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Friends of Jazz : Through association with the Count Basie orchestra, drummer Gregg Field met singer Dennis Rowland. Now the two perform together with a group they formed.

January 07, 1994|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Zan Stewart covers jazz regularly for The Times

If it hadn't been for the photographs that an acquaintance took, nobody might have believed it, he says. But on Dec. 3, 1973, when drummer Gregg Field was just a senior in high school, he chanced to play a set with the Count Basie band at the Circle Star Theatre in San Carlos, on the San Francisco peninsula.

"Basie was touring with Ella Fitzgerald, and the regular drummer, Sonny Payne, had forgotten there were two shows that night," Field says. "I had introduced myself to one of the saxophonists, told him I was a drummer. That's how I was asked to play."

So Field, who had been in love with Basie's music since he was 10 and had learned all the arrangements by playing along with Basie's records, worked the 45-minute show. The feeling, he says today, was overwhelming. "It was a little bit more than my reality could take. It was like being in a dream, one that I had had for 10 years."

From that evening, Basie always remembered Field, and eventually hired him in 1980, after the drummer had played with singer Ray Charles, trumpeter Harry James and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. But before he worked with the Count, Field would go see the band at every opportunity, and these experiences paid personal as well as musical rewards.

In 1978, at a Basie engagement at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, while he was with Charles, the drummer was introduced to Basie's singer, Dennis Rowland. The two struck up a friendship, which deepened when the pair were with Basie in the early '80s.

"We were salt and pepper. We ate together, played together, wore each other's clothes," Rowland says. "Musically and otherwise, Gregg's my boy."

After their years with Basie--Rowland left the band in 1984--the two remained close. The singer started flying into Los Angeles from Phoenix, where he's lived for eight years, to work with Field, who lives in Tarzana. "We were getting a lot of business, and so we started a group," Field says. The pair, along with pianist Bill Cunliffe and bassist Chuck Berghofer, perform tonight and Saturday at Chadney's.

Field says he and Rowland enjoy a wide variety of jazz and pop material, but pretty much stick to the former at clubs such as Chadney's. "We do a lot of standards, and a lot of the stuff that we do is blues-oriented, like 'Every Day I Have the Blues' and 'Goin' to Chicago,' things we did with Basie," the drummer says. "Since we've played those tunes a lot, the interpretations have naturally developed, so that behind Dennis, we sound more like a band than just a rhythm section."

"We cook on stage," Rowland says. "I like the fact that Gregg is aggressive, yet tasty."

Field returns the compliment. "Dennis has great enthusiasm for singing, and he understands how to tell a story," the drummer says. "He's able to create a mood with the song he sings."

Rowland, an Oakland native, credits his years with Basie as being pivotal in his growth as a singer.

He joined the Count in 1977, and recorded four albums with him, including "On the Road" on Pablo Records. "The fact that Basie picked, and let me record, told me I was somebody, and that I had something to offer," Rowland says. Rowland points to several instances of sharing the stage with former Basie vocal giant Joe Williams as being highlights of his career.

"Basie was appearing at the Roseland Ballroom in New York in 1977, at the Kool Jazz Festival," Rowland recalls. "People were all over the dance floor. I was the new kid, on cloud nine, and I started singing 'Every Day.' I began the second chorus, and the next thing I knew, Joe had put his arm around my shoulders, and we jammed the song out. Me and the big boy," Rowland adds, laughing.

Field and Rowland wish they could work together more often, but both are busy. Rowland, who travels to Japan about once a year, appears regularly in Los Angeles as a soloist, with the Billy Mitchell-John Bolivar band and with big bands led by Field and Ray Anthony. He's set to start an eight-week engagement in Phoenix this month and also finish a solo album being produced by Field. The album features pianist Joe Sample, reed man Grover Washington Jr., Terry Harrington on sax and trumpeter Sal Marquez.

These days, Field stays active doing some film and television soundtrack sessions, performing with Bob Florence's big band and producing the occasional record date. But mostly, he's on the road with Frank Sinatra, whom he's backed for 2 1/2 years.

"He's the greatest pop singer that's ever come along, and he's doing all the same material, and yet it still sounds fresh," Field says. "He swings so hard, gives 100%, that it inspires you to come up to that level. And he loves rhythm sections, and when he's really feeling good, and turns around and grins or winks, that's the greatest."

Where and When

What: Gregg Field and Dennis Rowland appear tonight and Saturday at Chadney's, 3000 W. Olive St., Burbank.

Hours: 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. tonight and Saturday.

Price: No cover, no minimum.

Call: (818) 843-5333.

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