1953 – 1955 Fremont, Work and a Woman — Part 2
During all these months, from the day I started work as a produce man I never missed a day of school. Onetime I went directly to school after a night out, still dressed in my uncle’s suit, with no sleep and barely making it.
I only did that once, but once was enough. Even though I thought the kids in school were kids, I still wanted to be accepted by them and there were rumors that I was a drug addict because of my love for jazz and that morning I showed up half in the bag.
I was taking a college prep course and with all the working and playing around at night, my grades started to slip. I had to make a decision so toward the end of 1953, second half of the 11th grade, I switched to an Art major.
I had always wanted to be a cartoonist and figured someday I could work for Walt Disney. Plus this gave me the time I needed to work and there was very little homework. It is also why I started writing the music column in the school newspaper. I think it was called “Modern Sounds.”
Before Maria I stayed away from school girls and I had become a big jazz head. At sixteen I would go to places like the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, Zardi’s and The Haig in Hollywood
I would go to the jazz clubs when the average high school kid was hanging out at the local drive in restaurant on a Friday or Saturday night. Ours was the Witch Stand! Back then six guys would share a six pack of beer and pretend to be drunk to impress school girls at the drive in.
I, on the other hand, would sometimes go to the Witch Stand after work, order a cup of coffee and leave a dollar tip. Before you knew it the waitresses would spot my car driving up and make a bee line to be my waitress. I never did date one, but I thought about it.
I was entering a world of adult women, bars, booze and jazz. NO DRUGS! I just didn’t relate to any school kids. To me they were just kids. Later, that also led to the breakup.
The Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach CA in 1952 was becoming the center of jazz on the west coast and as a 15 year old it was probably one of the greatest things that had happened to me. I don’t know if any of you can imagine the enormous rush I got the first time I walked into the Lighthouse in late 1952.
It was also a restaurant and that’s why they let me in and I could stay, as long as I ordered some food drank a coke or a cup of coffee. That brought on another first in my life.
When I ordered Deep Fried Shrimp I thought I died and went to heaven. You have to understand, coming from a family that I came from, things like deep fried shrimp were unheard of. Meaning, I had never heard of it until that night I saw it on the menu.
The main reason I was there was because of a fellow by the name of Bob Andrews who I had met when I was working at the Food Giant Market in Hawthorne, CA. He was the manager of “Melodyland,” a large music store across the street from the market. You already know I was making a Journeyman’s wages, $3.30 per hour so I could afford an album a week.
Bob would set aside any new records he thought I would like and we became good friends. Bob was the person who took me to the Lighthouse that very first time. He took me many times and on a few occasions I was his go-fer when he was recording the All Stars. In August of 1953 when I got my own car Bob didn’t have to take me any longer, I was on my own.
By then he now owned a record store in Redondo Beach named “Record Ville”. I painted the sign above his store, about 4’ by 12’, and had done some art work to hang on the walls for jazz albums he was selling to decorate the store.
Bob was about 20 yrs. older than I was and he knew Howard Rumsey, the leader of the All Stars and the rest of the band so it was through Bob that I got to meet all of the Lighthouse All Stars.
In early 1953 the Lighthouse was packed on Sundays from 2 PM till 2 AM. The day was so long they would alternate with many other musicians that would sit in on Sundays. People would be in the club with bathing suits on because it was within 100 feet of the sand in Hermosa Beach.
I would go to the Lighthouse 3 and 4 times a week. After work at about 11:00 at night I would show up for just a couple of hours. On Sundays I was always there when I wasn’t working. I became so well known by the musician’s they would let me go upstairs to the band room and listen to them practice.
I still go to The Lighthouse about every other year.
Back to Fremont
At the same time, Fremont was loaded with musical talent. The following list of groups were either all Fremontian’s or one or more in their group were.
The Meadowlarks, with the first white singer named Glenn Reagan
The Calvanes formerly known as the Dundee’s
The Six Teens
The 4 Dots
A trumpet player who made somewhat of a name in jazz, Don Cherry. Don was one of the three trumpeters who played for the flag raising each morning. Today they probably play La Cucaracha.
As a friend of mine said, it was doo wop central, but I didn’t know it at the time. I wasn’t in to that music, AT ALL!
In my weekly column, I would write mostly about jazz and top forty. Rhythm & blues was the last thing I would mention. At times I would refer to rhythm & blues as the “wails and moans” department.
In the years January 1952 to January 1955 Fremont was probably 50% white, 35% black and 15% Mexican and there were times when I wasn’t very popular because I was really pushing jazz.
My main goal in 1954, my last year, was to promote a Jazz Concert at Fremont in the auditorium named Inglis Hall. But the faculty would have none of that. The school would not sponsor a “jazz” event because they thought jazz fans were either dopers or junkies. It took months of me begging and pleading. I actually started the campaign in late 1953.
Finally, they made me a counteroffer. They would allow me to produce my jazz concert, but I had to rent the auditorium, pay for tickets, posters and pay for the staff during the two hour concert. I jumped at the chance and agreed.
My first stop was at Zardi’s as was my second and third stops because my dream group was Shorty Rogers and the Giants, but Shorty wouldn’t lower his price. My budget, based on my presumed attendance, was $250 for the musicians. Shorty wanted $400 or $500. I went to The Haig, The Lighthouse, no deal. I finally ended up at a joint called the Starlight on Manchester Avenue within five miles from where I lived.
What got me there was an ad I read in the local newspaper that Anita O’Day was singing there. I thought, where ever Anita was there had to be jazz musicians. To my surprise Vido Musso, of Stan Kenton fame, had a group playing behind Anita. While I was surprised, I wasn’t all that happy with Vido because his style of tenor sax was not my cup of tea.
Actually neither was his trumpet player Maynard Fergusson. but what the hell, they were jazz guys and I didn’t have the money to be choosy. I can’t remember who was on piano bass or drums, I think they were Anita O’Day’s rhythm section. Milt Bernhardt was on trombone and I loved him, I had first seen him at the Lighthouse. One great thing that happened was the night I was talking to Vido in the back room, Anita squeezed by us and said, “How ya doin kid.?”
To make a long story short, Vido accepted the $250 I had to offer, Maynard, of course, went on to achieve fame with his big band, Milt went back and forth with the Lighthouse All-stars, plus recordings.
Back at Fremont, during lunch, I would play records over the PA system in the Quad and announce everything about the jazz concert. I printed flyers, the tickets and put a down payment on the auditorium, and then when the night came I got the greatest thrill of my life walking out on stage and nervously announcing,
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I’m Chuck Diaz and I would like to welcome you to JAZZ AT INGLIS HALL!”
What a blast!!
In the end I paid all the associated costs and ended up losing $20.00. I was in heaven.
By now I had left the Gardena Von’s and was working at Shopper’s Market in Inglewood for good ole Uncle Pancho. Pancho had called me in distress. He needed a closer on the night shift and he had long acknowledged my ability as a journeyman, and I decided I owed him one.
Another plus was he wouldn’t be there because he had been promoted to Produce Supervisor for the chain in Los Angeles. I can’t remember the produce manager’s name but I do remember when he drove up in a brand new 1955 Chevrolet. What a beauty.
I was really getting tired of working in Produce. I had been working since July of 1952 almost every night and it was really getting old. I got to the point where I hated going to work. I hated closing and tearing down the wet racks again, Shoppers didn’t have refrigerated stands and it wasn’t open 24/7.
When I was learning how to be a produce man I was told that once you were, you would always end up as one. That thought stuck with me all my life. My life has had its ups and downs so I always worried that I could end up in a market working in produce.
My problem then was I really HATED going to work. I hated it more and more so I had to do something and luckily a newspaper article caught my eye.
I blame what follows on the Feminists, the Gays, the Lesbians and the Liberals. Look at the logo for the John C Fremont Pathfinders back when I went to that school.
Now look at it today. It looks like something out of a communist newspaper. We have really allowed this country to go down the drain.