A Coastside original passes - Half Moon Bay Review : Arts & Entertainment

A Coastside original passes

By Stacy Trevenon [ stacy@hmbreview.com ] | Posted: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 1:39 pm

Pat Britt wryly calls himself the first musician to play the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

It was 1958, and Britt had been arrested for stealing baloney. The judge sent him to a probation officer named Prentice “Pete” Douglas. When he went to his appointment, Douglas spied the baritone sax the young college student kept in his car and told him “to come see him in Half Moon Bay, where we can sit and talk.”

Finding Douglas living in what looked like an old beachside hamburger joint, Britt introduced friends he’d brought from his college band, and “we had quite a ball. It was Beat-generation,” he said. “A guy was reading poetry while we were playing. Guys were painting boats in the water.”

That epitomized the informal, music- and people-centered scene synonymous with Douglas who died Saturday, at the age of 85, following a life of marching to his own beat.

On Sunday, in the entry to the Bach’s gleaming concert room, a framed photo of Douglas stood near a plaque from a radio station honoring 50 years of jazz at the Bach. Near it, in another frame, was a 1961 letter on San Mateo County letterhead scolding Douglas for wearing jeans and chewing gum in official proceedings. Douglas’ ubiquitous Portuguese fisherman’s cap sat on the computer monitor near what friends called his "captain's chair" by his desk.  Outside, a Scottish flag, like those he flew at wedding receptions to reflect the couple's ethnic backgrounds, fluttered at half-staff.

“It’s the end of an era,” said Mary Brill, who helped Douglas with administration since 2001. “He created something here that won’t be replicated.”

“He is completely and totally irreplaceable,” said musician Howard Lieberman, of New York.

“I’m gonna miss him,” said vibraphonist Joe Locke. “Someone like him won’t be passing through this way again. He was a rare bird and I’m grateful to have known him.”

Douglas favored the 1940s Los Angeles jazz scene and that figured in his vision for the abandoned beer joint he bought for roughly $2,000 in the mid-1950s. He dubbed it the Ebb Tide Coffee Shop and invited friends for informal jams. It got its more familiar name in the early 1960s, when Douglas put Bach’s Brandenburg concertos on the stereo for friends to dance to at a beach party. Someone set off a few sticks of dynamite, and someone else quipped, “Obviously, this is the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.”

Douglas planned “to open his house to musicians and an audience,” said Linda Goetz, who has lived there for eight years while helping with Bach business matters.

Many now call it the home of the original house concert. Tim Jackson, Monterey Jazz Festival artistic director and co-founder of the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, calls the Bach a model. “The venue reflects your community (and its) values,” he said.

Douglas realized his vision with renovations.

“Pete was a man who was ahead of his time,” said pianist Larry Vuckovich, who brought his Arab- and Turkish-influenced music to the Bach in the 1980s and joins Stan Getz, Vince Guaraldi, Carmen McRae and more players of that ilk in appearing there. He is scheduled to play again on Sept. 14. “All he wanted was inspiring, creative and energetic performances. He was all about the music. Money was secondary.”

To Douglas’ three daughters, Sunday concerts in the living room, for which they had to set up chairs, were part of life. “We called this our church,” said middle daughter Barbara Riching.

Their father was not demonstrative but still loving, once building them a dollhouse, she said. He blended keen intelligence (his college degree was in6 sociology) and a love of bringing people together with straightforwardness. “His philosophy was to be truthful to a fault,” she said. “He said what was on his mind and no bones about it.”

That was perhaps particularly true with respect to music. “(With) his ability and knowledge of the arts, personal philosophy about jazz — what it means and the need for it — he created this combination of excellence and intimacy,” said Lieberman.

“He was adamant about getting the highest quality of music,” said Vuckovich. “He believed in pure essence.”

“The musicians felt it, the people felt it,” said Goetz. “People wanted a good musical experience, and knew they were going to get it here.”

Besides jazz, classical, chamber and world music took their place on the Bach calendar. “He always wanted to hear something that really impacted him,” said Riching.

Douglas’ relationship with musicians was relaxed and genuine.

“He was so respectful of the artists who created the music, and that awed me,” said vocalist Margie Baker.

"I'm glad he was able to bring so many musicians to people," said Coastside resident and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson.

“This is one of my favorite venues,” said vocalist Jackie Ryan, a Bach regular starting in a frenzy of shows in the 1980s and 1990s. “If he liked you, you knew it was coming from a fundamental place. I found it refreshing. A lot of people in the music business aren’t that way; you never know where you stand.”

Many successful, professional musician associates called Douglas their "mentor," like his Miramar neighbor Richard Patterson, whose "Dynamite Guitars" classical guitar series launched in 1984 pays tribute through its name to the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

"The interaction between the musical community and the audience, and the intimacy of the venue, created an opportunity to create a certain magic that can come from a true musical experience," Patterson said. "I owe Pete so much. He was one of the biggest influences on my life and career." 

Besides the gift of music, the Bach gave Douglas’ family guidance for life. His love for jazz incorporated into his life, said daughter Linda Tichenor. “He was always looking at the big picture, always wanted to have a broad spectrum of life. He wanted us to think broad. Wanted us to be strong women.

“He was very deep, and jazz is a very deep music, which is why he liked it so much,” she continued.

The daughters hope for continuity of the Bach. The current season will continue as planned, said Tichenor, and Riching noted that in the next year they will assess the Bach’s finances. As a nonprofit organization, it rented the building from Douglas.

“It was his greatest wish that it go on,” said Tichenor. “I hope that it can, because that is what he would like.”

Baker thought Douglas did not know the high regard in which fans held the Bach. “He said, you can work at my Bach anytime, and that just will touch my soul forever,” she said. “If (he) only knew that the Bach’s name is known all over the world. He didn’t realize how much people appreciated what he had created.”