened back to that day in 1972 when Joe Venuti asked me to sit in and I had no instrument, and I realized this time I had my bass in the van!

So after all the years of following Vince, I finally got to meet his cohort, Eddie Duran, and not only that, got to perform with him! Getting to meet and play with Eddie before their VJS concert was a thrill for me. Not only that: I was also the M.C. for the event. Tres cool!

( A photo taken at that concert is below , as well as one of me with Dave Froehlich, John Kolarik and Bobby Simmons.) I have also included below some music links of the artists I’ve mentioned.

Me with Mad and Eddie Duran

Me with Mad and Eddie Duran

A link for Vince Guaraldi’s “Ginza” is: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ennmuhY9OxY

A link for Cal Tjader’s “Soul Sauce” is: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rSNqhEWH9M

YouTube links for Joe Venuti: the first is for a 1939 recording entitled “Flip” (the flip-side was entitled “Flop”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aF_Jz_-3WHA and the other is for the 1956 LP “Fiddle on Fire”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4qS_7b8Fx8

Lee Simmons, Bobby Simmons, John Kolarik, Me, and Dave Froehlich

Lee Simmons, Bobby Simmons, John Kolarik, Me, and Dave Froehlich

 

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