A True Friend of Jazz
by Francesca Nemko
In a rather extensive article in the San Francisco Chronicle's Datebook section back in 1993, John Ross wrote about "When Jazz Was the Thing." This treatise extolled the virtues of one spot in particular Jimbo's Bop City in the Fillmore neighborhood of San Francisco. Anyone who reads this magazine knows that Jazz has always been "the thing." Still, it's gratifying to know that there are people on the scene who are doing their best to ensure that this will continue in the next millennium.
One such devotee is Pat Nacey, founder of an organization called Friends of Jazz. She has worked hard personally and professionally to keep Jazz alive, not just in the Bay Area's memory, but also in its daily life. Her love of music started in Minnesota at age four when she remembers "being in front of an audience, at a Christmas night service, where I sang "Away in a Manger." Everybody clapped, so I sang it again, and everybody clapped, and I started to sing it again and then my mother dragged me off the stage!"
Nacey went on to describe a childhood before the advent of television, where singing competitions were the thing; she entered and won many, an experience when gave he a taste for performance. When she moved from the Midwest to attend college in San Francisco, she met Paul Desmond, Allen Smith, and Richard Wyands, all of whom were returning stateside after serving in World War II. "Cal Tjader wasn't part of our crowd," Nacey pointed out, "but he was very active on the scene at that time. My early memories are of hanging out at Bop City with Allen and Paul. One of my funny stories about that place is when I was there with Paul and we were leaving at about six o'clock in the morning and Slim [Gaillard, then owner of the club] said to Paul and me, 'You guys want to have breakfast?' and we said, 'Sure.' So we got in the cab, and when the driver asked, 'Where to?' Slim said, 'Los Angeles.' We got out of that cab!"
After college, Nacey worked for a while as an ophthalmology technician, then took time off when she had her son, Peter. At this point, Nacey hesitated to fill in what happened next. After some persuasion, she told me about her bout with alcoholism and her twelve-year stay in the treatment program at Synanon in Santa Monica, California. "That was a really important part of my life," Nacey said. "I got to sing with Frank Rehak, did some backup with Esther Phillips doo-wa doo-wa kind of stuff and met people like Art Pepper, Frank Morgan and Joe Pass.
"Synanon was like a big university; some of the most exciting people came through, some hard-hitting intellectuals like Abraham Maslow, Lou Yablonsky, and Buckminster Fuller. While I was there, I was going to help change the world. We were building community, and we all took it very seriously. Synanon had been talking about sending out role models missionaries to show how effective the program was. I had been the head of speaking engagements there, so when I went back to San Francisco in the mid-seventies, I was lucky enough to get a job with the city redevelopment agency. I worked my way up the ladder [until] anytime there was an event like a retirement, groundbreaking ceremony, or some kind of reception, I would put together some musicians for the entertainment. That really started me thinking that I could do this, and my next move was coffee hours for my church with musicians like Marvin Chandler, Benny Miller, Wyatt Ruther, and others."
And that's how Friends of Jazz came into being. Nacey told me that many people in the Bay Area had become dissatisfied with the San Francisco Jazz Festival, so this small core group of supporters began giving benefits for local charities.
Sue Beirman, Noel Jewkes (standing), and Pat Nacey.
Friends of Jazz, which has officially been in existence since 1995, has lately been involved in a plan to revitalize the lower Fillmore neighborhood of San Francisco, an area which was once a Jazz mecca. Nacey told me that she met with James Jefferson [JN, February 1999], the man who drew up the plans, and asked him: "Jim, why don't we present this to the community by bringing Jazz back?"
In 1995 at the West Bay Conference Center in the Fillmore, the Friends of Jazz had their first concert, called Living Legends, to promote the project. Since then, there had been several such events; according to Nacey, the idea of the Jazz district is spreading its wings. "We already have one club opened, Rasselas. Just up the street is John Lee Hooker's club, the Boom Boom Room, and in February I'll be producing another concert at the Conference Center, which is across the street from a vacant lot where the Blue Note is supposed to be coming in." could this be Fifty-second Street West?
Though Nacey is technically retired, she seems to be on the move most of the time. I asked her how her tastes in Jazz run when she gets to relax at home and listen to records. "I like Jazz from the sixties Coltrane, Miles, Dizzy, Bill Evans, and of course, Noel Jewkes, on of our local musicians [who wrote and performed a poignant and posthumous dedication to Nacey's cat, Vooti (available in Jazz Now Direct CD store)]. And who doesn't listen to Ellington and Ella and Billie?"
Has she ever met any of her idols? "Oscar Peterson, when he was here in the fifties he was the young, impressionable, and enthusiastic Jazz rookie of the year, and we all hung out together at the Blackhawk. Oh, and Mingus spent some time here. I had the only piano in our group, and [Mingus] used to come over to our house and play it, and have a game of chess with my son."
I managed to wheedle a cute story our of Nacey about Billie Holiday: "She was my hero, and I had somehow managed to get a lunch date with her. I'd heard storied from the guys about her addictions, and also that she was a cross-hitter, that she sometimes liked women as well as men. Anyway, on that day, I called to tell her I was delayed, and she said, 'My husband is here now, so when you come, tell him you're Marge Trumble form the Chronicle so he'll think we're doing an interview.' I never kept that lunch date! I was only about twenty and scared to death right out of Minnesota, and not one bit of a city kid." Turns out Pat Nacey didn't need to be; she's done fine, and not just in the city but for it, too.
Pßat's next concert will be a tribute to Bessie Smith at 2:00 P.M. on Sunday, February 27, 2000, with Denise Perrier, Jules Broussard, Danney Armstrong, Larry Vuckovich, Nate Johnson, and Omar Clay at the West Bay Conference Center, 1290 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, California. Peter Fitzsimmons will be appearing as Sargent Johnson, and E. W. Wainwright's African Roots of Jazz will also be performing.
by Francesco Nemko
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