Richie Perez, saxophonist who was an integral a part of the Bakersfield Lounges for seven a long time, dies on the age of 87
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – If you’ve spent a night or two in the lounge at one of Bakersfield’s best restaurants – Mama Tosca, Cafe Med, KC Steakhouse – you almost certainly saw him play: The Easy One but shabbily dressed man with fedora and sunglasses.
Richie Perez – tenor saxophone.
Perez died of complications from COVID-19 this week at the age of 87, according to his son Mitchell, ending his career in the entertainment industry for an incredible 70 years.
Perez, born in San Angelo, Texas on September 23, 1934 – the same day jazz star John Coltrane was proud of it – arrived with his family at the age of 9 as part of a Dust Bowl migration to California.
As a teenager he went to the saxophone and was determined to master it. The Bakersfield High School band director told him he already had enough saxophonists – so Perez fearlessly learned the instrument himself.
His first appearance was at what is now the MLK Center in Eastern California. His salary that night – zero.
When he was 15, he auditioned for blues legend Muddy Waters in a motel room in Bakersfield for a show that evening at Rainbow Garden – and got the performance. But it was one thing that was done – his parents wouldn’t let him take to the streets with Waters’ band.
He stuck to local jobs – such as performing on Lakeview Avenue at the Cotton Club and Dellwood Club. It could be rough in these places, especially for a slim young Latino kid, so he snuck into the safety of his car during breaks.
Over the years he played with dozens of bands and developed a reputation not only for excellent mastery of his tenor saxophone, but also for his sociable, polite demeanor.
Steve Eisen, who leads the Bakersfield Jazz Workshop, recalls the first time he saw Perez perform
“I was like ‘Wow’,” said Eisen. “He played with a great keyboardist, organ player, Johnny Blue. And I said, ‘Man, these guys have soul. Bakersfield, yes, there is jazz here. ‘”
They knew Perez well at California Keyboards, where he got his horns tuned and repaired and bought reeds. Owner Ed Tomlinson says Perez has an old school style.
“He played like no one in town,” said Tomlinson. “A lot of people play with a really tough attack. He was someone who was really cool. When he played it was “fa-fa-fa-fa-fa”. You know the old style. “
He was also known for his impeccable dress – tailored suit, eye-catching tie, deep-drawn fedora, dark glasses. He was particularly interested in his carefully manicured appearance. His longtime friend, Fred Sanchez, bought him a fancy polka dot tie in New York City but noticed he wasn’t wearing it.
“And then a few months go by,” said Sanchez, “and I ask him:” Hey Richie, I never see you in the tie I bought you. “And he says in his normal tone,” Uh, it didn’t happen, man. “
Perez lost his 65-year-old wife Lupe to cancer last October. They had seven children and 27 grandchildren.
He was a memorable character in this church – we live in.
The service for Perez will be held on Saturday, March 13th at 10am at the Basham Funeral Care on Niles Street.