Dec 22, 2014 - Looking forward to 2015 w/ Leon Rollerson
LOOKING FORWARD TO 2015 WITH LEON ROLLERSON AT SUNDAY'S JAZZ DEPOT SHOW
There's 55 years of professional entertainment behind The New Year's Coming with Leon Rollerson, the latest in the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame's Winter Concert Series. Tulsa native Rollerson, the multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and producer, first began playing music for money back in 1959, when he was still in junior high school.
“I was born and raised on Greenwood – the roughest and toughest street in America, according to the New York Times Magazine,” he says. “That's where my family had businesses. My father was a doctor and my mother was a schoolteacher, and I was surrounded by all kinds of people.”
One of them, he adds, was “a Native American guy who knew my father and my mother, and he said, `I've got this club, and I want you to play.'”
At the time, Rollerson had a four-piece band, which included a drummer, guitarist, and saxophonist, with Rollerson himself on bass. They'd never played a professional gig before, and for a pretty good reason.
“We knew four songs,” he recalls. “But I said, `Okay, I can figure this out.' so we took the songs and I said, `We're going to play the first song fast, the second song slow, the third song fast, and the fourth song slow. Then we're going to repeat, but we'll play the first song slow, and the second song fast – so we've got eight songs right there.” It was really just four, but they changed when you played the slow ones fast and the fast ones slow. Then we repeated everything from the top, because they weren't going to remember what we did, nor would they care.
“We could've probably played the same song all night long and they wouldn't have cared. They didn't care about hardly anything. They'd hit each other across the head with bottles, and stab at each other, and then go back and start drinking again. It was an eye-opening experience, without any question, but they wouldn't let anybody mess with us. They took good care of us. They fought, they threw people out the windows, all kinds of stuff, but they wouldn't let anybody come close to the band.
“They knew we weren't sounding worth a darn,” he concludes. “They knew we weren't professionally sound. But they didn't care. So they inspired me and the band – somebody paid attention to us. And then they gave us five dollars apiece, so we were millionaires.”
From there, Rollerson persevered, and a couple of years later he went on the road during his summer vacation, playing bass for the legendary Tulsa bandleader Ernie Fields.
“We had two station wagons,” he remembers. “The band would ride in the station wagons, and Ernie drove a Cadillac. He would normally come up about an hour behind the band, because the band would have to set up and, being the boss, he didn't have to do that.
“I always rode with Ernie, because I was a kid, you know. He'd promised my mother and my father that he would take care of me, and he did. I learned a lot riding with that man. This cat was cool. He was a real gentleman. We would back up famous cats like Sam Cooke, and then he had his own big band where he didn't have to back up anybody, because he had a hit record, [1959's] `In the Mood.'”
Flash-forward a half-decade, and now it's Rollerson who's in charge of the show. As a bandleader and performer, he's putting the lessons he's learned in his decades of music to good use on Sunday.
“The thing I like to do,” he says, “is give you something to watch, so we're planning on a visual show, as we always do. So if you like to watch a show, you'll be able to do that. We'll give you something to listen to, of course. And if you've got a feeling that you might want to dance, we will give you music that allows you to do that. You can enjoy it from a dancing standpoint, from a toe-tapping standpoint, or from a visual standpoint. We just encourage you to love music.”
The New Year's Coming with Leon Rollerson is set to begin at 5 p.m. Sunday, December 28, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St.
Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from www.jazzhalltickets.com, or by calling 918-928-JAZZ. 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 show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2014-5 Winter 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.