Retired airman fostering jazz scene in Stuttgart
(Today in European Spotlight, Stripes talks with Joe Fagan, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and jazz pianist who can be seen in jazz clubs throughout Germany performing with the Joe Fagan trio.)
How’d you start playing piano?
I started playing piano when I was 4 years old, basically by ear. My older brother, Jerry, who was 14 years older, was a music major in college. I was in kindergarten and first grade when he was in college. He used to come home in the afternoon and practice saxophone. When I was 5 years old, he put me down at the piano and I would knock out some blues progressions for him while he’d stand in corner and practice his saxophone.
Did you have musical heroes growing up?
If you ask any jazz pianist who’s the finest jazz pianist in the world, they’ll probably come back with Oscar Peterson. I was fortunate enough to see him in Ingolstadt three or four years ago. He’s fairly elderly now and he’d had a stroke, so he couldn’t even use his left hand much, but when you heard him play you couldn’t tell. He’s an incredible monster on the piano, but on the flip side of that, he can play very simple things as well, which is very difficult for musicians.
Do you have any rock and roll influences?
Matchbox 20, Maroon 5, and before that, anything Stevie Wonder does is incredible. He’s one of my all-time heroes. Anything by Aretha Franklin. She’s absolutely fantastic. I like listening to Anastacia, too. She’s an incredible musician. The one thing I like about the music we play, when people come to hear us, they come to the concert and they listen. I don’t do flash pots and light shows and have naked women in front of the band. We play music for people to listen to.
What’s the perfect meal for an evening with the Joe Fagan trio?
I’d probably say Italian food because that’s where the next restaurant concert is.
And the perfect wine?
Probably red wine. Yeah, red wine, Italian and jazz. Goes pretty well together.
How does jazz go over here in Europe, being an American art form?
Finding jazz clubs in the United States is very difficult and are typically focused in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Kansas City — the major cities. Whereas some of the clubs I’ve played at in Europe are in these little dinky villages of maybe 500 people, but the place is packed with people from miles around. The Europeans still appreciate the art form and go out of their way to listen.
What’s the craziest thing that ever happened to you at a concert?
That I can talk about? In my college days we had a lot of electronic instruments. At the very end of a song, we chopped the song off, and right as we did that a lightning bolt struck a transformer outside the building and knocked all the power out. As well as the song ending, all the lights went out, too, and the crowd thought it was all arranged. So we got a standing ovation for that one.
So you got a light show after all?
We got a dark show.
Can AC/DC be set to jazz?
I think it can; I’ve never done it. The standing joke is somebody across the room will yell, “Play ‘Free Bird!’” One of these days I’m gonna learn it and surprise them and play it for them
Upcoming gigs for the Joe Fagan trio:
Oct. 8, Schlossgarten Hotel, Stuttgart, 7 p.m.Oct. 22, San Felice restaurant, Bernhausen, 8 p.m.
Air Force Lt. Col. (Ret.) Joe Fagan
Title: Jazz pianist
Day Job: Military plans writer, U.S. European Command, Stuttgart, Germany
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