May 23, 2024

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Interview with Dick Fregulia: Continue to come up with ways to honor the art of the jazz piano trio: Video

Jazz interview with jazz pianist Dick Fregulia. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Dick Fregulia: – I grew up in Palo Alto (Stanford University) in the 1950’s. Music was an active part of the culture and I participated in school bands and orchestras (as a trumpet player and trombone player) as well as the obligitory piano lessons from age 5-13. The proximity of San Francisco drew me to the jazz clubs of North Beach and introduced me to Cal Tjader, Dave Brubeck, and others in my early teens. I was interested in trying jazz trumpet, but had no idea how to approach jazz piano.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the piano?

DF: – We had a baby grand at home and my mom played occssionally. I picked it up quite naturally at age 3 and started lessons at age 5. The piano basically chose me. I was always very good at it, and I agfeed to go along with the program.

JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of plaing you have today? What made you choose the piano?

DF: – Kids took piano lessons in those days. There was no such thing as guitar lessons. My teachers, particularly Harold Griffen (for about 7 years) saw me through the starndard repertoire and had the foresight to steer me through Mozart, Chopin, and on to Debussy and Gershwin. I quit when I entered high school. I was always much more interested in sports. My contract with mom was that I would practice for 30 minutes each day. I would set the alarm clock on the piano, a comic book next to my music, and my baseball glove and bat on the floor. When the alarm went off I was out of threre, even if I was in the middle of a piece. My interest in modern jazz began in my teens, after I had quit taking lessons. I remember watching Billy Taylor explain improvisation on television (“The Subect is Jazz” on PBS) and then run into the living room to copy what I had heard. From there I was mostly self taught, with an occassional venture into a specialized program like the 3-week School of Jazz in Lenox, Mass (organized by the MJQ in the late 1950’s) and the Berklee correspondence course in music theory and arranging.

JBN.S: – How did you evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

DF: – My sound/touch had been cultivated nicely by the classical instruction. When I entered college I decided to get into combos and play gigs, so I played every weekend and learned as I went along. I would copy the styles of Erroll Garner, George Shearing, and Oscar Peterson as dancers would foxtrot, jitterbug, and mambo. I played with older musicians as well as musicians my age, and I learned from every gig. Playing for dancers was great practice in maintining swing, energy, and a steady tempo. As the dancers got more inebriated we could move from current hit tunes to straight bebop. I was also able to get low profile jazz gigs at local coffee houses,

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

DF: – For the past year or so I have maintained my iRealPro app plugged into a speaker next to my Steinway grand downstairs in my studio. I can activate any one of several thousand songs, pick a tempo, a rhythmic style, a key, a format, and then play along with it. Using a speaker rather than earphones keeps me tuned to room sound and balance. I can edit in new alternate chord changes or add entire new lead sheets. This keeps my trio chops at a good level, so I am always ready when the rare combo gig comes up. As for solo , I play once or twice a week at restaurants, allowing me to practice jazz piano at the public’s expense. I always think of it as jazz, and I am lucky to be able to impose that on my listeners.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patternds do you prefer now?

DF: – Still prefer playing interesting chord changes – standards or bebop. Also like to extend on pedal points if they are a transitional section in a larger structure. I like piling major 7ths in interesting ways, but I do not like altering everything into modes and scales. I play lyrically .

JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?

DF: – -Don’t quit your day gig, but don’t get a day gig that prohibits time for music.

-The best comes when you are collecting retirement from that day gig.

-Get your name in the paper or on the radio. Name recognition gives you a level of acceptance among your peers.

-Hang out and sit in whenever possible. Your best source of gigs is from other musicians, not necessarily from actual employers.

-Keep the business part a game, and stay honest to your own musical style.

-Maintain both a union identity and a non-union identity. You will need both to maximiae your opportunities.

JBN.S: – And furthermore, can jazz be a businesss today or some day?

DF: – It’s always a business, but the rewards for me were more lifestyle than profit or fame. Keep your own list of business b.s. and learn to deal with it. As a piano player your strongest foundation is to be able to play solo gigs, which often lead to adding a bass, drums, a horns, and/or a vocalist (for the same gig, or a new gig).

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

DF: – School jazz band programs do a good job, and they are often nowadays a cheaper alternative to offering orchestra or marching band programs. A foundation in classical music and acoustic instruments can also lead to a natural interest in standard tunes.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you undertand the spirit and the meaning of life?

DF: – I’m not very spiritual, and avoid ritualized spirituality. The zone you get into playing music can certainly be transcendental, though, and that can happen whether you are playing solo or with a group. Music might be the vehicle for the spirit of life, but the real stuff comes from all the other things you do and experience

JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the fuutre? What brings you fear or anxiety?

DF: – “The Last Gig (ever)” brings the most anxiety. The passing/ageing of musical peers and the dying of important traditions (cd’s, jazz radio stations, etc) is bad. But I can always create projects: self-recording, money-losing local concerts, etc. It always helps to have one gig on the calendar, though

JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?

DF: – Continue to come up with ways to honor the art of the jazz piano trio. Ultimately that is the jazz activity for which I have the most intimate feeling. Any thing I can do to create opportunities to present trio jazz With my own independent record company I have produced more than 25 albums (solo, trio, quintet, etc) and will continue to do so, even though there is really no market for cd’s any more. The process and musical result continues to be worthy, though.

JBN.S: – Are there any similarites between jazz and world music, including folk music?

DF: – In spirit and in crossover rhythms and harmonies, yes. Not so for pianistic matters, though. Most world music influences seem to be dominated by guitar, voice, and drums. Piano remains a separate world of its own, and “otherworldly” similarieites are more likely to occur with classic music.

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to now a days?

DF: – -Dado Moroni (Italian jazz pianist)

-Unknown Europeans

-Bill Evans,

-Old piano favoriets (Jamal, Peterson, Garner, etc)

-Miles

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

DF: – -two omce-a-week restaurant gigs, one with a bassist, the other solo with occasional accompaniment by my iRealPro app

-Occasional gigs with trios, quartets, etc., some self-produced at an acceptable financial loss..

-Downstairs studio with 1908 Steinway A, iRealPro, lots of fake books cd’s, computer, recording equipment, etc.

-webiste at dickfreguliajazzpiano.com

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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P.S. – Dick Fregulia has been playing jazz piano gigs in the San Francisco area for half a century, as a soloist, sideman, accompanist to jazz vocalists, and leader of his own jazz combos. For 35 years he was featured Thursday nights at Washington Square Bar and Grill in San Francisco’s North Beach. His early influences were Ahmad Jamal, George Shearing, and Oscar Peterson, leading to a lifelong admiration for Bill Evans as a trio pianist and Art Tatum as a solo pianist.  In recent years he has focused on expanding opportunities to perform with his piano trio and his Good Vibes Quintet/Quartet/Trio. As a “jazz recording artist” Dick created Blue Koala Records in 1978 with the highly acclaimed solo piano LP, Sunday Morning at Washington Square. He has since produced over 25 recording projects, both as a soloist and in various combinations with vocalists and different groups of musicians. His newest release, What Now?, features Bill Moody on drums, Steve Webber on bass, and Piro Patton on vibes playing a variety of jazz classics including the entire Kind of Blue album. His previous cd’s include Sail Away (trio  playing compositions by Tom Harrell), Jazzitalia (trio playing compostions by Italian musicians), Re:Person I Knew (a live concert tribute to the Bill Evans trios), Art For Sale (the Dick Fregulia Trio playing mostly standards), I’ll String Along With You (the Dick Fregulia Stringalong Trio with Brandon Robinson on guitar), Live at Kuumbwa (the Good Vibes Quintet), and That’s Amore (trio arrangements of 13 songs by Harry Warren), all available on line at cdbaby.com.

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