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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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
"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
"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