Music rises above differences. That’s the experience of saxophonist and Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame inductee Ernie Fields Jr., whose late father, the bandleader and performer Ernie Fields Sr., was among the first to break the color barrier at Cain’s Ballroom.
Fields Jr. will return to his hometown from Los Angeles this month to perform his father’s music with the Signature Symphony at Tulsa Community College. “The Golden Age of Greenwood” nods to a period when R&B, soul and funk music were sprouting right here in Tulsa.
“We’ll be reproducing Dad’s music from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s,” Fields Jr. says. “The styles are different, and the instrumentation is a little different. People will get to hear live what was done back in those days.”
Fields Jr. is bringing some impressive guest performers, too. “I’m bringing in four musicians from Los Angeles, including Rickey Minor,” he says. An Emmy Award-winning producer, director and composer, bassist Minor was the musical director and bandleader for Jay Leno’s “The Tonight Show” and was the musical director for “American Idol.”
A 1951 graduate of Booker T. Washington High School, 85-year-old Fields Jr. spent more than a decade as the music contractor for “American Idol,” booking session musicians to play during the show and recording songs for it himself.
He credits his father, who died in 1997, for teaching him the music business. Fields Sr. gained widespread recognition when his band’s arrangement of “In the Mood” reached Top 10 on the Billboard pop charts in 1959. He toured nationwide and recorded in Los Angeles and New York at a time when segregation was the norm. The Ernie Fields Orchestra, with the encouragement of Fields Sr.’s friend Bob Wills, was among the first black bands to play at Cain’s Ballroom.
“It was about surviving and being able to perform and play and work in places he could make money,” Fields Jr. says.
“Bob Wills and other white producers were instrumental in the growth of Daddy’s music, and Daddy hired white musicians back in the day. Music integrates.”
Oct. 18-19 — “The Golden Age of Greenwood”: Signature Symphony at TCC with Ernie Fields Jr.
7:30 p.m. VanTrease Performing Arts Center for Education, 10300 E. 81st St. $36-$78; $26-$68, students. signaturesymphony.org