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Interview with Florence "Bu" Pleasant
Louis Marchiafava: I'd like to begin the interview by getting some background from you first.
Florence Pleasant: How far back would you like me to go?
LJM: What was the name of your parents?
FP: Atley Ollinger Chapman was my father and Eula Chapman. She was a Fountain originally, and that's where I got my musical background and all because my mother played.
LJM: I'll talk to you a little more in a couple of moments about your mother's background and how it's connected to your involvement in the music profession. Do you have any siblings?
FP: I have one brother, and he's a very talented musician.
LJM: What's his name?
FP: Atley Chapman, Jr. And he plays trombone basically. That's his favorite instrument, but he played them all very well, and he's an excellent composer.
LJM: Is he your older brother?
FP: Yes. Seven years older than I.
LJM: Do you have any other siblings?
FP: Just him. Just the two of us.
LJM: Tell me a bit about your parents.
FP: Like I said, my mom was musical. We used to play piano from the time I was three, teaching me my ABC's, and we'd sit at the piano and play together, and my dad was a business man, a politician, a civic leader in Corpus. My family used to book bands there and way back in the early 1950's, as I can remember it, my family would book big names there, and all races came. I wasn't aware of segregation in that respect because everyone came out to hear the bands that my parents would book there.
LJM: What kind of business did your father own?
FP: Well, he had a liquor store. We had a huge family building, and that's where we'd have the dances and get the big name acts to come to Corpus.
LJM: Was it a dance hall?
LJM: What was the name of it?
FP: It was called The Skylark.
LJM: Did your mother play there?
FP: No. She gave up being a professional musician to raise my brother and myself. Just basically she was a housewife.
LJM: You mentioned earlier that she did have a musical profession. Give me some information about that.
FP: She used to sing. She sang with a band. I don't know how many years, but she sang with . . . I guess it was a sextet, and they did a lot of work around the North Beach in Corpus Christi and different big clubs there. They used to work there, and as I've been told, they were a very good group. Of course, she was not doing that when I came along, so I can't give you first-hand information on that.
LJM: What was the name of the group?
FP: I think it was about seven or eight pieces. And she sang with the band. She also played piano, but she was considered more a singer as opposed to a pianist.
LJM: When did you begin learning something about music?
FP: Well, I just grew up around it. By the time I learned my ABC's, my mom had taught me the keyboard because, as you know, it only goes from A to G, and then it's just different tones, higher or lower, but they're only eight . . . . I would say about three or four years old when I learned my ABC's, my mom set me down and said, "This is A on the piano."
LJM: So, she combined the ABC's with learning the piano.
FP: Yes. And, of course, my brother being seven years older than I, he was very . . . He influenced me a lot because he left home at an early age, and he traveled around with different bands, and whenever he'd come home, he'd come and wake me up. If it was four [o'clock] in the morning, he'd say, "Sit down, bird brain, and play that." So, usually, I came pretty close to doing it right. I don't know if it was my desire to please him so he'd be nicer to me or, rather, I was just scared not to play it right.
LJM: At what age did you actually play the piano?
LJM: Just that you would know that you were actually playing songs.
FP: I think, maybe, six of seven. I could play a few little things at that age.
LJM: What about singing?
FP: That's kind of funny. I've never really considered myself a singer. I love to sing, and I sang in school a lot. I was in a couple of operettas, you know, ____?___ and Mercado and during school in my high school days. But basically I wanted to play piano. I never thought I was good enough to be a singer. I think that's what it was.
LJM: Where did you get your instruction in singing?
FP: Well, just doing it . . . in school, just singing with the different choirs, and I went to a Catholic boarding school.
LJM: High school?
FP: Yes. And I would sing. I would go to mass every morning, and the boarders had to go. So, I did an awful lot of singing, then, when I was in high school.
LJM: What was the name of the high school?
FP: St. Peter Claver in San Antonio, Texas.
LJM: I'm curious, though. Why did you attend a boarding school?
FP: Well, my dad kind of . . . I think he wanted to get me away from a certain environment because, as I said, my family had a liquor store and dance halls and stuff like that, and he wanted, I guess, to remove me from that at that time. So he sent me off to a boarding school. I came home every summer, of course, and most holidays. I think, in my dad's head, he thought he was shielding me from whatever he thought I shouldn't know about, which, I imagine, helped me. I think that I was exposed to another type of life and environment which kind of broadened me in that respect.
LJM: How did you feel about it?
FP: When he did it?
LJM: About sending you to boarding school?
FP: Well, I wasn't too happy about it, to be honest with you, but I adjusted, and after the fact, in retrospect, I appreciate my dad doing that because the cost of money. You know he had to pay for me to attend that school . . . I think it helped me musically too because I played violin all through high school, and I used to even help some of the other students at the request of our teacher. She'd say, Well, you take these three pupils for me today, and it made me feel kind of responsible and reliable and quite capable of doing that: sharing whatever I had with others.
LJM: How important was the influence of boarding school and the practice you had there in music with your later career in influencing your later career?
FP: I've never thought of it. I think it taught me . . . . It gave me a very keen sense of camaraderie and the fact that I had a God-given gift, and if I did not use it and share it, I would lose it. I think that's, to me, that's the most important thing I learned by going to boarding school. Of course, I also learned discipline and respect for other people because we had to live very closely at boarding school: a bunch of girls in one room, you know.
LJM: In terms of formal musical education, did the boarding school have any impact?
FP: Oh, yes. Because I had access to a piano all the time, and I had a very good music teacher who taught piano. Another teacher which taught the violin. It helped me in my reading and my appreciation for the musical giants as far as classical, of course. They weren't into bebop. They didn't like that. They weren't too pleased with this burning desire I had to play bebop. So we had quite a few disagreements about that. It just helped me to read, to be disciplined and to try it again.
LJM: Before we get you graduated from high school, let me go back and ask a few more questions about your father's business and the dance hall. Did it attract well-known musicians?
FP: All names. Yes.
LJM: Can you give me a few examples?
FP: Yes. Big Joe Turner; Count Basie's Band; Ruth Brown; Ossie Moore and the Three Blazers which the guy who played and sang with him is still doing it in New Orleans: Charles Brown; T Bone Walker. All the killers back then; all the giants. Like I said, Count Basie's Band came.
LJM: Now were you in boarding school during this time, but did you have any opportunity to be exposed to their live performances?
FP: Every time they appeared and I was home. My dad would come . . . As soon as he would close the liquor store at ten o'clock, he'd come and get me, and he'd say, "Come on, you're going with Daddy up here. We're going to hear this music." And he made sure that I got to hear every name band that was there. Usually I'd stand directly in front of the bandstand with my mouth hanging open and my ears wide open and just sucking it all in. I think that our recall is phenomenal because I can still, at times, hear those sounds that I was exposed to, in my head, at the risk of sounding crazy. Does that sound crazy? But that's really what happens.
LJM: It stays in your mind?
LJM: That brings me to the next question. Do you read music?
FP: Yes, I read music. I had to know how to read pretty much to work with some of the bands that I worked with later on down the line.
LJM: I know some musicians simply play by ear.
FP: Which is good. If I had a choice, if I could choose being trained technically to read and all that, or just by going with you ear and your heart, I think I would go with the ear and the heart because I know a lot of musicians who got scholarships and went on to college, and they got their Master's, but they can't perform. They can teach. You see, you have to have an intangible quality, and I don't know what you would call it, but I can't think of another word for it, but it's something that you have to have inside you that separates the creativity that one has as opposed to the education and formal training. You get a lot of record dates and all that because you can read, but, in most cases, it kind of cuts off a little bit of your creativity. And that's just my own opinion, and it may sound stupid, but that's how I feel. If I had to choose, I would go with the ear. Because I know too many musicians who can teach and can read anything that's put before them, but that's all they have.
LJM: It's all style and no feeling?
FP: Yes. They're efficient technicians.
LJM: They have the technique down, the technical aspects . . .
FP: Yes, but they don't have the fire: that intangible quality that makes you different from the next person, the next musician.
LJM: Your background is so varied. You mentioned that your father was a politician as well. What positions did he hold?
FP: Well, he was just kind of a . . . . I don't know how to put this, but he didn't hold any position. He spoke Spanish fluently, and he knew a lot . . . Well, he and the sheriff at that time were born on adjoining farms, and they were very close friends. But my daddy a fighter as far as his civic life. He fought for fairness, not just for the blacks but the Mexicans, the poor whites. Any injustice that he saw, he would get on it right away, and he was looked up to and very loved and respected by almost everyone because he was always there to help them. They would come to him with their problems, and he almost always helped them out. He could not . . . He didn't want to be, like, a policeman. He wanted to be more of a liaison between the people and the establishment.
LJM: He was working behind the scenes.
FP: Yes. Which he thought he could do best. He could do more for people that way.
LJM: You mentioned that the dance hall was not segregated.
FP: It wasn't. That's really weird because after I left Texas is when I first got my first taste of discrimination. It just blew my mind.
LJM: What years was the dance hall in operation approximately?
FP: The mid-1940's. I believe that the building was erected, and, well, it had to be before then. It had to have been before then because I know I was a young girl and my dad would make sure that I got to hear every band. I used to think that maybe he'd put that in their contract: my kid sits in, you know.
LJM: What year did you graduate from high school?
FP: I graduated in 1949, I believe. I was fifteen. I guess it was 1949.
LJM: Was the dance hall in operation then?
FP: It was very new then, I think.
LJM: So that helps to give us some idea of the time period.
LJM: You remember that you were out of high school?
FP: Yes. And the naval base was very active then. We've got a home post in Corpus Christi now, but the naval bases . . . . You'd see sailors everywhere. They'd come. It was just a whole another feeling in those days. Whites, blacks, Mexicans, you name it, they all came over to our part of town to hear these big names that were there, and I think that's super!
LJM: What did you do when you completed high school. What was your objective?
FP: Well, I wanted to play music. That was my objective. I got a musical scholarship to Xavier in New Orleans, but they wanted me to play classical. They weren't ready for the bebop, and I felt that I maintained pretty good grades, and what I did on my free time in the study hall, I should be able to play whatever I wanted to play. But they kind of didn't want me to get involved in bebop, which is why I never finished college. I left in the second year because of that.
LJM: Now you were in New Orleans?
LJM: Did New Orleans and its jazz tradition have any impact on you and your style that would develop?
GP: No. I don't believe so. Because I was listening to . . . My brother would send me records and stuff. When he'd come home, he would play a __?__ tune or a Ben Webster tune. And I think I was more influenced by that than anything else. I liked Dixie. I hate to put labels on music because it's all music. As long as it's good, I can stand it. I can listen to it. It may not be my music of choice, but as long as it's good, I'm most appreciative of it, and I can listen to it and enjoy it. I think I was mostly influenced by the records that I heard and some of the musicians that I was exposed to. And, of course, my brother. And whatever God gave me had to help me to hook that up or so. I think that's what shaped whatever I am today.
LJM: You stayed in New Orleans two years, and when you left there, what did you do?
FP: I went back to Corpus, and I just stayed there a while. And then I got married in 1952. I was nineteen, I guess. Then I had my first child in 1952.
LJM: How did you meet your husband?
FP: He was from Corpus, and we'd known each other a long time. He wasn't my dad's choice for me.
LJM: Why was that?
FP: Because he came from another . . . He just had a different lifestyle that I had and my family had. And for that reason, my dad didn't . . . Are you a father?
FP: You know how fathers are about their girls? Well, nobody is good enough for their daughter. That's in all men's heads, I think. So my dad wasn't too pleased about it. But I ended up marrying him. I married my first husband in 1952 or 1951 - because he died in 1952. I had two kids and a death all in one year. That was a busy year for me. But I handled it pretty good, and I think it broadens your soul. I think that your daily experiences in you life help shape your music as far as the free . . . your own interpretation of a song, your delivery of a song or your treatment of a song. It's all unique to each individual. You can get one hundred musicians in the world and tell them to play the same song and I guarantee you you'd hear one hundred different versions of it because it comes from how they hear it and how they feel it.
LJM: I understand. Was your husband in the music profession?
FP: No. He wasn't. Just a good listener who like to dance and like jazz.
LJM: What was his name?
FP: Ollie Pleasant.
LJM: Let's pick up on your music career in terms of actually being involved in singing or piano playing. When did you begin, actually, to develop your profession? Earning money, I suppose, is the bottom line.
FP: Yes, that's the bottom line, all right. I think I might have played . . . I couldn't have been any older than nine or ten, and my brother had a little group he had gotten together in Corpus, and they were having a dance; like every Christmas they'd have a midnight dance. Because Catholics go to midnight mass and then . . . . People usually stay up all night on those particular days. But anyhow, I think my brother's piano player had done too many drinks and wasn't able to cut it. So my brother just runs these two blocks from the club where they're working to the house and told me to get up and get dressed and that he needed me to play the piano. That was my first professional gig. I know he underpaid me, but he did give me something. That was my first one. And then I just started playing around. I moved to San Antonio after I lost my husband and all that and I had my two kids. I heard there was more happening in San Antonio, so I went for it. And my brother's wife. She and I decided to move up to San Antonio where it was more happening and she could watch the kids while I worked, if I found something. I think that might have been where I heard Arnett [Cobb]. I believe it was in San Antonio. And I said, "Wow! I'm going to go and hear him." And I wanted to play so bad. I was just standing by the bandstand, and I couldn't keep still. And I finally said to the piano player, "Can I have some of that?" And it happened to have been George Rhodes [?] who went on to become Sammy Davis, Jr.'s musical director and all that. Anyway, he let me play in the middle of the song, and Arnett felt the change in the piano, and he looked around and it was me sitting there playing.
LJM: Did you work anyplace before meeting Arnett?
LJM: Where did you work? In San Antonio?
FP: Yes. Different places in San Antonio. The names - it's been so many years, I couldn't tell you the names of any of the clubs. I even joined the union in San Antonio because we weren't allowed that in Corpus at that time. They didn't have a musicians' union for blacks. But they did in San Antonio. They had an all-black union for the black musicians. And that's where I went after . . . With my two kids and my sister-in-law and myself and found a few jobs. I've been really lucky, to be honest with you. I've been extremely lucky. I've always been able to get a job musically. Maybe not at the type of club that I wanted and surely not as much as I thought I should have been paid. But I've always managed to work in music. There were a couple of times in my life when I had two jobs. I had to work in a drill press factory and the other one was in a coat factory. And I did my music on weekends. But I held two jobs down for a while because I had to. I had to take care of my kids.
LJM: Was this in San Antonio?
LJM: Tell me about your relationship with Arnett in San Antonio when you first met him. How did that develop and what impact did he have on your music career?
FP: Everything. I probably would have eventually left Corpus which I moved to San Antonio. But I probably would have went to California or someplace but I went to hear Arnett, and I just wanted to play with the band. I was just jumping up and down when I set in. Then I ended up finishing the set. And then he asked me my name and everything, and we talked. And he said, "I might get in touch with you. Give me your number. Would you leave town?" And he kids me about that sometimes because they were the bebop days, with the beret and the horned rim glasses, and that's how I was at that time. And I said, "How much bread are you going to give me?" And he thought that was really funny; [that] I was trying to be so super-hip, but I was young. And he said, "Could you leave town?" And I said, "Sure, if the bread is right." Of course, I didn't really believe that he was going to send for me or use me. I just said, "Oh, well. Here's another person who's giving me a line. I'll never hear from him again." But sure enough, I did. And I came up here to Houston to meet his wife, and a few weeks after that he sent me a ticket to join him in Chicago. I had never played a show before.
LJM: What year was this?
FP: 1953, I think. And I had never played a show. They had somebody pick me up at the Chicago airport and take me right to the theater. As soon as I got backstage, all I could hear was "Where is the piano player? Who's the piano player?" I said, "Oh, God, I hope they're not talking about me." Of course they were talking about me. I had to play for a dance team. I had to play like whatever music was required for the comedy acts. And, of course, I had to play with Arnett because that's who I was with. I was the pianist for his band. But I had no idea I was going to have to do all this other stuff because I never played a show before. Never really seen a show before. I was quite young and had just lived here in Texas, and we didn't have shows then. So, I don't know how I got through it, but I got through it. Once I get into it, then something else takes over and it usually turns out all right, but at first I was a nervous wreck. Still am, if you can believe that. I still am. I guess it's something you have to get used to.
LJM: How long did you stay in Chicago?
FP: It was just a week. At that time you'd make the theater circuits and one week was it and then you move on to the next one. But we were making . . . Arnett was making one-nighters all the way back from Chicago to New York. And we'd stop at certain towns that we had a one-night thing in.
LJM: So, you stayed with the band, then, after Chicago?
FP: Yes, I did.
LJM: And you went on to New York?
LJM: When did you start actually singing with the band? Or did you sing with the band?
FP: I didn't really sing with the band, Not yet. I can't remember just when I really started singing. We used to have a couple of tunes Arnett and I would kind of mess around with, but I can't remember any of the tunes. There were only two or three.
LJM: How long did you stay with Arnett?
FP: I think, probably, somewhere between two and three years I stayed with him. Then I moved from Englewood, New Jersey, where they lived, which is right across from the George Washington Bridge. I moved over to New York with my kids and did pretty good. I've really been blessed as far as being able to find some kid of work involving my music.
LJM: What led you to go on your own?
FP: I hadn't gotten any offers from any groups, so I had to work, and so I just went out on my own.
LJM: But you were with Arnett, weren't you?
FP: Yes. But after I left Arnett I moved up to New York City, and he got another pianist, and I just tried to get . . . . I had to let all the musicians know that I was available for any work. So, you make all the joints; you make all the spots where the live music is, and you sit in when you can, and that was a beautiful period, I think, because the musicians tried to help each other. They gave freely of whatever they had. They shared. They kind of took me under their wing, so to speak, and helped me an awful lot.
LJM: Why did you leave Arnett?
FP: That's a good question. I think Arnett got sick for a little while with that hip thing again. You know, he's been having trouble off and on, and I think that he just had to take off, maybe, for an operation or whatever or something. He just had to take off for a while. Of course I had kids so I had to work, you know. You know they say necessity is the mother of invention. I taught myself to play the organ because I got tired of people calling me, saying, "Hey, Boo. Do you know where I can get an organ player for tonight?" And I'm sitting home not working. That's when the organ was real hot. So, one day, I just said, "Yeah, where's the gig? I'll send you one." And I went. I went to that gig.
LJM: You mentioned the nickname "Boo". How did that come about?
FP: That's a funny one. This is why my mom tells me. She says you know how little babies, their first sounds are like "Poo, poo" or "Da,da." Mine was "Boo." That's what I said. Strange bird, huh? Other babies go "Poo, poo," and "Ma-ma," and I go "Boo boo." So she said, "I'm going to call you that." And that's what she did. Very few people know my first name is Florence. I don't like it. People get into the habit of saying, "Hi, Flo," or "How are you doing, Flossie?" I hate that.
LJM: Tell me a little more about your New York activities.
FP: Fast and furious.
LJM: Now that's an interesting invitation for more questions.
FP: I figured that. New York was a safer place then. I might get in at 1:00 in the morning and decide I want to go down in the Village or I want to go here or there and hear somebody. I'd just get up and go. No big deal. Fifteen minutes, you're there. I was lucky in the respect that I already knew a lot of musicians from them coming to Corpus and performing. So I was blessed in that respect. They all were very protective of me, and they showed me the ropes. If there was some infamous character talking to me, they'd say, "Leave her along! That's my Sis. Come on, we've got to go." That sort of thing. So, it wasn't too bad. I didn't have to pay an awful lot of dues. Like most people, most musicians, they say, "Hey, I'm going to New York. That's where it's happening." They starve a long time before they can really get something going. But I was blessed in that respect because I knew a lot of musicians already, and they were very helpful, which I try to be now. I believe that you supposed to do that.
LJM: Do you remember any names of the clubs or places that you played in New York?
FP: Oh, yes. My first job there was with Arnett was at the Apollo Theater, another show. Then Birdland. And, boy, was I scared then. Plus I was with all the giants that were there: Bud Powell; Art Blakey; Percy Heath; John Lewis, the MJQ. You name them. They were there. And we used to go to this little after-hours place where they'd have jam sessions and whatnot and there would be so many giants in the audience I couldn't name them all. But if you named them, I'd say, "Yes. He was there." I got a chance to meet Dinah Washington, and we became very good friends. Art Blakey kind of took me under his wings. Miles was a little stand-offish, but he is just Miles. He was kind of helpful, too, on several occasions. __?__ Joe Jones. They just looked after me and tole me where to go, and I'd make the rounds with them. They helped me more than I think four years of college would have done. I learned more through them that I could have learned in a book.
LJM: Did you have an agent?
FP: One short time I had an agent. I never had any agent. I've always just gone on my reputation or being recommended by some other musician. Stuff like that.
LJM: What was your experience with the agent?
FP: Well, they tend to . . . . They don't care how many road dues you have to pay. They just want to keep you working, and they may send you from New York to Florida and then set a booking or something closer to Florida coming back, and you may have to go another 1,500 miles when you get over there just to get to the next gig. And to me, that didn't make sense. It seems to me that they could have scheduled or booked these engagements in a routine manner where you could go from one place to the next place instead of having you jump across the country in a couple of days. That kills you. It just wears you out. You've got to get in, pack up and get off, pack up, grab something to eat on the run just to get to the next gig.
LJM: So, you found it rather unsatisfactory to have an agent.
FP: At the time, I did.
LJM: How did you take care of your family and children at this time, in terms of the everyday routine?
FP: They went with me most of the time and when I was with Arnett, of course, his wife kept them for me. She loved kids. They didn't have any at the time. So she would keep the kids, and I would go on the road. Sometimes she would go with us, but a lot of times she just stayed home, and she'd keep my kids.
LJM: So it worked out well.
FP: Yes, it did.
LJM: I left you in New York, and I'd like to ask a few more questions about New York, and then I'll take you out of there quickly. Did you do any recordings in New York.
FP: Only one. It's on the Muse Label. It's called Ms. Boo. It's the only one I did. I wasn't too pleased with it. They had a preconceived sound they were looking for, and I thought I should be selling me. I can be me rather than somebody else. But most of the tunes on there were originals, which was pretty good. Either my Mom's, mine or my brother's. I won most of Arthur Prysock's energy and verge because I worked with him a very long time, and I must say that he did fight for getting me in on a record date because, for some reason, they have a little handful of musicians that get all the calls for the recording dates and the musicians that are with them and paying the road dues that are out there going ten thousand miles for a job and sleeping in the car and rushing to eat and all that, when it came down to the gravy part, well, gee, we can just go in the studio and record, they don't use them. They use other musicians. I never could understand that. And I said if that's the way it's done, I'd just rather not do it. So that's why I only had the one album produced.
LJM: Was it economically successful? Financial successful?
FP: If it was, they forgot to tell me about it.
LJM: Did you actually sign a contract?
FP: Yes. But it was . . . . I think just a short time for a year. I'm no dummy. Just because I was young, they thought I was stupid. But I wasn't! It was a short-term contract, and when we did the first album, we weren't, mutually agreed to dissolve the relationship.
LJM: What led you to leave New York and when did you leave?
FP: 1978, I believe. I had to come home to see about my aunt who was about eighty. That's the last of Mom's dead sisters. And she was trying to handle the big building I told you about where we used to have the dances at. It had five store fronts underneath plus two or three rent houses on my grandmother's property. And someone had broken in and tried to rob my aunt and knocked her down and broke her hip. So they sent for me. Which I couldn't understand because I had all my cousins that had never been out of Corpus Christi, and they were all there, and they waited until everything was gone, and she was hurt to call me. It blew my mind. But I guess it was for a reason. I wouldn't be sitting here doing this now probably. I'd be in New York doing something else.
LJM: How has the move influenced your career?
FP: It affected my career in the fact that I got a job offer to do a single which I've never been quite fond of. I'm from the old bebop school. I want to play! I didn't want to play cocktail music and background music and all that. I wanted full stream-ahead bebop jazz. I left a good job to come down. I was working in the East Village at a club called The Club Syncopation, and I worked all the time. And I had to leave that and my home and my kids and my dog. I thought I would be down here a couple of weeks, but then she got progressively worse, and then I had to be made like her guardian. And then when she passed, I had to be made the administratrix of the estate. And the first year, I kept flying home and back. But I was running out of my own money so I said I might as well stay here until it's all resolved. And here I am. I'm still here. That was 1978, I think. That's ten years ago.
LJM: You were married a second time, weren't you?
LJM: When did that marriage occur?
FP: Eight years ago. On May 9. However, I'm no longer married.
LJM: What was your husband's name?
FP: Albert Estrada.
LJM: Was he involved in music?
FP: No, but he's a great listener and had a very good ear and an excellent collection of jazz records. He had known my family and been very close with my family all the time I was in New York. He felt like he knew me, which I didn't know him that well, but I knew of him, and then he was in California when I was in California. He was in the Navy and stationed over there somewhere. Anyway, our paths kept crossing, which is really weird. Then I came home, and we ended up getting married.
LJM: Did you go to California for professional reasons in terms of you music?
FP: When I went to California, yes. I went to California. My mom was living in Oakland at the time, and I had gone to the airport. Ray Charles and his band were getting ready to go somewhere, and I went to the airport with him, and Ray said, "We'll be in California such-and-such a day. Why don't you come out there. You know, you've got the people out there." And I said, "It sounds like a good idea." And that's what happened. We got the ticket that night that he was leaving, and two weeks later, I think it was, I went to California.
LJM: Did you stay there long?
FP: Yes. I stayed there quite a long time. I was very lucky that I got work. I worked at The Black Hawk which is a big supporter of jazz. They had jazz there all the time. I just worked all over. I worked uptown at Little Jack O'Connor's. It was about half the size of this room. And all the musicians would come there just to sit in and jam and to let their hair down and play what they wanted to play.
LJM: After leaving New York, in very broad terms, how would you describe your career in comparison to what it had been before New York and in New York? When you left New York, how did your career compare with those experiences?
FP: I think that it broadened my scope. I learned to read people and to read rooms. When I say "read," I mean I know what to look for. I can just kind of look at a person or a wall and I can tell what kind of reaction to expect: the ones that are going to be a drag and the ones that are going to enjoy it, and I think that I learned that by trial and error also. And I learned to appreciate what the next musician is trying to say because we all have a story to tell, and if we're musicians, we're lucky because we can get it out through our music. I never put anybody down. I learned that. I learned to at least give a listen to whoever is trying to do it. And if they're wrong and there's something you can do to help them, I feel that you should do that. I think that's the biggest thing that I learned. And how to survive. How to cut corners here or there if you have to. We used to have to put a quarter apiece together sometimes to get a meal good enough for everybody. We learned to share. Musical ideas and everything else. Back then the musicians weren't the type to spend just the gig and when you're off, they're gone. You can't make music that's really super if the musicians that are doing it are not together in some kind of way. It shows in the music to me. It lacks style. It's just more technical as opposed to really grabbing you. I think that's the biggest lesson I learned.
Also I think I learned that if you got star eyes, and you think you want to be the star and all that, that also works against you. The ultimate goal for any musician should be just to play as good as they can every chance they get just to give it their all. And to listen to the musicians that you're playing with. That's important. Very important! I watch ___?___ keyboard player, I always, when they ask me, "Ms. Pleasant, how do you want the stage set up?" I'll say, "I have to have eye contact with the drummer and the bass player." More so the drummer, because that's the rhythm section, and you've got to work together. Because you're supporting and kicking and moving the front line which is the horn players.. You've got to be together. I've never had star eyes. I just always wanted to play music just as good as I can. There's a lot I don't know since I didn't finish my formal education. I think I learned a lot in light of experience.
LJM: And you've applied that to your music, in a sense.
LJM: Because that's what I've gotten out of this. Is that correct? Do you think that's the right assumption?
LJM: I'd like you just very briefly to describe your style of music.
FP: That's a good question. I know I was influenced more by the bebop era of jazz musicians. I think that they influenced me more than any other type of music or group of musicians. I think that that's the music I feel. So, I guess it's a mixture of how I really feel naturally inside of me, that's what I hear and feel. And then my being exposed to it at a young age, through those bop era musicians. I think that what you hear out of me today is what evolved from all that.
LJM: Thank you very much. I especially appreciate the opportunity to interview you.
FP: Thank you. It was an honor for you to ask and I feel most appreciative also.