By Lisa Morgan
Jimi Fitz is a literal polymath of the entertainment industry. I could have used the term “Renaissance Man”, but that just does not seem an original enough description for the depth, breadth or the unique qualities of this musician, songwriter, performer, large venue promoter, mentor and radio personality. A native of the Washington, DC area, his family identified his natural talent at a young age, urging him to go to broadcast school which is where his fondness for radio began. As a syndicated radio personality, Jimi has worked in many musical genres including, rock, country, R&B and jazz, and has produced and hosted programming for ABC and NBC radio networks. As a producer/concert promoter, for venues ranging from performing arts centers to stadiums and arenas across the country, the talent he has been honored to work with, past and present, include some of the biggest names in the business: Steely Dan, Roxy Music, Ramones, Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, Kenny Rogers, Ted Nugent, Dwight Yoakam, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and more.
His early days as an agent at Agency for the Performing Arts, gave him the opportunity to work with the likes of Rodney Dangerfield, Johnny Cash, The Manhattan Transfer and Tina Turner. The experience sparked his ongoing passion for developing new talent. A seasoned veteran of Network and Cable Television, Jimi’s credits include an NBC-TV BIG EVENT, numerous SHOWTIME music specials, the first made for pay TV movie, and one of the first reality series for DISNEY and LIFETIME. As producer and director of “Howard Stern’s Negligee and Underpants Party” Fitz entered the uncensored world of Pay Per View Television, producing a 10 hour live concert event, celebrating the roots of modern music: Rock ‘n Roll, R&B, Country and Blues featuring such acts as Stephen Stills, David Crosby, The Stray Cats, Etta James, The Greg Allman Band and many others.
This is just part of the story behind the man who is largely responsible for one of the deserts favorite annual events – Desert Lexus Jazz. In partnership with Indian Wells Tennis Gardens and Wendy Jane Productions (Fitz’s wife), the desert will be treated to an amazing lineup of incredible talent topped off by the incredible Tower of Power and 20 Feet From Stardom’s, Grammy award winning vocalist, Lisa Fischer.
Upon entering the grounds, 15-year-old local saxophone sensation, Chase Huna, will perform, greeting fans with a talent and charm that far outreaches his years. Guests will be welcome to visit art displays by local artist Maximilian Von Wening, who will present his music themed paintings and photos, and Karen and Tony Barone will provide larger than life sculptures. Local restaurant Piero’s Pizza Vino will bring its new mobile pizza oven featuring its popular Margherita, Calabrese and Bubba-Bubba pizzas. Coachella Valley Brewing Company, one of the Valley’s most popular microbreweries and a new sponsor, will offer a sampler tray and more of their cold refreshing beer on tap. Sherman’s Deli, a New York style deli, will serve traditional hot corned beef, pastrami, brisket sandwiches and more. Additionally, SEAR, SATAY and KABOB, the mini-restaurants permanently located inside Stadium 2 of the tennis gardens, will be open, offering a variety of cold and hot meals. And as if things couldn’t get any better for those in attendance, Two Bunch Palms Resort and Spa will have massage therapists on-site providing complimentary chair massages.
Jimi Fitz took a few minutes out of his busy schedule in preparation for the huge event to share a little about himself and how this successful musical celebration, 16 years running, came into being.
CVW: How did this all come about?
Fitz: I created the event 16 years ago. Wendy and I are production partners, along with Indian Wells Tennis Gardens/ IWTG. We’re co-promoters and co-producers of the event and pretty much do everything from marketing, to booking the talent, working with logistics and sponsorships, and whatever else is needed. I’ve always worn different hats in the biz. I like to work both sides of the brain. I have a good, photographic memory, and numbers are an obsession. Wendy sometimes calls me “Rain Man”.
Desert Lexus Jazz evolved from my “Fitz at the Ritz” events in the late 90s on the crochet lawn at the Ritz Carlton. It was an amazing performance lawn – we could fit as many as 800 up there, and it was a beautiful desert evening, under the stars. I started it with Jeff Golub who used to work with Rod Steward and Billy Squier. He was a great blues/jazz rockstar guitar player with an incredibly unique style. I worked with him for several years. (Emotion showing in his voice) He just passed away January of this year. (Golub died January 1, 2015 of progressive supranuclear palsy after being diagnosed only two months prior).
(Gathering himself) Since then, it has moved around to a few places. Raymond Moore (CEO of the Indian Wells Tennis Gardens/IWTG) and I talked about doing something at the tennis gardens. I was producing a jazz festival at the Hyatt in Newport last year, and he was inspired to make the event happen here. We held Desert Lexus Jazz at the shaded performance pavilion between the two stadiums for the first time last year. It’s going to be a fun party, wrapping up the music festival season here in the desert. We’re creating and building an evergreen event with music, art, food, wine and craft beer event. You’ve been in the dirt for the last few weekends. This will be a ‘no-dirt-chella’, if you will.
CVW: How do you feel about this year’s lineup?
Fitz: I am so excited about Lisa Fisher performing this year! Such an amazing talent – one of the most amazing singers I’ve ever heard. She’s worked with and toured with all kinds of top artists. She just finished a tour with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, and toured with the Rolling Stones for a long time, singing that signature background part on Give Me Shelter. Many will recognize her from the Grammy and Oscar winning 20 Feet from Stardom. The whole industry knows about her talent and she is selling out everywhere this year. We are so fortunate to have her!
There’s usually 6 degrees of separation or less between people who have been directly influenced by Tower of Power and their music. They are going to create a real party atmosphere.
CVW: You and your wife, Wendy, are truly a dynamic duo. How did you meet?
Fitz: Short version – I was teaching studio engineering and radio/television broadcast at the Center for Media Arts in New York City. Wendy came in as my student. She ended up quitting
my class; she says she couldn’t concentrate because she had a crush on me. I would never date students…it was not my thing. But after she dropped my class, I had a gig at CBGB’s, and her
classmates talked her into driving them to the show in her new car. We talked after the gig, and I asked her to lunch. The romance started there at the boat house in Central Park. We were together a month later and we’re together today. We have been working and creating together for 28 years now. I am truly blessed. I wouldn’t be Jimi Fitz without her.
CVW: With every hat you’ve worn in the entertainment industry, which one do you like best?
Fitz: Oh gosh, that’s so hard Lisa! It really is. I love being on the radio – it’s just something that’s very natural to me. I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager. But making music gives me the biggest thrill – it makes me feel the most alive. I’ve always done it. I’ve always written, always recorded. I haven’t always worked to release it and put it out; there is so much music that I’ve archived that’s never seen the light of day. But I love the collaborative process of making music
more than anything. If I have to name one thing, making music would be it. Still, I love promoting, I love producing…I love the whole process of creating and collaborating.
You know, I never set about to do the things I’ve done. I just took what seemed to be the next step in the evolution. I have met incredible, inspiring people. I’ve learned the good, the bad and the ugly of it all. I have ‘skinned my knee’ so to speak, and I have had some great successes. I got very lucky early on. I really enjoy the opportunity to help pass on some of those lessons to up and coming artists, and I’m just blessed to still have the fire to do what I’m doing!
CVW: What is next for Jimi Fitz?
Fitz: Well, I am thrilled by my new radio home with Desert Radio Group and the support that they give me (103.9 FM, The Perfect Blend/Fitz in the Morning 6-10 am). I’m entering my 17th year at the McCallum theater – I will always be a part of that theater with the Fitz Jazz Café, or in any capacity I can. Just recently, I was one of the judges for the Open Call.
This summer I want to focus on playing live. I have two albums under my belt. I’m working on getting the new album out into the market. This is the most honest and organic album I’ve ever recorded. My goal was simply to record a ‘real album’ with live instruments, putting my vocals front and center so that the power of WJ’s (his wife aka WJ Rene) lyrics could shine through. All tracks are co-written by Wendy and I in collaboration with Lewis Richards, Patrick Bostrom and Mike De La Torre. I can’t wait to go and do it live. I haven’t announced it yet, but I’ll be playing Schmidy’s Tavern in Palm Desert, Saturday, June 13th with Zen Robbi. I love that place – it reminds me of the old CBGB’s, only cleaner! It has such a great vibe.
I’ve had such an eclectic entertainment career! I grew up and later worked with many artists who played real music with meaningful messages. That’s what I’m doing now: creating music the way it used to be made, singing lyrics that demand to be heard and responded to. I believe I’m at the top of my game and have more to bring to the table now than ever before.
CVW: We think so too, Jimi.
ABOUT THE EVENT: Desert Lexus Jazz is a presentation of IWTG and Wendy Jayne Productions, Inc. Local sponsors of the event include Desert Lexus, City of Indian Wells, Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa, Coachella Valley Brewing Co., Farley Interlocking Pavers, Two Bunch Palms Resort and Spa, Architectural Blue, 103.9 The Breeze, and CBS Local TV 2. The Indian Wells Tennis Garden opened in March 2000 and is a world-class tennis venue home to the renowned BNP Paribas Open with a year-round full-service tennis club. The site features the second largest tennis stadium in the world, which seats 16,100 fans, and includes 44 stadium suites, broadcast and media facilities and an 8,000 sq. ft. food commissary. The Tennis Garden opened a permanent Stadium 2 in 2014, with 8,000 seats. The site also features two 19,000 square foot shade structures, 29 world-class courts, eight acres of outdoor exposition space, a full service tennis club and 55 acres of outdoor parking.