Internationally renown architect Frank Gehry has designed a new home for famous Los Angeles club started by singer Ruth Price .
B.Seed : Thanks for being on Bright Seed Blog Ruth, dancer, Singer, actress, jazz club, fundraising — I think you are first and foremost a singer but the later part of your life you have worked as hard as anyone to keep live jazz in So California. I sense a “happy go lucky” demeanor with you, a positive outlook, even when things aren’t going the way you want. How did your parents react to your decision to leave ballet and become a singer?
Ruth : You’re right about being a singer most of all. Very little acting, and only by default. As for a happy-go-lucky style, I don’t know if it’s that so much as the absence of a plan. As for my parents’ reaction, I’m not sure my father ever noticed. As for my mother and my dancing teachers, I think it took a long time, perhaps even several albums and several appearances on The Tonight Show before they realized I was actually a singer.
B.Seed : You studied dance as a girl and went to ballet school, a prodigy. You danced professionally, La Scala Opera Company I believe. This was the city’s premier ballet wasn’t it? How hard was it to leave? Some great singers have graced the stage at the American Academy of Music, heard any of them, perhaps opera singer Marian Anderson who was from Philadelphia?
Ruth : Yes, I certainly did study ballet. It’s hard work and has a very short performance lifespan. No, I never did hear Marian live at the Academy, but I’ve certainly heard her since then. Truly a sublime artist!
B.Seed : Philadelphia was also where you first worked as a singer. Charlie Ventura, The Union Hall, the Blue Note club with Philly Joe Jones and some of the Miles Davis rhythm section. Philly Joe is also credited with preserving the memory of the great arranger/composer Tad Dameron — he formed the group Dameronia around 1982 with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. His trumpeter, Don Sickler, played at the Jazz Bakery in September of 1995, I believe. It must have been great to hear some of these musicians perform live don’t you think?
Ruth : Philly Joe was an enormous, perhaps THE influence in my becoming a singer. He also played piano, saxophone and sang pretty well. He sure knew the lyrics to a lot of tunes. The unions in Philadelphia at that time were segregated. He would work with me at his union in the afternoons and taught me songs. Sometimes he made up a different bridge, which I only found out later when performing them. Indeed, I thought all rhythm sections played like that. Can you imagine? A beginner singer working with Philly, Red Garland and Paul Chambers? I took a lot for granted, but young people do.
B.Seed : You appeared on the tv show “shindig” with five time Grammy award-winning saxophone player Stan Getz where you did a tune called “The Telephone Song”. You also recorded an album with jazz guitarist Johnny Smith and his Quartet. Smith featured Getz on his album ” Moonlight in Vermon”, one of Down Beat magazine’s top two jazz records for 1952. How did you come to meet these two great artist?
Ruth : I learned that darned Telephone Song in the afternoon and sang it that evening. I don’t read music, so that’s not easy to do. I had worked with Stan a bit prior to that and the band was really great, what with Gary Burton, etc. We actually did a concert out here in Santa Monica. I met Johnny Smith when I was a teenager and had no idea I would ever become a singer. He was playing trumpet in Buddy Depperschmidt’s band stationed at Valley Forge at a huge military hospital. I lived a block up the street from the USO and was too young to get in, but used to peek through the window to listen to the music. Johnny had a little black dog (I’m nuts about dogs!) and during intermission, he would let me pet his dog. I didn’t see him again until I walked on stage at Birdland in New York and was introduced to “Johnny Smith, Guitar Player” as my accompanist for the evening. We went on to work and record together. He was a dear man, and he was the first to tell me, “Everybody knows you’ve got good time, you should trust yourself to sing ballads. You’ve got a beautiful vibrato.”
B.Seed : You also appeared on ABC’s “Stars of Jazz” hosted by Bobby Troup. You had a lot in common with Troup. You both recorded songs with a record label, both were on the same ABC tv show(SOJ), You both, I think, appeared on at least on episode of the NBC TV series Adam-12. Troup’s focus was acting in the late 60’s and early 70’s and beyond. You did some acting too. Were you still singing at that time?
Ruth : As for “Stars of Jazz,” that was a great show. It was done by a wonderful man named Jimmy Baker. All those shows are archived over at UCLA. I did a lot of them. Yes, I did some shows including “Adam-12” and one with George Peppard that I don’t even remember. As for singing, I was always singing! I have too much respect for acting to pretend that I am an actor. I am willing to say proudly, “I am a singer.”
B.Seed : Central Avenue in Los Angeles was a place for a lot of jazz at one time. Hollywood was another. You recorded an album, i believe, with the famous group Shelly Mann and his Men at his club, Shelly’s Man Hole. You were friends with the famous drummer before he moved from the east coast correct?
Ruth : I was a bit late to experience Central Avenue, but I do remember the Manne-Hole. I was brought out here by a famous A&R man, Red Clyde, who’d been an important part of Bethlehem Records. Dizzy brought him in to hear me sing one night with Johnny Smith back east. Red Clyde brought me out to record for HIS record company, called Mode, which promptly went out of business. A fellow artist, Bobby Dorough, had been brought out at the same time and was in the same boat. Bobby took me to hear Shelly’s band. I sang a song and Shelly hired me. He said if I could get myself to work each night, he’d give me a ride home – with the understanding that, en route, he’d be looking for a place to have his own jazz club. I was with him the night he discovered the coffeehouse that became the Manne-Hole.
B.Seed : From the online source jazzprofiles: “.. what was apparent in the 1960s was that Jazz was changing and, according to many, not necessarily for the better. But this was largely the opinion of those Jazz fans who preferred the understated swing of the 1930s or the straight-ahead rhythms of the post World War II be-bop and hard bop eras. The former group heralded the tap dance-like drumming of Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson while the latter group preferred the driving propulsion of Max Roach, Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones ..” Do you have a style preference when it comes to jazz you listen to? or do you not think like that?
Ruth : My taste is entirely eclectic. As each year goes by, it continues to expand. And I think the most important thing to happen to jazz in the last decade has been the obvious global influence. It would be easier to tell you what I DON’T listen to than what I do … but I won’t.
B.Seed : Jazz fusion got popular in the 70’s, the term “smooth Jazz” came around in the mid 80’s I believe. You were singing at clubs in the L.A. area in the late 80’s. The Vine St. Bar and Grill, Drake’s place in Glendale. A Times reporter characterized you as “the ideal blend of jazz vocalist and cabaret singer”. Another referred to your style as “Classic Pop” Is this accurate? this how you see yourself?
Ruth : How do I see myself? I refuse to give myself a title. I am quite simply in love with songs. I have an easy access to rhythm, maybe because I was a dancer. I’ve been told I swing and I’ve been told I make people cry; I treasure both compliments.
B.Seed : In addition to singing you booked performers for Gigorio’s in Long Beach and Lunarias in Century City. How does one go about booking artists. Does the booker handle payment of performers if he/she does not own the club?
Ruth : About the business part of booking clubs – in my case, yes, I did handle the payment of the performers. However, the owner of the club did not reimburse me. I would not advise this as a business model.
B.Seed : You opened the Jazz Bakery around 1992 in Culver City, California as a non-profit. Was this your first experience with that platform?
Ruth : The Jazz Bakery was a whole other animal. It was my first and only experience with the nonprofit platform.
B.Seed : Many great(and unknown) musicians have played at the Jazz Bakery over the years. On Sunday afternoons a few of them set aside time from their schedules to play at “The Bakery”, as it was originally called by the media, for children. Composer Yusef Lateef, Herbie Hancock and Trumpet great Don Cherry, Guitarist Kevin Eubanks from the Tonight Show, are some, I believe, who were involved. I wonder if any of the kids who came are now professional musicians, do you know?
“That’s Loneliness” – David Raksin & Ruth Price at The Jazz Bakery.
Windows 8 users may need to go to full screen to see the video.
Ruth : You’re right. The roster of players from 1992 until now who have worked the Jazz Bakery is really a Who’s Who of established and emerging artists. It reflects my taste, and I am truly proud of it. A lot of the young people, musicians and audience members, come back into my life. It’s a very special kind of thrill to hear them talk about the Bakery as a pivotal experience in their life. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing, but then I hardly ever know what I’m doing but things seem to work out right.
B.Seed : In 2003 the 10th anniversary celebration of the Jazz Bakery was held at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse. Singer Nancy Wilson, and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master pianist Marian McPartland were among the performers for a near-capacity audience. Jazz clubs I’m told were, at this time, struggling to bring in decent crowds much less sell-outs. I suspect the same is true today. Do you think jazz artist can/would/should benefit from collaborations with artist outside the jazz genre much the same way pop artist do with each other?
Ruth : Yes! “Purity” in ANY art form is not necessarily the best way to grow. If you mean purity as in “pure of heart,” then your ears are already open. What can be better?
B.Seed : In 2009 the Jazz Bakery’s lease expired at the place in Culver City and was not renewed. A new home will be built near by with the help of famous architect Frank Gehry. You have continued — presenting concerts called the Jazz Bakery “Movable Feasts” at various locations like downtown at Zipper Hall and the Redcat. Jazz great Wynton Marsalis has given you some help. How did he aid you? Will the new center be used for other functions, like say ballet, or is it a jazz-only joint?
Architect Frank Gehry and Ruth Price.
Ruth : Frank quite simply said, “When I heard you lost your lease, I thought I should do something about that.” And he certainly did. He has given us a beautiful design that satisfies our wildest dreams. Wynton simply offered some practical advice based on his experience of putting together Lincoln Center. There was only one conversation. I doubt the new Bakery will be suitable for ballet. However, our formal name is The Jazz Bakery Performance Space because, at the beginning, I didn’t want to be limited in any way. We had Gregory Hines perform several times as well as other jazz taps groups, not to mention stunning nights with Japanese drums, flamenco music, chamber groups, big bands, spoken word, and I have every intention of continuing a similar program with an emphasis always on music.
B.Seed : You’re involved with the California Jazz Foundation which aids musicians who are in financial distress. Last April at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Los Angeles you were presented with their first annual Nica award for outstanding contributions to the well-being of jazz artist. Recently you made a contribution to jazz on-line with the new Jazz Bakery Jukebox found at http://thejazzbakery.tumblr.com/. Who designs/sets up all your webpages?
Ruth : I’m very honored at having received the Nica Award. As for our Jukebox Tumblr, it has grown by leaps and bounds and now reaches thousands of listeners internationally. The blogmaster who designs and sets this up is Redbeard Simmons. It is amazing, the kind of insight you gain from the playlists given by these artists.
B.Seed : Thanks for being on the BrightSeedBlog Ruth. Anything you would like to say to our readers?
Ruth : By the end of 2014, we will have presented 100 Movable Feasts, culminating with two NEA-funded concerts by Ron Carter’s Golden Striker Trio with Russell Malone and Donald Vega on December 6, and The Art of Conversation with Kenny Barron and Dave Holland on December 7. And finally pianist Cyrus Chestnut’s Trio featuring saxophonist James Carter on December 13. I think this lineup speaks for itself.
President and Artistic Director
The Jazz Bakery