Mar 09, 2015 - ROLLERSON AND FRIENDS TO BURN UP WINTER WITH HOT JAZZ DEPOT SHOW
For Sunday's Burning up the Winter concert at the Jazz Depot, longtime Tulsa music figure Leon Rollerson plans to bring in his fourteen-person big band, along with featured vocalists Victoria Ellington and Luigi Balletto and pianists John Hamill and Joe Wilkinson.
Although large by any standard, Sunday's roster represents only a tiny percentage of the people Rollerson has worked with during his decades as a busy performer and producer as well as a Tulsa Public Schools music educator.
“We did a count on it about a year ago, and it came to over 4,000,” Rollerson says. “I don't care how you shake it – that's a lot of people.”
A good number of them have been mentored by Rollerson, too, learning not only about how to perform, but also about the business of music. For him, this tradition of helping others came naturally.
“My father was a pharmacist – we owned three drugstores on Greenwood [Avenue] – and people would come around, and they'd be hungry, they'd be broke. My mother and father would always take care of them, because they believed in doing that,” he says. “Taking care of people, and standing behind people, and making a difference – I got that from my mother and father.”
He also took some inspiration from those who came along early in his musical career.
“Earl 'Bang Bang' Jackson, who was a saxophone player, gave me my first professional gig,” Rollerson recalls. “Before then, I'd been playing with my bands, you know, a little kid coming up. He's the one who put a tuxedo on me and took me to all the south side clubs with his band. He showed me how to do it, how to make things happen, and that was tremendous. He also always said, `Take care of people, treat them right, stand behind them' – all of that.
“My second inspiration after that was [bandleader] Ernie Fields. He taught me how to tour, he taught me how to build a band, he took it to the next level. Bang Bang was local, Ernie was national, and he took me from Maine to California, from Washington to Florida, and all of the Southern states in between.
“Then there was Little Junior Parker, who was a famous blues artist. He was out of Mississippi, but his tour, for me, started out of Dallas, Texas. That's where I teamed up with him. My mother allowed me to take the bus down there, and during that time, Dallas was a very rough place. The bathrooms in the bus station were in the basement, and while I was down there, a guy came in and robbed everybody. But he didn't take anything that belonged to me. He never asked for my money or my wallet or anything. I don't know why. And on the way out, he said, `Gee, man, I hope you have a great day.'”
Besides helping him learn, as Rollerson says in reference to the Dallas incident, “the road is a very dangerous place, and you always have to respect it,” his time with Little Junior Parker immersed him in the blues, adding to his knowledge of jazz (from Jackson) and big-band music (from Fields). All of those influences will be on display Sunday at his Burning up the Winter show.
“We'll be doing mainly standards, so to keep in the Burning up the Winter tradition, we'll throw in `Summertime' and `Stormy Monday Blues.' I've got Luigi coming in to do `Stormy Monday' and `Girl From Ipanema.' With `Girl From Ipanema,' we're saying, `Don't you wish you were in Brazil, where the weather's all warm, instead of dealing with this weather back here? So we're going to take you to Brazil right now, away from the winter.'
“We're tired of the winter, so we're going to heat it up,” he concludes. “I'm bringing in my big band, packing three horns and a pair of guitars, keyboards, all that jazz. So we're going to burn up the winter, man.”
Burning up the Winter with Leon Rollerson is set to begin at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, March 15, 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 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 2015 Spring 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 the preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.