11/04/13 By Ed Hamilton
Ernie Fields, Jr.: The Man is "Kool" Wearing Two Hats
Ed Hamilton on the multi-talented musical director of several TV shows
Buddy Collette integrated and vanguarded the movement for black musicians in TV studio bands as he did joining the Groucho Marx Orchestra in the early 50’s and opened that door for Teddy Edwards who was the second black musician joining the Desi Arnaz Orchestra on I Love Lucy. And now, another has set the pace as music director not for one show but for two shows and as Annie Ross once recorded a song called “Twisted” that reiterated the quip “Two heads are better than one” and Ernie Fields assumes his two-headedness as contract Music Director for American Idol and X Factor. The hats also illustrate his expertise as arranger, conductor, contractor and superb saxophonist.
After working many years copiloting with Ricky Minor from the very first show, Minor passed the music directorship to Ernie vacating the music directing chores for Kevin Eubanks’ seat leading the Jay Leno Orchestra. This left Ernie with American Idol and X-Factor duties music directing, contracting musicians and arranging song music for both programs.
Ernie’s resume includes playing with Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Aretha, Dionne Warwick, Beyonce (arranging her National Anthem at the SuperBowl), and Teena Marie. Scoring movie credits for Lady In Red, Brewsters Millions, Dirty Dancing, and TV credits for Rhoda, Bob Newhart and Mary Tyler Moore.
When Idol and X are on hiatus he joins long-time friend Fred Wesley and the J.B’s traveling the European summer concert season. They’ve been doing this since the 1990’s.
I knew Ernie’s dad Ernie Sr. who was famous when I lived in Cleveland. I heard “In The Mood” on WJMO played by a white DJ moonlighting on the black station as Moondog, aka Allen Freed, the man who coined the term Rock and Roll. I didn’t know how famous Ernie Sr. was; he covered Glenn Miller’s version, sold 1 million copies and Billboard awarded him a Gold Record in 1959. He was the first black artist to cover a white artist’s music, certified gold, and played nationally. Even Dick Clark’s American Bandstand teens danced to it.
Ernie’s from Tulsa, as is my wife Yolonda, known by all Tulsans as Rikki, was a classmate of Ernie’s sister Carmen. Everyone always said they looked alike, and to this day they still do. Outstanding talent came from Tulsa---Rikki is a retired Los Angeles Unified School District elementary principal and Carmen is Boston’s WBGH TV Producer. Charlie Wilson and the GAP Band had their namesake Boulevards Green, Archer, and Pine renamed GAP Band Blvd. And two close friends of Ernie’s also from T-Town are bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Washington Rucker. Ernie told me, “Man, Cecil and me went to the same church and Sunday School in Tulsa. And Rucker and us all went to Booker T. Washington.” (Rikki’s daddy Raymond Brooks was #40—Mr. All-Everything lettering in Football, Basketball and Track—the only athlete ever to letter in three sports and her brothers Reggie and Tony Brooks of Notre Dame and NFL’s Redskins and Eagles. )
Ernie played in his father’s band that once had Jimmy Heath, Earl Palmer, Plas (Pink Panther) Johnson, and William Evans later known as Yusef Lateef. Ernie mastered playing baritone, tenor, flute and even bagpipes and has worked with blues, soul, and funk artists including BB King, Bobby Bland, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Rick James, and Teena Marie. He and Rucker have conducted seminars, played and introduced music and instruments to LAUSD (L.A. Unified School District) elementary students for many years. During my wife’s Principal years, Sonny Criss made many visits entertaining the kids and Charles Owens has also donated his time as well.
Ernie Fields possesses an illuminating charisma and it carries over to everyone around him; musicians who really know him, call him Cottonfields and to his nickname he always responds: "Kool Man Kool." Wearing two hats as Music Director for American Idol and X-Factor command intense scrutiny upon his expertise, yet he knows how always to maintain his composition and hold on to his "Kool." And indeed, that’s really "Kool Man Kool."
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