Saturday, August 27, 2011

Remembering Leroy Vinnegar (12:04). Walkin' the Bass. 7-13-28, Indianapolis, IN to 8-3-99, Portland, OR. Self-taught musician, pro at 20. Bassist, Chicago's Beehive, '52-'53. To L. A., '54. Starting, '59, Vinnegar worked w/ Teddy Edwards (video). To Portland, late '80s. We all have stories. Please, share one here, mine... HARD CHOICES Saturdays 11am-1pm KMHD 89.1FM -Shawn K

I remember the day Leroy Vinnegar died. I was watching one of Portland's local news channels and even though I knew he was not well, it still struck me with great sadness. I have many Leroy Vinnegar stories and I imagine you do too. Here are some of my memories and some from the public record on the life of Leroy Vinnegar.

In 1997, I was standing off stage right at Cathedral Park when I took this. In Mr. Vinnegar's glasses you can see the reflection of the audience. His watch has his own image on it. We all wanted one of those.

Hampton Hawes (P), Leroy Vinnegar (B), Bobby Thompson (D), Sonny Criss (S), Harry "Sweets" Edison (T) and Teddy Edwards (TS). Leroy Vinnegar solo begins around 8 minutes in this video.

Hampton Hawes (P), Leroy Vinnegar (B), Bobby Thompson (D), Sonny Criss (AS), Harry "Sweets" Edison (T) & Big Joe Turner.

I was emceeing a show with Mr. Vinnegar. The room was electric, musicians were on stage, instruments were out of their cases and all were checking their sound, positioning, and information (especially in my case). Leroy was on stage and he was a significant presence, with his great stature and that of the great bass instrument he moved so gracefully with. Mr. Vinnegar called to me and asked me to adjust the endpin on his bass. I was 36 years old or so, and was in awe of this legend. This isn't by any measure, the first conversation I'd had with Leroy, but they never became common. I knew I was talking with a pillar of the music I loved and I knew too, how much I could learn, so I jumped at ANY opportunity. He lifted the bass off the ground and I got down low and began groping around to find the mechanism that adjusted the endpin. Was it a screw or slide?- I had never done that before, which began to become apparent. The bass was getting heavy and Mr. Vinnegar was very patient. Some excruciating moments went by as I felt around, without success. Saving me, another musician in the band saw this, came over, bent down, loosed the nut allowing the endpin to drop to the ground, then tightened it in a matter of seconds. It was done. I apologized, we all smiled, me with embarrassment and those around me, at my embarrassment.

I emceed a series of programs in the 90's called "Jazz Night Live." They were weekly affairs at the Red Lion Hotel, 310 SW Lincoln here in Portland. They were produced by a gentleman we affectionately called (as he requested), "The Captain." His name was actually Craig Stringer. The room was an event of enthusiastic audience and great musicians. As I introduced the band, I said a little about each member. I had about 5 sentences prepared for Mr. Vinnegar who was that evening's bassist. After my first sentence about his history, he called out, "and Teddy Edwards." With each sentence pause, another call from Mr. Vinnegar, or then from a band member, would come, helping to get me the message, that Teddy Edwards was very important. He had recruited the band with his calls and they followed their leader that night and had his back with vigor and humor. It was as if Teddy Edwards was in the room with us.

(BELOW: CALENDAR (Courtesy Jazz Society of Oregon)

Jul 13, 1928 in Indianapolis, IN
Aug 3, 1999 in Portland, OR

by Richard S. Ginell
The owner of a swinging "walking bass" manner, comfortable in several idioms but not a prolific soloist, Leroy Vinnegar had a couple of heydays -- in the '50s and '60s as a busy freelance recording sideman, and as a member of Les McCann's most popular combo in 1969. As such, he played a major role in two of jazz's biggest hit albums, the trend-setting My Fair Lady set with Andre Previn and Shelly Manne (1956) and the Eddie Harris/Les McCann soul-jazz manifesto Swiss Movement (1969).

A completely self-taught musician, Vinnegar "fooled around" with the piano but gravitated toward the bass upon his first encounter. After turning pro at 20, he was the house bassist at Chicago's Beehive in 1952-1953. Upon moving to Los Angeles in 1954, Vinnegar quickly settled in as the bass player of
choice on records by Stan Getz, Shorty Rogers, Chet Baker, Shelly Manne, and Serge Chaloff, among others. He also started recording as a leader in 1957, reeling off a pair of albums for Contemporary with the word "walks" appropriately inserted in each title. Starting in 1959, Vinnegar would work and tour frequently with Joe Castro and Teddy Edwards while continuing his freelance activities. In the early '80s, he appeared on television as a member of the Dixieland-styled Panama Hats behind actor/banjoist George Segal. Although a bout of ill health caused him to move to Portland in the late '80s, Vinnegar remained an active player into the '90s, and he returned to the recording scene as a leader in 1992 (on Contemporary again) with a CD entitled -- what else? -- Walkin' the Basses. Vinnegar died of cardiac arrest in August 1999, a loss to the jazz world and a particular blow to the Portland jazz community.

CALENDAR (Courtesy Jazz Society of Oregon)

Saturday, August 27
Alberta Rose Theater: "Swingtime Vaudeville Show" - Shanghai Woolies, $30 VIP, $15 adv/$18 door, 8 pm
Esther Short Park, Vancouver WA: "Vancouver Wine and Jazz Festival" - 11 am- noon - Go By Train; 12:30-2 pm - David Friesen Quintet (John Gross, Rob Davis, Greg Goebel, Charlie Doggett; 2:30-4 pm - Coco Montoya; 4:30-6 pm - Stanley Jordan; 6:30-8 pm - Diane Schuur Quintet; 8:30-10 pm - Al Jarreau; Three Day Passes $50; Adv $21/$25
Gracie's Sea Hag, Depoe Bay: Tom Grant, 7-10pm
Heathman Hotel: Linda Lee Michelet Trio, no cover, 8 pm
Jazz Alley, Seattle: Lee Ritenour & Dave Grusin
Jimmy Mak's: Intervision w/Paul Mazzio, Dan Balmer and Go By Train, $12, 8 pm; minors until 9:30 pm
Living Room Theaters: Heather Keizur/ Steve Christofferson/Tim Gilson, 8 pm-midnight
Nel Centro: Mike Pardew & Friends, all ages, no cover, 9:30-11:45 pm
Shirley's†Tippy Canoe, Troutdale: Ollie McClay/Craig Bidondo, 6:30-10:30 pm
Touche: Estrojazz (Kelley Shannon/Laura Cunard/Belinda Underwood), 8:30 pm

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