Friends add encore to jazz great Fields' life of song

January 21, 1995|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Sun Staff Writer

The altar at St. Ann's Church became a bandstand yesterday.

On stage, a jazz combo cooked: guitar, bass, drums and saxophone sending blue notes through the aged Catholic church at Greenmount Avenue and 22nd Street.

In front of the band, a casket held the remains of Wilfred "Mickey" Fields, tenor sax man whose passing on Monday from kidney disease at age 62 drew more than 600 mourners to his funeral.

Off to the side, the tool of Mr. Fields' trade stood alone in mute tribute to his 35 years in the business.

"When I heard Mickey play the saxophone, I wanted to play too," said Andy Ennis, who emceed the service and played "Here's A Rainy Day" in honor of his longtime friend, a mournful song that echoed the gray of January outside.

Of the many tributes offered before Mr. Fields' body was carried over to Green Mount Cemetery, the one that will likely endure was his tutelage of jazz kittens with dreams of becoming bad cats.

"If it wasn't for Mickey," guitarist Marshall Booze told the crowd, "there wouldn't be no me."

Although he was known throughout the world for his sax playing -- so keen that he could identify and duplicate the note a house key makes when it hits the sidewalk -- Mr. Fields also was accomplished on the guitar, trombone and piano.

One musician who prospered under Mr. Fields' guidance read a poem in honor of his mentor: "Blow Mickey, blow . . . ride, Mickey ride . . . good night, Mickey, good night. . . ."

Another spoke proudly of sneaking out of his parents' house at night just to hear Mr. Fields play.

Gary Ellerbe spent much of this week playing tributes to Mr. Fields on his WEAA-FM radio show.

Many of the numbers Mr. Ellerbe dedicated to "the late, great . . ." were requests from folks who'd heard the bandleader at local clubs like Gwynn Oak Avenue's Sportsmen's Lounge, where Mr. Fields was a fixture on Monday nights, and Heritage Gardens in Parkville, where he blew his final public note last October.

"He'd invite anybody up to the bandstand to play and later on, in private, he'd tell you what you did good and what you did bad," said Mr. Ellerbe. "Then he'd invite you back the next week."

Mr. Fields loved Baltimore just as much as he loved music -- choosing time and again to stay in his hometown instead of going on the road with Lionel Hampton and Art Blakey.

Such stubborn dedication to the city mystified even the mayor. "Mickey's humility has been mentioned often, but I found it very frustrating," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who sat in a pew by himself during the service. "I used to say to him: 'Man, you could've been a famous man.' But he let his deeds and his music speak for him."

Mr. Schmoke was followed at the microphone by Ed Harrison, who reminded Mr. Schmoke of the arthritis that plagued Mr. Fields, but did not prevent him from playing. Mr. Harrison urged the mayor to establish an endowment for local musicians, a breed not given to health care or pension funds.

And Ethel Ennis -- who in this town is to vocals what Mickey Fields was to sax -- mounted the lectern to croon her goodbye in a reverent, a cappella hush.

"It's not so long since you went away, I'll think about you all through the day -- my buddy, my buddy; I'll miss your voice, the touch of your hand, I long to know that you understand -- my buddy, my buddy, your buddies will miss you. . . ."

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