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Dale Fielder by George Kantzler 10/20/2018 NYC Jazz Record
DALE FIELDER
by George Kanzler

When Dale Fielder takes the stage at Fordham University’s McGinley Ballroom in the Bronx this month, it will be Fielder’s first appearance in New York this century. Fielder left New York, where he had lived for eight years, in 1988, settling in the Los Angeles area. But the impetus for producer Kunle Mwanga, who is presenting him at Fordham as part of a Bronx African-American History Project, goes back even further, to recordings Fielder made in 1983 with a quintet that featured the late pianist Geri Allen (her first recording). Allen’s death last year spurred Fielder to dig out the tapes from those sessions and put them out as Scene From A Dream (NYC 1983) (Clarion Jazz). Mwanga, who had been Allen’s manager, heard the album and invited him to come and give a concert in his series.

“The original idea,” Fielder said on the phone from his Altadena, CA home, “was to do the music from the album, but that was me 35 years ago. I’m 62 now and I’ve changed a lot and gotten a lot better since then.” Among those changes is that Fielder no longer plays the alto saxophone (his instrument on the 1983 album) “unless I’m on someone else’s gig and they ask me and are paying me.

“Baritone sax is my main axe now,” he says and adds with a laugh “and I’ve got a lot of upset fans about it. On my gigs and band, I play what I want and that’s baritone, although I play tenor on one track on the next album we’re releasing.”

Fielder first met Allen in 1978, when they both lived in or around Pittsburgh. He had become disillusioned with the jazz scene and given up on pursuing a musical career and was “making crazy dough as a 23-year-old” working in the steel mills. “I hadn’t picked up a horn in over four months when Jothan Callins, a great composer and trumpet player, begged me to come up to Pittsburgh and hear this incredible young sister he had on piano. He introduced us and said, ‘I want two great musicians to meet each other, for I know you two should be playing with one another!’ Geri’s playing just blew me away, I felt excited about jazz, inspired by the way she played.”

Allen asked Fielder if he could join her band at a steady gig she had at a new club. “I leaped at the chance to play with this genius,” he says, “and knew I had some serious shedding to do. But I did make the gig. I also rehearsed with her almost daily and learned all her tunes and have never looked back since. I had quit jazz, but Geri inspired me to go back. But she always said, “I didn’t do nothing except give you a gig!’”

Fielder moved to New York City in 1980 and when Allen came east in 1982, she found a large apartment in Brooklyn with two bedrooms and a big studio to put her piano. She invited Fielder to share the place as her roommate and he stayed until the end of 1987.
“When I first decided to pursue the music in 1977,” he says, “I thought the first thing you gotta do is get a day job, because I was very specific about what I wanted to do with music, on my own terms.” He did not want to have to play music just to make money, “because everybody I saw who did that was jammed up in some way. I wanted to stay excited about the music I was making and I still am today.” So Fielder pursued a parallel career on Wall Street. He remembers meeting Allen and other young musicians, including Wynton and Branford Marsalis and Greg Osby, after work in Greenwich Village and going out jamming at night. “I was in my business suit and they would tease me, one of them saying ‘I never worked a day gig in my life’, then a few minutes later asking if I could lend him a $20.”

But Fielder says his jazz career never really took off until after he landed in Los Angeles in 1988. A trip to San Diego to see alto saxophonist Charles McPherson on a weekend led to a two-year gig there on weekends with McPherson’s drummer son Chuck. Then Fielder began getting known on the L.A. jazz scene and eventually formed his Dale Fielder Quartet, a band that celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2015. The quartet’s secret weapon is pianist Jane Getz, who worked with Stan Getz (no relation) and Charles Mingus in the ‘60s, then had a successful career as a pop producer for RCA, as well recording under the pseudonym Mother Hen, for decades on the West Coast. “I went to a jam session at World Stage in L.A. and ran into this cute little lady with a fur stole who plays like Bud Powell. She wanted to get back to jazz and she joined the quartet in 1995 and is still with us.”

“I hadn’t picked up a baritone in 20 years,” says Fielder, “when I was endorsing Jupiter saxes and played a run on one and the rep said I sounded like Pepper Adams. I was into Pepper before I heard Coltrane. I stopped playing bari because I thought I was cloning him too much.”

Resilience! (1995-2015) by the Dale Fiedler Quartet (Clarion Jazz), the band’s 18th album, came out in 2016. It features Fielder exclusively on baritone. Gary Carner, Pepper Adams biographer and discographer, calls Fielder “among a group of accomplished American baritone saxophone soloists whose chief influence is Pepper Adams. A hard swinger with a big sound… you can hear his love of the music and his zest for life in his solos.”

For more information, visit dalefielder.com. Fielder is at Fordham University McGinley Ballroom Oct. 20th. See Calendar.

Recommended Listening:
• Dale Fielder/Geri Allen—Scene From A Dream (NYC 1983) (Clarion Jazz, 1983)
• Dale Fielder—Dear Sir: Tribute to Wayne Shorter (Clarion Jazz, 1995)
• Dale Fielder Angel City Quartet—Stellar Moments (Clarion Jazz, 2008)
• Dale Fielder Tribute Quintet—Each Time I Think of You: A Tribute to the Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams Quintet (Clarion Jazz, 2011)
• Dale Fielder—Dream Dancing (Clarion Jazz, 2014) • Dale Fielder—Resilience! (1995-2015) (Clarion Jazz, 2016)