Other Places (1992)
By Ralph Burnett
Veteran L.A. sessionman Brandon Fields should finally secure the respect he has earned as one of the truly important contemporary saxophonists with the release of Other Places on NOVA Records. With the waves of reed-blasters that have foamed the shores of jazzdom in the past few years, Brandon Fields will undoubtedly surface from the crowd.
Brandon Fields was born on the 26th of December, 1957, in Marian, Indiana and didn't like the jazz scene there so he moved to Southern California when he was two. Actually, he caught a ride with his father who joined the Navy and was stationed in San Diego. When Brandon was six, his family relocated to Orange County where his parents still live.
And what led Brandon to play saxophone? That's easy...the same thing that led most great sax players to their destiny...his mother played saxophone. "We make jokes about it all the time," smiles Brandon, "now it's like she tries to come out and play with me on stage," which would unquestionably make for a memorable evening. Actually, it was in high school that Brandon's mother played saxophone and since Brandon didn't know his mother then, at least not well, this logic may not stick. Brandon reveals the real story: "[my parents] would bring home different instruments from garage sales. My dad was kind of a collector; he would go out and find old trombones, guitars, drums sets and we always had all these different kinds of instruments laying around the house so I experimented with these different instruments. When they brought home the sax one day, that was kind of the one that appealed to me the most...I don't remember why," Brandon laughs.
Music was always a big part of Brandon's household: "My mom was a piano major...she started all of us [Brandon and his three younger sisters] on piano when we were five and then she became the neighborhood piano teacher. I continued piano lessons until I was twelve." Brandon still utilizes the piano as his primary writing tool.
Brandon studied music at a local college after high school which proved to be quite an adventure. "The one year I was at Cal State Fullerton they wouldn't allow me in the concert band because I didn't change mouthpieces [from metal to wood] which was contrary to what they wanted to hear. Also, there were an awful lot of sax players that year [over twenty]. We had to get music credit from somewhere, so they farmed us off into this chamber ensemble group and we formed quartets which exposed us to different saxophone techniques." This led Brandon to his first experience playing multiphonics: "I can remember doing a concert where we had four saxophone quartets in the auditorium--one in each corner...it was a piece that a composer had written just for that configuration."
From there brandon joined various top-40 bands and went on the road playing mostly r&b and funk. He joined a local Latin band called Los Chicos and performed with some local community college big-bands playing a variety of material in the genre of jazz and straight-ahead.
In 1979, Brandon hit what he describes as "a real dry period." Brandon recounts, "I had worked with Buddy Miles in New York and he neglected to pay the hotel bill--I got on a plane and came back to L.A. with thirteen cents in my pocket. Right after that, a friend of mine, who also plays saxophone, got a gig on a cruise ship and I took his place as a process server, you know, the guys that serve subpoenas, summonses and eviction notices--the good news guys...but it did allow me to pay off the truck I wanted to get," Brandon laughs.
Brandon's first record experience came a year later with a three horn band called East Side Connection. From there he begin working with some small groups, playing the local jazz clubs. "That started getting me going in more of a overall jazz direction," says Brandon, "playing melodies and not just playing parts but having to really develop some interest to carry a melody, develop a singing ability, and soloing over different changes--not just one-chord vamps."
In 1982, Brandon put his first band together and produced a demo tape that Dave Boroff and Steve Tavilonie heard through his sax repair man who in turn recommended Brandon for numerous jingle sessons as well as jobs with various groups. Brandon replaced Richard Elloit in a group called Kitty Hawk and did gigs with David Garfield and Karisma. "Late in 1984 there was an opening at "The Baked Potato" and David Garfield and I wound up doing about two years of Tuesday nights," says Brandon, "which was kind of a launching pad for the first album."
From here Brandon's career sort of diverges in many directions through, what Brandon depicts as, "networking." He did everything from shows with The Four Tops to Knott's Berry Farm with Buddy Miles. It was in 1985, that Brandon replaced Dave Boroff in George Benson's band. Brandon expounds, "Dave recommended me to George and that gave me my first chance to really get out of the country in a class situation." Brandon also played on a George Duke/Stanley Clark album with Kirk Whalum. Recently, he played with George Duke's band in London for a Nelson Mandela benefit concert. In 1987 and '88 Brandon replaced Marc Russo (the Yellowjacket gone buisy-bee), in touring with pop giant Kenny Loggins--pintch-hitting on keyboards when he wasn't needed on sax. I guess those piano lessons came in handy, haugh Brandon? "Actually, I had forgotten most of my piano lessons, so when it came down to that, I had to really woodshed--but I did get an extended [sax] solo on 'Celebrate Me Home'."
Brandon's list of credits from here is far too long to include--the following, however, is a list impossible to ignore: Boz Scagges, Peabo Bryson, Al Jarreau, David Benoit, Pat Kelley, Dan Siegel, Mikki Howard, Alphonse Mouzon, Julio Eglasias, and Les Hooper. "Les is a guy that was actually responsible for getting me a lot more work in [Los Angeles]," states Brandon. "I was a guest at Hammett [a local high school] and Les was the guest pianist...based on what he heard that night he started hiring me for jingles and I did my first TV work with him."
Then came the Rippingtons. "Russ [Freeman] was working for a musak label and he would call me over to put sax parts on eight-track...so I would go over to his place and we'd just read these things down and listen to 'em at the airport," laughs Brandon. "...Actually, there was one ballad that was on the second Ripington's album, Kiliminjero, that I herd a different version at the airport one day, that was pretty funny." Russ wound up doing a solo album with the same musak producer and shortly afetr, landed a deal with a new Japanese label. This was too soon after his own album came out so they wanted to give it a name which translated in Japanese 'Cruise Control - Moon Riding' Brandon says he never knew which one was actually the band name--'Moon Riding' or 'Cruise Control'. Eventually, he was able to release the album over here under the name the Rippingtons and it was called Moonlighting. Brandon has recorded and toured with the Rippingtons through their next Passport project, Kilimenjaro, as well as Tourist In Paradise for GRP. Look for Brandon's chops on a brand new Rippington album due out in September.
And what are Brandon's goals for the future? "The biggest thing for me is to cross that line between scattered gigs to major touring and to have enough demand out there so I can go out and play live in different places," states Brandon. "The most magic happens live. When you listen to somebody on a record that's inspiring but it's a little removed...but when you're standing in a room and you actually hear that music come out of somebody's bell--that's really an eye opening, or should I say, ear opening experience. I've had some good magic on record, I think, but when all the variables are right playing live, (and there are a lot of them), special stuff happens...I like the audience to feel like they're hearing something that they're not going to hear another time. One of the best things about jazz to me is that you can go back and hear somebody over and over again and you hear different stuff...the most successful improvisors to me are the ones that sound musical and yet sound fresh...it's something they're playing for the moment and the true nature of spontaneity, they're reacting off their surroundings and making it musical."
And there's no doubt in this writers mind that Brandon Fields is headed for many "other Places."