Dick’s Forum – No. 15
The first twenty years of my adult life were marked by a difficult personal life and blazing success in my occupational life. In 1967 I joined the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and was assigned to the Indio, California station. For many people, Indio, in the Coachella Valley south of Palm Springs, was the end or the world. For me it was a God-sent blessing. Within eighteen months I was a detective and was having the time of my life on the sheriff’s department while experiencing my first, yes, first divorce.
Divorce was unfortunately a common thing among law enforcement personnel and as a single person I found myself wondering what to do with myself. There was a music store in Palm Desert, California. MacDonald’s Music was part of the area of my responsibility and I went in there a few times. On one such occasion I heard a man playing really fine jazz and in short order we became acquainted and began to talk. His name was Joe Felix. He was from Hollywood and Palm Springs and taught piano in the music store. In short order I was taking lessons from him and we became good friends.
For the second time in my life, music became my sanctuary. My free time was spent practicing new music and I loved it. The violin did not enter my mind, I was hooked on the piano and learning new skills. I progressed quickly, A Beethoven Sonata, Claire De Lune, by Debussy, a jazz ballad by Claire Fischer, and a Tocatta by Russian composer Aram Khatchaturian completed my repertoire.
In MacDonald’s Music were two Yamaha grand pianos set up side by side concert style. On one of my visits to the store Joe asked me to play the first movement of the Beethoven sonata, which I had been working. As I played my way through it he sat at the other piano and improvised a jazz accompaniment. What a glorious musical experience. A classical Beethoven sonata with his marvelous, spontaneous jazz weaving in, out, and around it. I was hooked.
On another occasion Joe was working with his trio in a club in Palm Springs and I went there to hear them. One of the tunes they played was I’m Popeye the Sailor Man. They proceeded to improvise on this little tune and for the next thirty minutes performed a masterful exhibition of jazz art, one I remember to this day.
Later, I gave a recital in Palm Springs of the works I had learned with Joe. It was another high spot in my musical career. Shortly thereafter he moved back to Hollywood and we were not able to keep working together as my career demands in law enforcement were also growing.
Joe Felix and his wife Pat were wonderful friends. They were gregarious, salty, and loyal, with a grand sense of humor. I think of them often.