Jun 18, 2013 - Playin' Favorites

            It’s been just about 36 years since Sandy and Chuck Gardner first played music together. And given the way they felt about one another at the time, it’s surprising that they didn’t pull the plug on their musical partnership after that one performance.

            Chuck was stationed at Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the time, leading the famed United States Air Force jazz band the Falconaires, as well as gigging with his own combo. Sandy was also in Colorado, singing with a trio of Air Force musicians at the USAF Academy’s Officers’ Club.

            “I’d been working with them for about two weeks as their `chick singer,’ as they liked to refer to girl singers back then,” she recalls. “Our piano player was also in the Air Force Academy Concert Band, and one night that band had a concert in Denver, so he wasn’t going to be able to make it.  Chuck just happened not to be working that night, so they called and asked if he would fill in. After he said yes, they said, `By the way, we have a chick singer.’”

            She laughs, and Chuck picks up the story.

            “I figured, like a lot of girl vocalists, she probably didn’t know her keys and that kind of thing,” he says. “I’d always had bad experiences with most vocalists. So I really didn’t know what to expect, but I wasn’t very happy about subbing with some vocalist I didn’t know.”

            For her part, Sandy adds, “My reaction was, `Oh, no. This guy won’t be able to do things in my key. It’s going to be terrible.’ So I think we both showed up prepared not to like each other.”

            For a while, it looked like that’d be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The two didn’t hit it off at all before the performance, with Sandy finding the substitute piano player “extremely arrogant.” But then, a few hours into the job, things suddenly changed.

            “Somewhere around 10 o’clock, we did `The Girl From Ipanema,’” Sandy remembers. “I sang it through once, and Chuck played the interlude. I looked over at Chuck, Chuck looked at me, and, from my perspective, the earth moved under my feet. It was like this bolt of lightning came down, and I was a goner.”

            “About two weeks later,” says Chuck, “I had her in my band.”  And after a few more weeks, they were engaged.

            And so began a personal and professional relationship that’ll be celebrated Sunday in a show dubbed Playin’ Favorites. “When Chuck and Sandy play the Jazz Depot, it’s more than just music,” says Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame CEO Jason McIntosh. “The Gardners’ enduring romance is evident on stage. Their chemistry and affection towards one another shines through in every performance.”

            Sunday’s show features some of the memorable songs they’ve performed in venues across the country, including the one they remember most fondly: the Saint Anthony Club in San Antonio’s Saint Anthony Hotel, where they held down a long residency.

            “It was a very, very elegant private dining club,” says Sandy. “You had to be a member to go there. It had this lovely dance floor with a white wrought-iron fence around it, and a raised stage with a grand piano. I mean, this was the ‘80s, and it was elegance personified. The men were always in tuxedos, the women in evening gowns, and, with some of the women, I never saw them wear the same gown twice. And I’m talking about things like brocade gowns with mink trim.

            “As a singer, you always try to be a little bit flashier than the group you’re playing for,” she adds with a laugh, “but, shoot, there was no way I could compete.”

            Sunday at the Jazz Depot, they’ll be joined by Wade Robertson on drums and Bill Crosby on upright bass. Sandy will play electric bass in addition to singing, and Pam Van Dyke Crosby plans to join her for a couple of vocal duets.

            The repertoire will include an original, “Blues for Owen,” which was written for a good friend of theirs from San Antonio  “who showed up at every public job we ever did,” remembers Sandy. There’ll also be the Kurt Weill-Ira Gershwin number “My Ship,” a nod to a well-known Colorado Springs vocalist named Alice Cardozo and the “first real jazz song” Sandy says she ever sang. “My Foolish Heart,” a favorite of Chuck’s, will also be on the program.

            And, of course, the audience will hear the tune that started this long-lived and mutually fulfilling partnership: “The Girl From Ipanema.”

            “Sure,” Sandy says. “We’re going to open with it.”      

            Sandy and Chuck Gardner’s Playin’ Favorites is set to begin at 5:00p.m. Sunday, June 23, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street.  Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5.  Refreshments will be available for purchase.

            The event is a part of the Jazz Hall’s Summer Concert Series.

            The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.