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The Band Room

May 2017

In one of my favorite stories in his autobiography, Louis Armstrong told about a musician who worked on the riverboat with him on a trip up the Mississippi from New Orleans. He said that the guy had a farm in Louisiana where his relatives were raising cotton for him. He saved every nickel he earned on the boat, and sent it all home to pay for the farm. He wouldn’t even spend money on meals, subsisting on apples. Then he discovered that the boll weevils had eaten his crop, the relatives had spent the money, and after worrying and scrimping and starving himself for the whole trip, he ended up losing the property. Louis said, “That taught me never to deprive my stomach. I’ll probably never be rich, but I will be a fat man.”

Eve Zanni was contacted by a young filmmaker, Brian Chidester, who wanted to talk about a recording she had made. Over the course of their long conversation, they discovered that they were both fond of Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow’s book “Really the Blues,” in which, among other things, Mezz told about his role as a purveyor of pot to his musician friends. Eve and Brian’s conversation ranged through many topics and then onto Lester Young, who was known to his colleagues and admirers as “Prez.” Eve told Brian about interviewing her friend and neighbor Anita, Gil Evans’s widow, for a book she was writing about Prez. Anita had told her how, during World War Two, Gil would drive hundreds of miles to visit Prez where he was incarcerated in the Fort Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks, bringing him little gifts of herbal reinforcements. Hearing this, Brian quipped. “So, Gil was Prez’s Mezz?”

Steve Johns, who recently retired from his position on tuba with the Metropolitan Opera and the NYC Ballet, broke into the New York music world in the late 1960s by subbing for as many players as possible. His first call on his own job was a week with the Jose Limon dance company at a Broadway theater. Thrilled, he showed up at the first rehearsal as the pit filled with musicians. When it came to Steve’s time to enter the pit, there wasn’t a square foot of space remaining. He was crestfallen when the contractor, Jerry Tarack, told him to go home, even though he was assured he would be paid for the engagement. It was an ominous beginning to his career, but Steve went on to perform with most of the dance companies that have come to New York, including stints as principal tuba with the Joffrey Ballet and the New York City Ballet.

Scott Robinson sent me this:

“Frank Kimbrough asked me some time ago if I could play in a trio with him on a night in January, for the ‘Sound It Out’ series at Greenwich House. I had to turn it down, because of a European tour I had booked, which later was cancelled. So, I ended up in town that night, checking out what turned out to be a really great show. Best part was, when I arrived, I got to tell Frank, ‘Hey, I just paid my 18 bucks to hear the show I can’t make!’”

Here’s a news article that appeared on the Jay Leno show a while back. It has been making the rounds again on Facebook. It was printed in an Illinois newspaper: “TYPOGRAPHICAL ERROR: Due to a typing error, Saturday’s story on local artist Jon Henninger mistakenly reported that Henninger’s bandmate Eric Lyday was on drugs. The story should have read that Lyday was on drums. The Sentinel regrets the error.”

My old friend the late Joe Beck said he liked the nickname I gave him. I used to call him Big Spider (Beck). And Jimmy Rowles used to call George Mraz “Bounce.” (Because he was a “bad” Czech.)

Mark Vinci spent a summer at the Juilliard Summer Jazz Camp in Aiken, South Carolina. On a Sunday, a day off, he took a cappuccino and the New York Times crossword to the town square, a charming spot. On the hour, a church bell began to play the Big Ben chimes. It reminded Mark of Red Garland’s intro to Miles Davis’s recording of “If I Were A Bell.” He had his piccolo with him, and on the next hour, he joined in, playing along with the church bell.

An elderly African American man and his wife hobbled over to Mark. “Young man,” he said, “You’re remarkable! Where are you from?” Mark said, “New York City.” The man said, “I don’t know why, but I feel as though I have to tell you this. Did you know Martin Luther King’s mother was a piano player? And did you know that she was shot by a deranged black man while she was playing piano in a church?” Mark said he didn’t know that. “Nice to meet you, and goodbye,” said the man.

Alberta King was, in fact, shot and killed while playing the organ at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in 1974.

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