Robert E. Fields Sr.
The jazz pianist and composer played with celebrities and the BSO and was a fixture at city restaurants and clubs.

October 18, 2008
By Frederick N. Rasmussen,

(reprinted from the BaltimoreSun)

Robert E. Fields Sr., a noted Baltimore jazz pianist and composer who during his nearly six-decade career played in such venues as the Prime Rib, Belvedere Hotel and the old Chesapeake Restaurant, died Monday of bladder cancer at his Hamilton home. He was 80.

Mr. Fields was born in Baltimore and raised in the Plymouth Road home where he had lived since 1940.

"He was 8 when he started playing the piano," said his wife of 53 years, the former Joan Schumacher. "His father was leery of buying him a piano, so he practiced for a year on a next-door neighbor's piano until [his father] saw that he was serious and bought him one."

Mr. Fields was a 1946 graduate of Polytechnic Institute and a 1952 graduate of the Peabody Conservatory, where he had studied piano and composition.

After graduating from Peabody, according to a biographical sketch that Mr. Fields had written, he went "out on the road with a few semi-name bands where he played piano and wrote arrangements for the groups."

"Bob was a charter member of the Hank Levy Band in the late 1950s and was always a well-respected musician," said Jack Hook, a trombonist and longtime secretary-treasurer of Local 40-543 of the American Federation of Musicians.

"What's more, Bob was a rarity. He was actually able to make a living as a full-time professional musician and teacher," he said.

In the 1960s, Mr. Fields formed his first band and played at the old Playboy Club on Light Street, the Civic Center and at the Painters Mill Music Fair.

He also performed with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and such celebrities as Sammy Davis Jr., the Doc Severinsen Orchestra, Engelbert Humperdinck, Herb Ellis, Eileen Farrell, Bob Hope and Johnny Carson.

Where Mr. Fields left his indelible musical stamp was in Baltimore hotels such as the Belvedere Hotel's popular 13th Floor lounge, restaurants, concerts, and at private parties and weddings.

Dressed in a crisply pressed tuxedo, Mr. Fields was a fixture at the Prime Rib, where he entertained diners and late-night revelers six nights a week during the 1970s and 1980s.

"It's not like playing on a stage," Mr. Fields told the Sun Magazine in a 1978 interview.

"He prefers to improvise around the basic melody of songs like 'Somewhere' from West Side Story, which on a crowded night add a touch of Fitzgeraldian Jazz Age madness to the restaurant," the magazine observed.

"Sometimes you think no one is listening. Then someone will come up and say they enjoyed your playing," Mr. Fields said in the interview.

"Bob could play anything you asked him to play. He knew all of the songs and especially liked playing jazz," said C. Peter "Buzz" BeLer, co-owner of the Prime Rib.

"He wasn't a character but rather a very professional and nice guy. In other words, he was a gentleman," Mr. BeLer said. "He always showed up on time, didn't bother anybody or get drunk."

About 15 years ago, Mr. Fields established the Bob Fields Jazz Ensemble and performed music from the 1940s to the present, which he interspersed with his own jazz compositions.