Dick Whittington Plays Piedmont Piano on Monday

By Ken Bullock
Thursday April 14, 2011 - 03:28:00 PM

There's jazz cats ... And in Old London Town there was Dick Whittington and his cats ... Now Dick Whittington's coming back to the East Bay to put it all together at Piedmont Piano in Oakland Uptown. 

The celebrated jazz pianist, who co-founded both the Berkeley Unified School District's famous music program in the late 60s and the Maybeck Recital Hall in the 80s and 90s, will be leading a group this Monday night, April 18, including John Wiitala, bass, Vince Lateano, drums, and special guest Andrew Speight on saxophone at Piedmont Piano's new store at 18th Street and San Pablo. 

Whittington grew up in LA, where he began playing Boogie Woogie by ear on the ivories at four. He taught himself jazz by imitating the 40s sounds he heard on record and radio after a couple of abortive tries at classical lessons. Later, at 16, he found a teacher in Sam Saxe, who analysed be-bop harmonies in Charle Parker and Bud Powell. 

After high school, he sat in with the great players on the South Central jazz scene. While garnering a degree in Elementary Education at Cal Northridge, he gigged with Bobby Hutcherson, Sonny Criss, Barney Kessel and Charles Lloyd. Later, he took over from Joe Zawinul, accompanying Dinah Washington and Ernestine Anderson, also backing Anita O'Day and Mel Torme. Whittington was also featured regularly at the famed Lighthouse club in Hermosa Beach. 

After playing the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco with Dexter Gordon in 1961, Whittington moved north to Berkeley, where he co-founded the influential jazz program in music education in the Berkeley public schools, where he taught for 30 years, with such students as Josh Redman and Benny Green. 

In 1987, Whittington and his wife Marilyn started the Maybeck Recital Hall series, which featured 500 jazz and classical concerts over the following decade, and spawned the nearly 50 Live At Maybeck solo piano recordings put ut by Concord Records. 

Now a Big Sur denizen, Maybeck plays regularly at the Bernardus Lodge, and at the Cypress Inn in Carmel, a dog-friendly place, where (to go from cats to dogs, in true Shorty Pederstein fashion), "sometimes they bark during ballads." 

Dick Whittington Trio with Andrew Speight, Monday, April 18 at 8 p. m. Piedmont Piano, 1728 San Pablo (at 18th), Oakland. $20. 547-8188; piedmontpiano.com