Persistence and musical integrity: A Tribute to Prentice “Pete” Douglas, founder of the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society
A tribute dinner to Pete Douglas, founder of the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, was held on February 16 at the Domenico Winery in San Carlos to acknowledge his contributions to the Bay Area music scene. Creating a venue and sharing a “true musical experience” between musicians and audiences has been his lifetime achievement. Organized by Bay Area vocalist, Margie Baker, the “Party for Pete” recognized his uncompromising integrity to “the music” and thanked him for keeping the Douglas Beach House doors open for the past 50 years.
Jesse “Chuy” Varela and Jayne Sanchez of KCSM acted as Masters of Ceremony. Scheduled speakers included Sonny Buxton of KCSM; Tim Jackson of the Kuumbwa Jazz and Monterey Jazz Festival; Benny Barth, drummer and longtime friend; Linda Goetz of the Bach Society, as well as representatives of San Mateo County and Half Moon Bay. Musical tributes were performed by Tim Jackson; Susan Muscarella, Berkeley Jazz School; drummers Eddie Marshall and Benny Barth; Ken Plourde, bass; vocalists Nate Pruitt and Laurie Antonioli; Michael O’Neill, sax; and Al Molino, trumpet. For more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call Margie Baker at 650 755-2115.
Pete Douglas been “choreographing” his music scene since 1958 when he bought a cottage beer joint on the beach in Half Moon Bay on the San Francisco Peninsula. The jam sessions began immediately and became gigs in the living room when he built his home above the cottage in the 60s. The non-profit Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society evolved and Pete committed to the music by building the concert room in the 70s. The Douglas Beach House on Miramar Beach is an unpretentious beach house attracting some of the biggest names in jazz. The current concert room commands a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, coastline and Pillar Point Harbor, creating one of the most unique settings for the enjoyment of music :magic. "The molecules are just arranged right," said one musician.
The list of prominent jazz musicians who have played is a history book of Who's Who. Just a few: Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Etta James, Merl Saunders, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Charlie Byrd, Joe Pass, Bill Evans, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Jimmy Heath, Art Pepper, Sonny Stitt, Zoot Sims, Freddie Hubbard, Slide Hampton, Paul Horn, Bobby Hutcherson, Buddy Montgomery, Charles Brown, Helen Humes, Anita O'Day, Airto Moreira, Tito Puente, Poncho Sanchez, Kenny Barron, Ravi Shankar, Mariano Codoba, Strunz & Farrah -- get the idea or should we go on . . . Les McCann, Dave Frishberg, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Hal Galper, Cedar Walton, Ray Brown, Larry Coryell, Hiromi, Michael Wolff. “It is my favorite venue in the world. Including Ronnie Scott's. No better vibes anywhere.” (Vocalist, Jackie Ryan) “There’s a real magic that the musicians cannot help but be caught up in, partly because of the natural surroundings, partly because of the friendly atmosphere.” (Richard Young, chamber violinist)
Pete muses that perhaps presenting “live music is an addiction” . . . waiting for that next heart-thumping “hit” of musical perfection “I set it up, then let the scene manifest itself, always hoping for one more magical moment.” He admits his real satisfaction comes from watching the audience “get off”. It happens often at his House. All the elements come together and reach a certain peak between turned-on musicians and semi-stunned audiences. “I knew that I was missing what jazz was meant to be -- an experience rather than a performance . . . now I am hooked.” (Bach attendee) Getting "hooked" has been happening for 50 years at the Beach House - and that's a tribute.
The Bach Society has been in continuous operation for 44 years, but the first musicians starting showing up at the Douglas Beach House as soon as Pete put up a flagpole and a funky sign. “I survived the beat hipsters of the 50’s, the freaks of the 60’s, the stoners of the 70’s, the yuppies of the 80’s, and the dot comers of the 90’s.” But Douglas has more than survived. He has made an incomparable contribution to the world of music by preserving intimate music presentation in a natural casual atmosphere, with a small audience and artistic license for the performer. “It's nice when we can play the more intimate venues and the crowd gets to interact with the band. Many of the band members thought it was the best gig on the tour.”( Albert Sun, Manager, Mingus Big Band)
Through foresight and persistence to the point of obstinacy Pete has entrenched himself in his own corner of the music world. As he tells it, “when you are an individual outside of the mainstream, you pay the price.” The musicians make the music, but Pete Douglas makes the music possible. He is the ultimate patron of the arts having survived various hurdles to maintain his vision of a music medium where the audience frequently interacts with the performers, where you can hear the natural, non-amplified resonance of the instruments and voices, and you are so close that you can hear the musician draw a breath and the crinkle of paper as they turn the sheet music. Children and families are a frequent sight at performances and their attendance is encouraged by Pete.
The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is a true “non-profit” organization, making just enough money to sustain the program and facility, often subsidizing one performance through another. The ticket prices have always been low for the caliber of performance and the level of talent. As a benefactor to music in general, Pete has been generous to the point of pain, subsidizing young artists, giving free tickets to music students and donating the use of the facility to fundraising efforts that benefit music and dance students. At age 79, he is a living legend as a music presenter, being a benefactor to contemporary jazz in a way that the Medicis were to Renaissance Art.
Born February 2, 1929 in Waukegan, Illinois, Prentice “Pete” Douglas relocated to Inglewood, California in 1938. Graduating from Inglewood High School in 1947, he served overseas during the Korean Conflict in 1950, then attended UC Santa Barbara completing a degree in Sociology. He married and started a family in 1958 and eventually moved his family into a run-down café on commercial property on the San Mateo Coast that was to become the Douglas Beach House. Pete followed a variety of career directions including the San Mateo County Probation Dept., San Francisco Welfare Department, mortgage broker, real estate sales and appraisal. None of it suited him. He owned beachfront property however, and found out that if you “build it, they will come.”
The jam sessions began immediately in the café. Musicians and friends, and friends of musicians, and friends of friends all descended time after time on the tiny cottage for weekend music making that went well into the night. In the finest tradition of a jazz roadhouse where people congregated for the purpose of making music, being with other music lovers and partying in general, the cottage became the center of a Bohemian like counterculture devoted to music aficionados and jazz in particular. The combination of the coastal setting, friends, music, wind, waves breaking on the shore, and outrageous parties that would have made Dionysus blush, attracted a following and the outdoor concerts began by popular demand.
The outdoor concerts attracted the ire of San Mateo County officials less than content to deal with the issues associated with a large number of people congregated for any reason on the rural beach front. When the outdoor concerts were ultimately shut down, plans were drawn for the concert room addition that was completed in the early 70s, and Sunday afternoon concerts have continued ever since in the tradition of the first 1950’s jam session at the Beach House.
(Written by Tony Pera and Linda Goetz, Board of Directors)
Bach archive photos