I was visiting San Francisco with my best friend, and she lived in the Fillmore District. She took me on a little tour of the jazz history, and we went into a few jazz clubs like Yoshi’s and Sheba Piano Lounge. I became so fascinated with everything I'd heard and seen that I felt inspired to write a book about love, the neighborhood, and jazz in the 50’s. I always knew about the Jazz in Harlem, but it’s rare that people actually know about Harlem of the West aka The Fillmo’.
"Our heated passion created some of my best compositions, but I was cursed with my daddy's blood." Major Ingram knew better than to get into a committed relationship. As much as he witnessed the heartbreak his father inflicted upon his mother, he didn't want to make the same mistakes. When his father finally walked out on them for good, his mother was broken. Something he saw and she felt for years. Major didn't want to hurt any women that same way, but it seemed as if he could never tell Sallie Aquino he loved her because there was only one her and that was his music. Major's father was a saxophone player who played the blues. He spoon-fed Major the love of music from the first day he opened his eyes to the world. Though the sax was in his blood, Major fell in love with the ivory and ebony keys the first time he heard a piano. Major developed his own passion with jazz music and by the age of sixteen, he had landed a paying gig at Bop City, an after hours nightclub in Fillmore. Fillmore, the 'Mo, was like Harlem on the bay. Sammy Davis Jr., Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington and Duke Ellington all fell into San Francisco the way they had in the Big Apple. Back in '51, the Victorian styled homes, housed finely dressed black people who owned their own businesses from cleaners to restaurants to jazz spots. They worked mornings during the week and enjoyed local and celebrity musicians at night. Up and down Fillmore Street, clubs and restaurants lined up one next to the other. On Friday nights, they went from club to party to bar until the early hours of Monday while music played nonstop. Loosely based on true testimonies, the Fillmore Jazz Era comes back to life through the fictional characters: Major Ingram, Kae Taylor, Sade and Sallie Aquino, and Frank Blue. They made jazz heartfelt through their own stories. This love story just isn't about falling in love, but how they each fell in love with a neighborhood, a scene and her, jazz music. The Fillmore Jazz Era is gone, most of the neighborhood was torn down by the Redevelopment Agency by the 1960's, but it's not forgotten, and the love for Bebop, Jazz, R&B, and Blues music that once existed remains in the heart and soul of Fillmore forever.
Let's talk about your journey of writing the book. How easy, difficult was it? What pushed you to write this idea to its completion?
I moved to Fillmore for ten months with my best friend when I lost my baby girl so I could really regroup and get my head in a clear space. I wound up absorbing the atmosphere, and I came across so much history, and I also was able to talk to a few musicians that were in the Fillmore at that time. It was pretty easy to gather the research and that was so much fun for me. It was a little difficult to really tie in the characters without getting lost. I did a lot of rewriting to make sure it was authentic. I had to play a lot of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Coltrane to really put me back into time like I was in a time machine. The passion I had for the music was what pushed me to write this idea to completion.
How was your journey to get Major Jazz published? Did you attempt to get an agent? A publisher? How did that fare? Did you go the self-publishing route? If so, talk to us about that journey.
I attempted to get an agent, and a very well-known agent in the industry told me that the project was so rich and authentic that it deserved to stay the way it was and that I had to choose a publisher that would love the book just as much as I do. She encouraged me to not let the book get “watered” down. So, I approached Elissa Gabrielle about doing the project, and she loved it, but it wasn’t an immediate yes. She made sure I did enough research to be sure that Peace in the Storm was where I truly wanted to be. I feel like I’m at home with PITS. It was a very warm welcome, and Major Jazz has been able to remain exactly the way I wrote it. The cover was developed by Elissa with a few of my ideas. It was really cool because we both wanted the same look and feel. It really worked because I love the man on the cover. He is so gorgeous. The editing process was absolutely amazing. S.D. Denny did a beautiful job.
What avenues have you used to promote your book? Which ones have been the most successful? Why do you think that is?
I’ve used social media such as Twitter, FB, Instagram to promote, but I’ve also done a virtual book release party and a blog talk radio tour. I also created my own book trailer and uploaded it to YouTube. I want to start doing some Ustream as well. So far so good. Major Jazz is making its way around. I think it has been successful because my followers are starting to really enjoy reading my work. Everyone uses social media these days.
AND NOW... A Taste of Major Jazz
That summer of ‘51, our neighborhood, the corner of Buchanan and Webster Street, was mixed and we didn’t have any racial outbreaks of violence or madness of any kind. No, honey! The Jewish welcomed you into their delis and the Japanese rented to everyone in their hotels and rooming houses. They served you good in their restaurants. See, we came from a mixed background. My Filipino father and Black mother were hard-workin’, great dressin’, good dancin’, and the most respectable people like the rest of the people in our neighborhood. Together, they raised us the best way they knew how, all while being the owners of Aquino’s Cleaners on Fillmore Street.
As the baby sister, I was most stubborn and quick-tempered. I didn’t take shit from anybody. As much as I enjoyed hot steamy nights with no good fast talkin’ two timin’ hustlers who razzed my berries from the pool halls, I still had my own mind, and didn’t let anybody’s dope or abusive ways stand in my way of a good time. No, sir, I didn’t play around. I worked at our family’s cleaners from early morning until closing, five days a week. When I was off work, I let my hair all the way down, you know, got real loose.
The oldest was Lucille and she had just graduated college. She was working at being a school teacher, but you couldn’t let that preppy act fool you. She was one heck of a tough cookie, married to a jailbird, cursed like an angry drunk man when she felt the need, and was just as stubborn as a donkey.
Sallie, the middle child, was enrolled in beauty school and studied Cosmetology. From what everyone said, she was the prettiest out of the three of us. I begged to differ. The pretty one was me, but anyway, Sallie was madly in love with Major Ingram, a man who played the piano with everything he had inside of him. I didn’t like to call her naive, but sometimes I wondered if she really thought that man would ever be completely hers.
For sisters we were close, a year between each, best friends, and always broke beans together. What was mine was theirs and vice versa. What one didn’t have, we came together to make sure she had. We walked down the street, a few blocks to the ‘Mo, our playground. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was my twenty-first birthday. Men in long coats, satin ties, and Stacey Adams shoes with bleached white shoestrings saturated the streets. We were in a heaven of our own. Three ladies, the Aquino girls enjoyed our lives to the fullest whenever we possibly could. It was a night I’ll never forget because it was not only the night I became legal to drink, it was also the night I met him.
I was wearing a dark flowered print dress and fancy pearl earrings that I borrowed from Lucille without asking. She saw them on my ears and rolled her eyes, but didn’t say a word, though I knew she truly wanted to yank them off me.
We were almost near bootlegging Minnie’s Can-Do, a petite nightclub. A Doo-Wop group was on the corner singing with perfect harmony. A lot of singing groups at that time showcased their talent up and down Fillmore Street, but that group in particular was real good. I gave them a wink and a smile as we passed them.
Lucille complained, “I’m starvin’. My stomach is talkin’ as if I haven’t fed it all day. I don’t know why, but I’m craving some peach cobbler. What about y’all?”
“You sure you ain’t pregnant?” I asked. “You’ve been cravin’ peach cobbler all day.”
Lucille sucked her teeth and replied nonchalantly, “I’m not pregnant.”
“How you know? You’ve been to the doctor?”
“I don’t need a doctor to tell me somethin’ I already know!”
“Ever since your husband got out of jail, y’all sure have been sexin’ a lot.”
“It’s called make-up sex. Mind your own damned business, Sade. If I’m pregnant, you’d be the first to know. Trust me, Daddy don’t want any of us whores to get pregnant while still living under his roof. I’m too smart for that. Plus, Johnnie has to keep his ass out of jail long enough,” Lucille asserted.
I laughed at her. Johnnie didn’t know how to keep his ass out of jail long enough. He was a dope dealing fool that spent the past five years going in and out and would probably spend the next five doing the same damned thing. There wasn’t shit she could do about it.
“What’s so funny?” Lucille asked while putting her hand down her blouse to scratch her double D’s. “This powder got me itchy.”
“I don’t have to tell you how impossible it is to turn Johnnie into a square.”
“I’m not trying to turn him into a square, Sade.” Lucille then changed the sensitive subject, “What we gonna eat? I’m still starvin’.”
Sallie offered a suggestion, “Ooooh, why don’t we take our fine behinds on over to Bop City? They have a group deal, fried chicken in a basket for five dollars before midnight. You know how they run out of chicken all the time, so let’s get goin’.”