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Fastovski's Tales of Hampstead-bookcover

By: Wallace Fields

Fastovski's Tales of Hampstead

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Imagine that Isaac Babel’s Cossacks wassail together with Runyonesque Liverpool Jews outside the plate-glass window of a Hampstead café where a Klezmer band is playing to a packed and tea-drinking congregation of jazzmen, Hasidic scholars, surrealists, old soldiers, and retired strippers; and you have the tone and temperature of this unique and unclassifiable memoir – no, not memoir, more a stream-of-consciousness novella – no, not a novella but a piece of autobiographical fiction – no, not autobiography but a picaresque drama conquered from the unreliable and fertile brain of the eponymous Fastovski.

And who is Fastovski? Is he real or invented? Is he perhaps the alter-ego of real-life jazz pianist, Klezmer swinger, big band leader and flaneur, Wallace Fields, who stares at us from the book’s frontispiece in shades, Diaghilev coat and moustache, over a cup of strong black coffee? Fastovski’s not telling and anyway, who cares.

This is a book to be devoured, disseminated, denounced, and delighted in. It belongs to all who think art and life are one and that the Arch-Savant of Canterbury, Issy Bonn, Rashid the Manic Berber Chef of NW3, and Mrs Karl Popper, have an equal claim on history. I haven’t had such a good time since I shared Sir Ralph Richardson’s motorbike with a parrot and a striking grandmother clock.

Piers Plowright
August 2008

Wallace Fields was born in Liverpool; studied piano under Claire Pollard, and later under Bert Hayes where he studied jazz harmony; and at the age of fourteen quickly established himself on the thriving Liverpool cabaret circuit as an accompanist. Whilst a student at the London School of Economics he played in the student “Trad” Band, made some appearances with the famed Cy Laurie band in Soho, and wrote music for a film about the LSE.

He spent some years teaching and lecturing in Political History; and for many years played “Cocktail” piano on the posh West End Hotel Circuit including residencies at the “Intercontinental” “Meridian” “Inn on the Park” “Berners Hotel” and “Braganza”.

In 1980 he formed the Jewish Music Group (JMG) which played a mixture of Yiddish Jazz, and his own compositions set to the Hebrew Poetry of Rachel Blaustein and Shaul Tchernikovski. He also wrote poetry, for translation into Hebrew and performed with his own especially written compositions. One such number “Har Zion Yerushalayim” (Mount Zion) was performed by his group “Klezmer Swingers” at “Ronnie Scott’s “as a tribute to Ronnie Scott the day after his death.

His interest in Jewish Culture led to his setting up the “Redbridge Festival of Jewish Music” and the “Ram Theatre Company” in 1981 which together initiated the now thriving UK Jewish Cultural Renaissance. In 1994 He formed the “Klezmer Swingers” which (together with “Klezmer Groove”) led the UK Klezmer revival. The Klezmer Swingers have performed at major Concert Halls, Theatres, and Festivals throughout the UK including “Ronnie Scott’s” and “100 Club” London West End. Moving easily between the worlds of Jewish Culture, Klezmer and Jazz, he has also written a number of Operettas on Jewish themes including the popular “Klnneret” which has been performed both at the Mayfair Theatre London. and at the London South Bank Centre. It also undertook a highly successful tour of Israel in 1986. In 2003 he formed the “Wally Fields Jazz Orchestra” and was received with the distinction of a sold-out performance at the prestigious South Bank with many “promenaders” paying to stand in the Aisles! Subsequent appearance there have regularly sold out including a special Concert sponsored by the Polish Cultural Institute (Polish Foreign Ministry) which featured Fields’ “Partizan Rhapsody” in tribute to the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943. Fields’ “Concerto in Jazz” followed and is now also regularly performed. The WFJO opened the 2007 season at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall for their celebration of the 800th anniversary of the founding of Liverpool, and also to celebrate the Liverpool Capital of Culture Year 2008.

When not performing, or composing, Fields enjoys nothing better than Art Galleries, Film Noir, and the Café society of Hampstead. Currently (2013) he is working on the Libretto and musical score for his “Burlesque Operetta” Theodor set in “fin de Siecle” Vienna of 1900.

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