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Meet The JazzTwins, Arnold and Donald Stanley

Photo credit: Courtesy of Arnold and Donald Stanley

Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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The next day before Terence's concert we went back stage. We walked right up to him and just stood there without saying a word. He looked at both of us back and forth and then said, 'Oh, my God, oh, my God. I have to get a picture of us. My wife isn't going to believe this!'
For our first two-for-one Super Fans column, we present the JazzTwins, Arnold Stanley and Donald Stanley, who got started pretty young (just wait till you see who played at their high school concerts). All jazz Super Fans are VIPs, but these two take things to another level. From invitations to musicians' family dinners to being the inspiration for a composition on a Grammy-nominated CD, the JazzTwins are, in the words of that Grammy-nominated artist, "Fans who become friends who become family."

Tell us a bit about yourselves.

Arnold: I was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Compton. I went through the public school system, then attended Cal State College, Dominguez Hills. I received a bachelor's degree, then re-enrolled and earned a master's degree and teaching credential. I taught in Long Beach, CA, for 37 years before I retired. I was married to my glorious wife for 35 years. She passed away in 2017. I have two wonderful children. I belong to a dinner club where I go out to dinner with close friends once a month. I also belong to a Happy Hour group that meets once a month. I love traveling with my brother, Donald, and our friend, Arthur Head. Our trips all revolve around jazz. We travel all over the nation to jazz clubs and jazz festivals. The North Sea Jazz Festival is on our bucket list. I am an identical twin. You will soon learn why we are called the JazzTwins.

Donald: I was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Compton, CA. Went to Compton Sr. High School and graduated from Cal State College, Dominguez Hills. Then I enrolled in the School of Radiologic Technology at Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital in Los Angeles. I moved to Cerritos, CA, upon getting married to my wife, Sheryl. We later moved to Moreno Valley. We have a son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. I worked in Medical Imaging and became part-owner of a medical imaging center. I'm currently retired. I love to travel with my family and friends, and enjoy small and large gatherings throughout the year. I wake up at 4:00 every morning and walk 5-6 miles with the Moreno Valley Mall Walkers at a local park Monday through Friday, and an occasional Saturday or Sunday. I enjoy going to Dodgers games, and getting together for lunch and taking train rides to the beach with my Moreno Valley friends. I belong to a small social group called The RumRunners, and we plan activities throughout the year.

What are your earliest memories of music?

Our earliest memory of music was hearing it on the radio. Our favorite station was KGFJ and our favorite disc jockey was Hunter Hancock. He played rhythm and blues records as well as rock and roll. It seemed like the radio was on all day in our house. Often the family would sit around the radio on rainy days listening to music. We also had transistor radios to listen to outside or in our bedrooms. The radio show had contests and we won 45 rpm records several times.

How old were you when you got your first record?

We were 10. Our mother was going to the record store and we asked her to buy us "Daddy's Home" by Shep & The Limelites, and "A Hundred Pounds of Clay" by Gene McDaniels. We gave her the money we had saved because we wanted to buy the records ourselves. We were a little short so she made up rest.

What was the first concert you ever attended?

Our high school was great at providing many cultural experiences. They brought in jazz musicians to perform for us. We saw Hugh Masekela twice and fell in love with his music. The concerts were amazing! We immediately bought his albums The Emancipation of Hugh Masekela and The Americanization of Ooga Booga. We also saw Nancy Wilson deliver an outstanding performance. The introduction of Nancy Wilson had a profound impact on our lives. We developed an appreciation and love of her music. We have more recordings of Nancy Wilson than any other artist. Taj Mahal was also brought in for a concert.

Was there one album or experience that was your doorway to jazz?

One day when we were 14 years old, our older brother, Howard, brought home two albums. Spanish Grease, by Willie Bobo, has a Latin soul/jazz vibe. The music was infectious. The other one was Herbie Mann's Live at The Village Gate. It slayed us. Those two albums changed our lives! We fell in love with jazz. We played those albums practically non-stop for a long time. We then started listening to KBCA 105.1, a local jazz station. After we met our friend, Arthur, who also listened to jazz, we would share albums and experiences.

How long have you been going out to hear live music?

Earlier on, when jazz clubs were thriving in Los Angeles, we would hit the jazz clubs along with Arthur every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and once or twice during the week. We would always stay for two sets or we would go to two clubs that night. We would show up so often the owners and managers got to know us. We even had our own table at the first Catalina Jazz Club. We would always go in the green room after the concert to meet the musicians. They were always accessible and friendly. We would see these musicians whenever they came to LA and they would remember us. It's easy to remember twins. They started appreciating us for supporting live music. One radio personality, Leroy Downs of KKGO, saw us so often he dubbed us the JazzTwins. This name stuck with us and it's a pretty cool name. As clubs started to diminish in LA we had to leave town to hear world class musicians. We would go up and down the west coast: San Diego, Oakland, San Francisco, and Seattle. We would also go to clubs in Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Boston, Pittsburgh, and our favorite city for jazz, New York. We would go to New York three or four times a year. We went to every club in Manhattan, and some clubs in Harlem and Brooklyn. We would go to two or three clubs a night. Our favorites were Dizzy's Club Coca Cola and Smoke. At the end of every night we would get a slice or two from Ray's Pizza between 2 and 3 a.m., go to our room, debrief discussing our favorite acts of the night. Sleep usually came between 4 and 5 a.m.

How often do you go out to hear live music?

Even prior to COVID-19 many of our great jazz clubs had gone out of business, and very few world class musicians came to LA, so we would go out to hear live music only about four times a month. We went to The Jazz Bakery, Catalina Jazz Club, The Blue Whale , and Jazz at the Merc. Now everything is virtual, and we probably see four to six concerts a month. Our three favorite jazz festivals, Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival, Detroit Jazz Festival, and Monterey Jazz Festival, all streamed this year. We heard some fantastic music. All of the festivals were well done. We also watch concerts from SFJAZZ; they stream every Friday free to members. Keystone Korner in Baltimore offers live in-club and streaming options, and we recently saw a great performance by Christian Sands. We streamed a great concert by Charles Lloyd Ocean Trio at The Lorado in Santa Barbara. Terri Lynne Carrington curates the dUOS & dUETS series via Detroit's Carr Center, and we saw Gerald Clayton and John Clayton in concert. Emmet Cohen offers concerts every Monday night on Facebook. From time to time we see live performances from various musicians on Facebook.

What is it about live music that makes it so special for you?

First, you get a good vibe from the audience because they, for the most part, love and appreciate the art as well. It's really special to see musicians perform live music, knowing of all the hard work and dedication they put into their craft to be able to be on that stage to perform for us. When listening to a recording you're going to hear it the same way each time you play it. With a live performance the musician has the freedom to be creative and play to the mood they are feeling at the time or to the mood of the audience. It can be an incredible experience.

What are the elements of an amazing concert?

A great sound system with great acoustics, musicians starting strong and finishing strong, a very respectful and energetic audience.

What is the most trouble you've gone to to get to a jazz performance?

Traveling to jazz festivals takes more planning than club travel. Our friend, Arthur, joins us on most of our jazz trips, so there are three of us traveling together. We fly from three different airports for the Monterey Jazz Festival at the end of September. We have to arrange flights that arrive to and depart from San Jose at about the same time because we rent a car and drive to Monterey. We have been going to this festival for over 20 years and it's one of our favorites. The city and the surrounding areas are beautiful. The music is always good. There are lots of regulars that come every year. It's great seeing them and catching up. Aside from the great music, the jam sessions at the hang after the night's concerts are legendary. Lots of musicians show up and many of them play. They are very accessible to meet and talk with. An afternoon trip to Sam's Seafood Market in Moss Landing is a must. The Detroit Jazz Festival also takes extra planning. This is definitely another one of our favorite festivals; it takes place over the Labor Day weekend, and we have been going since 2012. The line-ups are stellar and they have an awesome hang. We have met and developed close friends that have become family. We keep in touch with these close friends and travel together to other festivals. We went to the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival for the first time in 2019 and fell in love with it! We have decided to be permanent attendees of this wonderful festival every year. We love the layout. It's ideal. There are three stages with no overlapping concerts so you don't have to pick and choose which artist to see. You can see them all. Janis Burley Wilson, CEO of PIJF, and her staff get five stars. They have a very well-planned formats that allow everyone to be comfortable. The PIJF has the absolute best VIP package. They've thought of everything that makes a great festival. It takes place in late June. The easiest yearly festival for us is Central Avenue Jazz Festival in Los Angeles, as it doesn't require air travel or hotel stays for us. It's a two-day festival the last weekend of July. Lots of our jazz friends in LA attend. You can hear jazz, blues, and Latin jazz. We have also attended San Jose Jazz festivals and New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Is there one concert that got away that you still regret having missed?

Arnold: I'm so disappointed I missed seeing Phoebe Snow's last performance in New York. I didn't make reservations because I wasn't expecting it to sell out. Boy, was I wrong! I couldn't even get standing room at the bar. I loved Phoebe's singing style and voice. I'm still sorry to this day that I missed that concert.

Donald: I'm sorry I missed the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) conference/concerts in Montreal, which turned out to be the last one.

If you could go back in time and hear one of the jazz legends perform live, who would it be?

We both agree on Lee Morgan. It's amazing how he developed his mastery of the trumpet and a masterful body of work in such a short time. Our favorite songs by him are "Sidewinder," "Ceora," "Mr. Kenyatta," "A Night in Tunisia" and "Search For A New Land."

What makes a great jazz club?

Great sound, intimacy, aesthetics, and a respectful audience makes a great club. Dizzy's Club Coca Cola in New York has all of these qualities. Which club(s) are you most regularly to be found at? We frequent Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood, The Jazz Bakery in Santa Monica, and The Blue Whale in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, the most.

Is there a club that's no longer around that you miss the most?

Howard Rumsey's Concerts By The Sea in Redondo Beach, CA.

Do you have a favorite jazz anecdote?

We had met many musicians but there was one we hadn't and we wanted to meet him more than anyone else. That was Charles Lloyd. One day Charles did a benefit concert at Yoshi's in Oakland to raise money for Billy Higgins' medical expenses. We went to support this endeavor and hoped we might meet Charles. After the concert we tried to get into the green room but it was impossible. Of course we were disappointed. The next morning we decided we would take the ferry to San Francisco for breakfast. While walking across Jack London Square we saw Charles Lloyd! We went over to him and introduced ourselves and told him about our wishes. He was very friendly and spent quite a bit of time visiting with us. Finally, he asked us what were we getting ready to do. We asked him what was he going to do. He said he was going on a walk. We said, "Well, we're walking with you." He said, "Ok, let's go." We walked around the Oakland neighborhoods for about 45 minutes. When we made it back to Jack London Square he told us to come to his hotel room to meet his wife. We met Dorothy and she was just as friendly as Charles. Before we left we exchanged phone numbers. After that whenever Charles performed in the LA area we saw him. One day, while we were at the Monterey Jazz Festival, Charles had a gig at Catalina Jazz Club in Los Angeles. A friend of ours went to see him and after the concert she met him and told him she was our friend. Charles told her to tell us we were supposed to be at his concert. We saw that Charles' next gig was in Santa Fe, New Mexico so we decided to go. He was surprised to see us, but he still let us have it for missing his concert. We were sure he was kidding and he then told us whenever he performs in California we had to be there. We next saw him at Catalina's, and when the set was over the band exited to their right but Charles went to the left. That meant he would have to walk through the audience to get to the green room. He walked straight to our table. We stood and he hugged each of us, put his hand on our hearts then put his hands together as if giving us a blessing. Then he went to the green room. That was our WOW moment.

We bet you have many other stories to tell.

When we go to the Monterey Jazz Festival we always stay at the Hyatt Regency. This is where the musicians are housed and where the jam sessions take place after the evening concerts. One afternoon we were walking through the lobby—the place to see and be seen—and we saw Gerald Wilson sitting with his wife, Josefina. Josefina kept looking back and forth between us, then Gerald stood and came over to us. We introduced ourselves and if you know anything about Gerald, he loved to talk. We were in awe because he told us many amazing stories and experiences he'd had. He spent a very long time talking to us until eventually Josefina told him they had to start making their way to the festival grounds. Before leaving, Gerald told us he always sits in the Hunt Room during the festival, and invited us to join him. We ended up going to the concerts instead. Later, at the jam session, he asked us why we didn't join him. We said we didn't want to intrude. He said it was not an intrusion and he wanted us to join him the next night, so we did. We ended up spending the entire evening there talking to him, his wife, and his daughters. Everyone was so friendly. We joined them again on the third night and established a binding relationship. Through the years we all became very close. His daughters considered us their brothers. We saw them every year at MJF and throughout the year, whenever Gerald's band had gigs. His daughter would even call us to remind us to show up. We always went early to sit with Gerald in the green room. It was always like we were in a history class. Every time we talked to him we learned something new. He had an incredibly sharp memory. He eventually told us his entire life story. He also invited us on several occasions to travel with him to New York when he worked with his east coast band. Gerald slowly started losing his vision so when we were at his concerts we would walk him onto the stage and then escort him back to the green room. Our lives were enriched by being a part of his. We eventually lost Gerald. He was truly a national treasure.

Keep 'em coming!

One of our trips to New York came when Papo Vasquez had a CD out with a song called "Coqui," a beautiful song we enjoyed. It was our hope that Papo would be performing in the city at that time. We couldn't find Papo but we saw Arturo O'Farrill's small ensemble was performing in Brooklyn at the Up Over Jazz Club. We knew that Arturo and Papo were both in Chico O'Farrill's Afro Cuban Jazz Band. Chico was a Latin jazz legend who escaped Cuba, and Arturo was his son and musical director. So we thought Papo might be in Arturo's band. We went to the club early and asked the manager if Papo would be playing. He told us yes, and that Papo was in the back of the room warming up. We shouted out to Papo that he wanted to meet us because we came all the way from LA to see him. He was honored to hear this and when the band members started coming in he introduced us to all of them. The band played three sets, and between all sets the entire band sat at our table and hung out with us. We became instant friends. We saw each other whenever we traveled to New York. Arturo's Afro Latin Jazz Band has a standing gig every Sunday at Birdland. We would also see them when Chico's band traveled to LA. Through the years we became especially close to Arturo and his family. His mother, Lupe, once insisted we come over for dinner. We suggested lunch because we had to hit the clubs at night. But she still insisted on dinner so we compromised on an early dinner. She told us we had to see her every time we came to the city. After Chico passed, Arturo got an opportunity to take Chico's band back to Cuba to play in the Cuban Jazz Festival. Arturo invited us to join him and the band on this trip. We were thrilled and excited. That was the trip of a lifetime! Another time when Arturo came to LA he stayed with his sister and invited us over for dinner. After dinner the three of us sat in the living room talking. We told Arturo that as close as we were he should write a song about us. He got excited and said he was thinking the same thing and he discussed it with his wife. He asked us if we wanted the song to be straight ahead or Latin jazz. We told him to choose. He said he was going to write a suite and said he wanted to include our names in the title. We suggested he name it JazzTwins (capital J capital T no space). When JazzTwins was completed Arturo invited us to New York's Symphony Space where he debuted the song with his orchestra. His wife told us Arturo said that was the best piece of music he had ever written. JazzTwins is on Arturo's latest CD, Four Questions, which was released this year. [Ed note: Four Questions has been nominated for a Grammy in the Latin Jazz category.] This was a huge honor for us. Arturo always says we were fans who became friends who became family.

You have such great stories. What's the funniest one?

Arnold: One year at the San Jose Festival I was sitting alone in our hotel lobby reading the sports section and a guy came up to me and asked for my autograph. This surprised me. I asked him who did he think I was. He said Terence Blanchard. This was the first time this happened to me. I told him I wasn't Terence and he didn't believe me. So, he asked again for my autograph. Again I told him I wasn't Terence. But he wasn't convinced. I had to show him my driver's license to prove my identity. A short while later I was walking from the hotel to the concert grounds and it happened again. Again we went back and forth until I showed my driver's license.

Donald: I was walking through the lobby on Friday afternoon headed for the exit when a young man and his son stopped me and asked, "Aren't you Terence Blanchard?" I knew Arnold had been mistaken for him as well. I found this to be amusing. I told him I wasn't. He didn't believe me so I told him I would prove it and showed him my license. I continued to go across the street to the park where the festival was to take place. I wanted to see where our seats were. I saw some people go behind the stage so I decided to go back there to see what was happening. A man saw me and started walking fast towards me with both arms spread out in front of him with his palms up and said, "What are you doing here! You're not supposed to be here until tomorrow!" I laughed and told him I wasn't Terence Blanchard. It turns out he was he was Terence's road manager and he was embarrassed and apologized for the mistake. He laughed it off and said he had to tell Terence what had happened. Our VIP package allowed backstage access. So the next day before Terence's concert we went backstage. We walked right up to Terence and just stood there without saying a word. He looked at both of us back and forth and then said, "Oh my God, oh my God. I have to get a picture of us. My wife isn't going to believe this!" A friend who was with us took our photo. We told him about our experiences. The next month we were at the Monterey Jazz Festival and Terence was in the lineup and the same thing happened with our mistaken identities. We saw Terence at the hang and jam session. He joked that he would have to teach us how to write his signature. The next night when Terence saw us he told us the reverse had happened to him. He said two ladies walked up to him and started a conversation. Before long one of the ladies said, "I'm sorry. You are not one of the twins?" This caused all of us to laugh. He swore to God he was telling the truth. Then he called us triplets. We have had a tight relationship ever since.

How do you discover new artists?

Arnold: Mostly through social media, Real Jazz SiriusXM, and Apple Music.

Donald: I discover new music from my brother, Arnold, social media, Real Jazz SiriusXM, and friends.

Vinyl, CDs, MP3s? Streaming?

Streaming.

If you were a professional musician, which instrument would you play and why?

Donald: Piano. I have always loved the piano and wished I were able to play it, and very well, at that. But since I can't play, I watch others play and I listen very well. There are many well respected pianists that love to listen to. In small settings I like to position myself where I can see him or her play the keys. Doing this really enhances my musical enjoyment of the performance.

Arnold: I also choose the piano. I think the piano creates the most beautiful music of all. My favorite solos usually come from the piano.

What's your desert island disc?

Donald: A Nancy Wilson Compilation.

Arnold: I have two. Shirley Horn's Here's to Life and Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil.

What do you think keeps jazz alive and thriving?

A steady influx of young musicians with new ideas...advancing the music.

Finish this sentence: Life without music would be...

Arnold: Disappointing.

Donald: Stolen moments.

Is there anything else we should know about you?

People often ask, "What does it feel like to be a twin?" Our answer is always, "It's the only life we know." We are closer than close, and you have to be one of us to understand.

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