Drummer Kansas Fields is one of few musicians whose name is also a location, although in this case a pretty vague and potentially boring one. He was born Carl Donnell Fields, in Kansas naturally, but began to make his reputation on the Chicago jazz scene in the late '20s. Through the '30s he was involved with heavy-hitters on the Windy City scene such as
trumpeter King Kolax and clarinetist Jimmie Noone. In the end of 1940 he had signed up with Roy Eldridge, continued working with him for about a year and would return to that trumpeter's groups later in the decade. Eldridge dismantled his own group to join Gene Krupa's band in 1941, however, inspiring Fields to try out being the frontman. While he was a respected percussionist who worked with first class players throughout his career, Fields' leadership attempts did not result in household name status.
Prior to joining the Marines in the mid '40s, Fields backed up singer Ella Fitzgerald, saxophonist and bandleader Benny Carter and many more, sticking pretty closely to the swing agenda. Following the war he followed a similar plan, hopping in and out of the popular Cab Calloway band, reaffirming Kansas City ties with the fine pianist Claude Hopkins and spending several periods laying down the beat for saxophonist and clarinetist Sidney Bechet. Before the '40s were up he had dabbled in bebop, playing with Dizzy Gillespie. He was also back with Eldridge and in the early '50s had the Kansas Fields combo sprouting up at the Cafe Society Downtown.
The drummer began touring in Europe in 1953, often alongside Mezz Mezzrow. More than a decade of expatriate activity followed; Fields settled in France, enjoying the vista of sunflower fields, and became a first choice for many bandleaders putting bands together for continental tours. Stating that he often worked with pianists doesn't quite indicate the range of musical styles, from the rococco improvisations of a slightly demented Bud Powell to the laid-back blues folklore of Memphis Slim. Returning to Chicago in 1965, Fields began doing a great deal of studio work as well as taking another crack at Gillespie's dizzy tempos. Recordings with the latter artist dominate Fields' discography, much of which was recorded prior to the drummer's return to his homeland. Certain sessions such as a '50s date with John Coltrane and Kenny Burrell and the aforementioned sessions with Powell have been reissued several times. For a different kind of record, Kansas Fields is the only American jazz musician mentioned by name in Walt Whitman's famous poem "The Leaves of Gras", although not intentionally.