Saxophonist and good friend Chuck Peterson passed this past Friday, February 18, 2022. Born February 8, 1931, he was 91 when he left us.
Many of you have heard or lived some of Chuck’s story along the way. We know it imperfectly but we have a feel for it, for Chuck, for those who traveled a path alongside him. I met Chuck around the turn of the century…
I opened Bird & Beckett in May 1999, and immediately a neighbor from around the corner, Blanche Bebb, a lover of literature if there ever was one, tuned in to what we were up to with this nascent bookshop. A friend of hers, Mary Goode, who’d often roust Blanche out for a few glasses of wine at Glen Park Station, noticed the jazz bent we seemed to exhibit. Mary’s husband, the late drummer John Markham–Johnny Markham, as he was known to his friends–had just passed, and she had much to impart. I was a willing listener, if barely comprehending her rapid-fire digressions & divergences. Her husband John had traveled widely in big bands and orchestras–Charlie Barnet, Billy May–starting in the early 1950s. In January 1961 Johnny Markham hit the downbeat that kicked off the party cementing the Kennedy inauguration, in the Nelson Riddle orchestra backing Frank Sinatra.
Mary mentioned their friend Chuck, a tenor player, the executor of John’s estate such as it was, who lived nearby up on Martha Street next to Dorothy Erskine Park in a house overlooking Glen Canyon, with his wife Mary Cabot and Mary’s son James–they’d been together since James was six… James lives in that house still, with his wife Liz and their daughter Catherine, and Mary’s living up at her place in Jenner, at the mouth of the Russian River.
Well, one day Chuck came into the shop, told me he’d retired out of the theatre district pit orchestras and was pretty much relegated to playing bari sax once a month in a big band organized by Rudy Salvini. Rudy lived up on Congo and had had an outsized influence on the local jazz scene ever since Chuck was getting his Masters & teaching credential at State. Chuck said he’d have to pack it in if he couldn’t play more often than that, and asked was I game if he brought in a combo weekly–I’d just pay what I could and he’d supplement that to make it a decent gig for his sidemen. I couldn’t fault that. I said sure, and right away, starting in the fall of 2002, we had a weekly thing, the Chuck Peterson Trio, then Quartet, then eventually a quintet, with two horns up front, guitar or piano, bass and drums, a band he came to call the 230 Jones Street, Local 6, Literary Jazz Band.
Chuck was a union guy when that was something that could work for a jazz musician, and his friends were union guys. 230 Jones Street, the headquarters of Local 6, was their hang, where they conspired to have a good time and also to insist on their due as professionals. Places that employed bands, jazz bands, had to take the musicians seriously as professionals and were made to understand that fair wages and working conditions were required for the working musician; not like today, when matinee idols might demand big paychecks but most of the rest are considered lucky to have a gig, expected, as they say, “to drive 50 miles in a $500 car with a $5,000 instrument for a $50 gig.” It’s taken twenty years for Bird & Beckett to learn our lessons, though we intuited it from the start and welcomed the schooling along the way. If this paean to Chuck Peterson works as plug for the nascent Independent Musicians Alliance–which we’re hoping will gather steam in this era of economic and social/political transition to give gigging jazz musicians a collective voice they haven’t had in many decades–then we’ll feel we’ve done part of our job.
Quickly, the personnel of Chuck’s quartet settled in to comprise Chuck on tenor and flute, Scott Foster on guitar, Don Prell on bass and Jimmy Ryan on drums. Running parallel to Chuck’s band, singer Dorothy Lefkovits and guitarist Henry Irvin, with Bishu Chatterjee on bass and Jimmy on drums, began a monthly Sunday series. It was in Dorothy’s band that Jimmy noticed a flyer advertising the Chuck Peterson Trio, realized he knew Chuck and found time to drop by on a Friday, scoring his berth in the quartet. Bishop Norman Williams and B.J. Papa often dropped by to play with Dorothy & Henry on those Sundays, along with Jimmy’s son Joel, Christina Perna, Attila Medveczky, Rusty Aceves, Marianne Addington, Tina Marzell…
Glen Park neighborhood denizens–Linda, Joyce & Walker, Patricia, Roni, Jim, Rory, Jeri, Keith, Kimberly & her dog, Shamim & Michelle, Will, Felicia… so many others–made it a boisterous weekend hang year in and year out with superb music and sweet camaraderie. Angie made herself known. There was the famous Maraca Incident, still spoken of in hushed tones. The wine and laughter flowed freely, though even then I made everyone listen to the musicians, not treat them like wallpaper. I’ve rarely gotten an argument on that in all these years. The music has always been too good for folks to ignore, and kids like it when you set them some limits, don’t you know… it’s still like that, just different… all because of Chuck and what he wrought.
Friends and colleagues passed through the bookshop often to sit in with Chuck’s band, local & regional legends like Ernie Figueroa, Waldo Carter, Kent Glenn, Yancey Taylor, Eddie Duran, Bill Maginnis, Rick Elmore, so many others… Though there were occasional substitutions, the quartet of Chuck, Scott, Don and Jimmy lasted for years until we had to break the band into its component parts and give the various musicians their own nights. Don took one Friday for Seabop; Jimmy fielded his Bird & Beckett Bebop Band on another, most often with Don Alberts on piano and Bishu or Charles Thomas on bass. Chuck, Scott & Don worked with Ron Marabuto on drums, until we finally realized the error of our ways and gave Scott his own monthly slot. And Chuck assembled the 230 Jones Street, Local 6 Literary Jazz Band, a quintet with Glen Deardorff on guitar, Dean Reilly on bass, Tony Johnson on drums and another horn player sharing the front line. For the longest time, it was tenor player Bill Perkins, a wonderfully lyrical player who wrote the band’s charts. When Bill was eventually sidelined by Parkinsons, Howie Dudune occupied that chair. When Howie passed, Ray Loeckle took on the role, and when Chuck retired several years ago, Jerry Logas joined Ray up front. Chuck always had the wisdom to share his band with the most wonderful saxophone players.
All the way through, Chuck was steady. Gruff but also good humored with his colleagues and the audience.
A few years ago, he felt he had to pack it in, and he moved up north to Santa Rosa. I visited him a time or two, and always had intentions to stay in better touch, but you know what happens to the best laid plans…
These past few years, he’d been living in a comfortable house up there that his kids had found for him to rent, close by one of his daughters and next door to some jazz loving neighbors who took him to shows on occasion, playing piano and flute pretty much daily, near as I know. Chuck passed away in the wee hours of Friday morning, February 18th. His son David let me know the sad news, saying Chuck had died at “1:30 a.m… his customary bedtime til the end” after several weeks trying to recover from a fall he suffered in early January. His daughters Kristin and Carrie, David and an array of grandkids and greatgrandkids did much to keep his spirits up and his health pretty good until that fall. It’s a great loss.
Scott Foster played the bookstore that night as scheduled and dedicated the night to Chuck. Chuck’s stepson James was on hand. Scott and I had a few things to say and the music was fabulous. You can find that show online if you look.
This Friday, James and his mom, Mary Cabot, will come down and you’ll hear another swinging couple of sets from the 230 Jones Street Band, Chuck’s legacy band if you will, with Tony Johnson on drums at the helm, Glen Deardorff on guitar, Al Obidinski on bass and Charlie McCarthy, yet another of the Bay Area’sÂ treasured, wonderful and seasoned saxophonists and flautists, at the front. You can come down, or you can find that one live online as well. Donations to the Bird & Beckett Cultural Legacy Project would not be amiss. Chuck started a run of Friday jazz performances in October 2002 that continues to this day, coming up on twenty years. We’ve only skipped two Fridays in all that time.
These days, Scott holds down the third Friday of each month and the Tony Johnson holds down the fourth. Chuck’s legacy lives on, and is the enduring foundation of Bird & Beckett’s jazz tradition, still going strong.
We miss Chuck and wish him only the best in the afterlife.
Our events are put on under the umbrella of the nonprofit Bird & Beckett Cultural Legacy Project (the "BBCLP"). That's how we fund our ambitious schedule of 300 or so concerts and literary events every year.
The BBCLP is a 501(c)(3) non-profit...
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Gigging musicians! You have nothing to lose but your lack of a collective voice to achieve fair wages for your work!
The IMA can be a conduit for you, if you join in to make it work.
Read more here - Andy Gilbert's Feb 25 article about the IMA from KQED's site