Jazz Piano, Inspiration and Harry Fields

HARRY FIELDS

 

MrEvan plays Harry Fields' arrangement of Malaguena

MrEvan's Prizewinning Speech: "My Seminar"

Harry Fields

Harry Fields,  jazz master, a contemporary of George Gershwin and Erroll Garner, was taught, selected and schooled by Art Tatum - the father of modern jazz. Harry composed film scores and over 30 songs listed in ASCAP, and his  albums are available today. In World War ll, he shared his talent as an entertainer in the Armed Forces.   He continued a very distinguished  concert and private teaching career until  passing in his home studio on Alta Loma Drive in Hollywood in 1988.


Sometimes after a lesson, I closed the outer door and listened through the ac vent outside. Harry would be playing a virtuosic jazz arrangement of Liza (which was never the same twice). It was almost like he knew I was out there listening. His left hand would be soaring over the entire keyboard with an accuracy that never missed.  Harry once told me that Art (Art Tatum) told him that "he had no talent, but, he could learn".  If Harry had no talent, truly none of us have any!  Harry played  Tatum arrangements with ease. Sometimes he would break into melodic chordal concoctions that he said Errol Garner (his dear friend) was fond of ....at those times he would play Misty or Who Can I Turn To?.  As I sat in his studio he would regale me with fabulously colorful chordal arrangements for openers...and then springboard into virtuosic jazz renditions of many Jazz Standards.  Harry had a great sense of humor...sometimes calling himself a dinosaur because he was alive to see the Gershwin era.  Sometimes he would launch into a remarkably visceral down and cool piano rendition of Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin".  We used to laugh together as I was seated on one of two 9 foot Baldwins, and he would play "Ain't Misbehavin".  It was just so funky (but magnificent ) that you had to laugh.. 


Harry had a full bar in his giant private studio in his home. One day, (I had come home from a gig on a cruise line) Harry heard my story that as a pianist, I did ok, but didn't get along with the crew and other entertainers as well.  Harry said to me "We're going to have to work on that personality a bit". He proceeded to  wheel out a full bar, opened up the cabinet , full of every kind of booze and asked :  "What drink do you like?"   I said that I didn't know cause to be honest, I had never tried drinking like that before.  Harry told me that to be socially acceptable it would be a good idea to have a favorite drink.  We selected Seven and Seven. He mixed one up.  Harry suggested it be my drink and I was happy to oblige! To this day, I think it tastes pretty good. One time, in secret after hearing about one of my gigs.. he told me a story of how he got fired from one of the studios. Lets just say that the bosses of the studios didn't like the attention that Harry regularly received from beautiful women sitting on his bench when he would play. They demanded that Harry pay more attention to his playing.  As a studio pianist, I knew Harry to be flawless. He always told me that whenever he was called ...they only needed one take.  All I can tell you is that from the tapes of my lessons, he never erred.

 

Outside his large room with the two 9 foot Baldwin grand pianos, was Harry's waiting room. From the outside doorway, his Doctorate from the Juilliard School of Music looked down at you opposite the entrance. The waiting room was packed with mementos from Harry's extraordinary performing career....a commendation from Colonel here, a wide angle picture of his packed concert for the Governor of Rhode Island there,  his plaque from the American Heart Association for donating the proceeds of his concerts  to them and many many others.

 

Harry encouraged young people in their entertainment aspirations and would sit with them in his studio discussing their ultimate success. In his appointment room just off the waiting room, a young woman of exceptional attractiveness was either helping in the office, taking appointments, or cleaning the studio. Sometimes as I sat in the waiting room, I would hear her ask Harry about her road to success.  I heard her crying with anxiety.  Always  liberal with his encouragement, students naturally opened up to him as an example of success in the dog-eat-dog world of  entertainment.  Harry used to say to us all:  "There's plenty of room at the top" and he encouraged and laid the groundwork for his student's success.  

history/tribute as experienced by MrEvan

Although Fields graduated from Juilliard School of Music with a Doctoral Degree in Performance, he told me more than once that his Juilliard degree got him absolutely nowhere in terms of making money Humorously, he said that that his 16 song repertoire from Juilliard resulted in his being fired from nightclubs instantly when as a young pianist he tried to entertain drinkers and guests with his classical repertoire.

Later, after Juilliard, he began to succeed with his Trio and new repertoire of Jazz and songs from the 30's thru modern day. Harry notably played at Sneeky Pete's on Sunset Strip for many years with his Trio.

Erroll Garner and he became dear friends. Garner's light maple piano was found in the recording room of Field's teaching studio.


There is general agreement that Jazz is a subject not easy to teach yet Fields had many brilliant ideas for connecting with students. He had certain humorous names for left hand stylisms: Rolly-Polly, German Bass, Rolled Bass, Umpahs, Super Umpahs and Tin Pan Alley. Other examples of harmony in Jazz Piano included using Open and Closed Harmony, 3-3 chords, 7-7chords, Walking Bass and Chromatic Alterations.


All these forms required great technique and practice. Another important style he was fond of teaching was Swing Bass. Sometimes Fields called this Stride Piano. Even in his late years , Fields was extremely active... either running from room to room teaching 3 students at once, or performing in venues which were the very best such as Romeo and Juliets Nightclub in Beverly Hills. As a student, I recall one day that he told me that he was giving a concert for the Governor of Rhode Island. I thought it was a small private party. Turns out it was a concert for a thousand in a major concert hall. As a teacher, Fields gave me experience by letting me play for the crowd during his break time. He did this many times, preparing me to play in nightclubs and the stage. He even invited me to perform at private partys..this is the kind of teacher he was. Afterward he would take us for a midnight snack. As a young musician it was very exciting to watch Fields shake the rafters with his exciting, always different improvisation and rhythms, together as a Trio.


Although Harry never advocated playing in bars because the "quality of your playing takes a hit", for most musicians its just necessary to make a living. Harry played in the finest nightclubs in Beverly Hills toward the end of his life, maintaining the fantastic abilities that he had till the end.  For his students, he would spent important time creating a niche in the entertainment world for those of us who wanted this.. he would advise starlets, singers, pianists, and those that knew, for we knew what a unique position he had for himself in recording, teaching and concert piano.


One of the last performances that Fields gave was in front of several hundred guests in the main showroom of Local 47, the Music Union in Los Angeles. Harry received a standing O. Later at our lesson, he said that he would instruct me in "how to make them stand". That is just the caliber of musician and music teacher he was.


Harry gave to the charity that has been responsible for so many breakthroughs in heart treatment: The American Heart Association. In his office was a large gold plaque from the American Heart Association and pictures of his concerts sponsoring donations. Harry himself had a triple bypass, and many years after having one, continued his very active performing and teaching life literally until he passed on while teaching in his studio.


All of us who knew Harry Fields miss him for the great inspiration and friend that he was and continues to be in our memory. Thank you Harry!

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