Our Spotlight on the Arts is shining brightly on multi-talented artist (a.k.a. the “Godfather of Dungeon Jazz”)!
Craig is a man of many stories and adventures, having spent time meeting legends such as musical greats Dizzy Gillespie and Al Jarreau. As a musician, Fielder has opened for Buddy Rich and the Funkadelics, rehearsed with Eddie Hazel (a.k.a. “Maggot Brain”), and sat in with saxophonist Pharoah Sanders who had picked Craig out from a crowd as “this guy just looked like a bass player!”.
Mr. Fielder’s past performances have also included sitting in and playing with stars such as Roy Ayers, a few gigs with Norman Conners featuring Tom Browne (Funkin’ for Jamaica), Jean Carnes (known for her 5 octave vocal range), and performing in Canada with Martha Reeves and the Vandellas as well as with many other notable artists. A few years ago he opened for singer/ songwriter LeeAnn Rimes.
Craig’s hard work and life-long dedication has led to travels and journeys from humble beginnings in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, to many locations in the far corners of the world. His fascinating career has included bookings at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Sweden, the North Sea Jazz Festival and the Glastonbury Festival in England.
Fielder opened for Ornette Coleman in Stuttgart, Germany, after which he had the opportunity to take photos with both Coleman and famous bassist Victor Bailey. To Craig’s amazement Bailey mentioned actually having heard of him before and was glad to finally meet him, imagine Craig’s excitement as a young musician of this chance meeting thousands of miles away from home! Fielder continued on to play overseas at many other performances in large and small venues and all sizes in between.
One of Mr. Fielder’s fondest memories was opening in England for an outdoor hip-hop concert featuring Roy Ayers, one of the pioneers of jazz-funk and a key figure in the acid-jazz movement. Following their very first opening performance the band members were recognized on stage, Craig gave his bow and expected to just leave the stage as the featured performer would be promptly introduced.
Suddenly, from behind the drawn curtains, Roy Ayers himself popped out, ran up and gave Craig the biggest bear hug, and raised Craig’s arm up like a referee announcing the winner of a prize fight! From backstage Roy didn’t realize that his friend Fielder was part of the opening band but had recognized Craig’s unique style before blurting out “I know that guy!” and racing out to give him a most memorable greeting.
Another adventure was when Craig was at a gig where jazz organist and band leader Jack McDuff, a well-known and amazingly self-taught artist known for his unique jazz style, was playing. Mid-show the music was suddenly stopped for an announcement by McDuff himself. “Ladies and gentlemen! I hear there’s an outstanding bass player in the audience, let’s all put our hands together and have him come sit in with us and do a couple of songs!”.
As Craig looked from side to side for this mystery musician, at that moment he heard his name called and found all eyes to be looking intently – at him! A welcoming round of applause ushered him forward. In a dream-like state, our featured artist made his way through the crowd wondering, “How did one of the most soulful jazz musicians of the ‘60’s even know my name? Or of my presence at all?! “.
The applause grew and grew, every single step was one inch closer to the stage, that coveted spot to share a few songs with these masters of their trade. A soft cloud of reassurance that everything was okay surrounded Craig at that moment, giving him a gentle reminder of the magic of music and the beauty of how it brings people together.
Despite much time spent abroad, one of Craig’s favorite past places to play as an emerging artist had been at the Watts Club Mozambique (Detroit) where many friends and connections were made. Back when the Club opened in 1969 it was wildly popular from day one as a jazz venue and hosted both new and seasoned musicians, opening doors and opportunities for many artists. Featured performers included Grant Green, Lonnie Smith, Peabo Bryson, and the O’Jays.
Beyond his musical talents Mr. Fielder is also an amazing visual artist who started sketching and drawing in the fourth grade. As a young artist he received a generous grant to attend the DeWaters Art Center (known today as the Flint Institute of Arts) under a program for gifted children. Despite growing up in the inner city and facing financial struggles, through much hard work Craig was the recipient of several scholarships which helped him further his education at the college and university levels.
Long before zoom and online learning existed, Craig hosted a morning TV show offering drawing classes for children called “Circus and Friends” which was based out of Arlington, VA. Based on taking simple shapes and transforming them into elephants, lions, tigers, birds, etc., Mr. Fielder became a household guest as he was broadcast by the network straight into homes while capturing an audience eager to learn the fundamentals of art.
Earlier in Craig’s career he landed in the Michigan courtrooms in the mid-1970’s as the very first official Courtroom Artist of the tri-city area for Channel 12 News. He also served as a cameraman and film editor for the same network and helped with any other tasks at hand. His skills have since evolved to portrait artistry, abstract art, and he is now a Certified Framer. His artwork is offered on ArtPal, at St. Mary’s County Arts Council Gallery & Gift Shop, by special request/ commissions, and has been featured at various pre-pandemic festivals and shows.
Mr. Fielder’s overseas travels have now given way to more time spent in his Lexington Park home studio where he continues to write and produce his own music available at Amazon Music and other sites. As a published author he has penned and illustrated several works including “Swimming Through the Color Line”, available on Amazon Kindle, and the “Red Eye Jazz Coloring Book” (approved by Dizzy Gillespie). His wife Stephanie and pup “Thor” are often by his side..
Circling back to Dungeon Jazz…Craig explains his unique style as “something that a friend of mine coined, as my music type didn’t quite fit into a particular genre”. Thus the term was created in recognition of music mimicing the shadows of an underground club somewhere in the dark of night, with eclectic tunes drawing the listeners into a world of their very own. Beckoned by the mysterious yet sometimes fleetingly familiar jazz riffs one can only imagine what the next song may bring…that will be for you to find out!
Thank you Craig for being a valued member of our community, we are looking forward to seeing and hearing your next projects!
“No matter the hardships and challenges, always keep trying, keep practicing, keep doing what you love and be grateful for those gifts and experiences.” ~ Craig Fielder
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