The Band Room
Volume 114, No. 4April, 2014
Pete Seeger left a large footprint when he went away. I first knew him from a record I used to own, “Darlin’ Corey.” I loved his singing and his driving banjo line. I met him when the group that made him famous, the Weavers, did a return concert at Town Hall, after being blacklisted during the HUAC insanity. Pete’s manager was also managing John Benson Brooks, and I was in John’s trio at the time. The Weavers wanted another group to share their concert, and Pete’s manager suggested John.
When Pete arrived before the concert, I noticed that the handle on the case for his long-necked banjo had broken off, and had been replaced with a piece of wood taken from a small tree limb that had an elbow in it. Very rustic and appropriate.
Since it was a folk music concert, John decided to do a few arrangements of folk tunes, and added Taft Jordan on trumpet, Budd Johnson on tenor, and Bennie Green on trombone to our trio, with Harold Granowski on drums. Pete and the Weavers were in rare form, and the whole concert was a great success.
In 1983, when the Glasel administration took office at Local 802, the Members Party had a victory celebration at Roseland. I called Pete and asked if he could put in an appearance. He eagerly replied, “I’ll be glad to come. I spend a lot of time singing about labor and unions, but I haven’t been a very good member of my own union. Thanks for asking me.” About half an hour after I hung up, my phone rang. It was Pete’s manager. “Please don’t ask Pete to do this,” he said. “He never says no, but he really would have to work a miracle to get there, with all the other things he’s already committed to.” I told him I understood, and let him off the hook.
One of Pete’s pet projects was the sloop Clearwater, which, since 1969, sailed as a symbol of success in a public effort to clean and restore the Hudson River. I’ve been a member of the Clearwater organization for many years. It was always good to gather at the river with Pete and celebrate nature with him. Even when his voice failed him and age slowed his fingers on the banjo, he still could move a crowd of people to sing and hope and act.
In the little town in Washington State where I grew up, our school system had a full arts program. It was the 1930s, as this country struggled with the joblessness and poverty of the Great Depression. From grade school to high school, we had art and music classes in the regular curriculum. We had band, orchestra, and chorus. We sang in the classrooms. Parents provided the smaller instruments for band and orchestra, and the school provided the larger ones. The marching band had uniforms. There were tympani and basses for the orchestra and sousaphones for the band. I played a school-owned baritone horn until I reached high school, when an after-school job made it possible for me to buy one of my own. The school provided a drum set and arrangements for the swing band.
When I hear of all the cuts made in the arts in urban school systems nowadays, I wonder how our small town was able to carry such a full program during the Depression. Did we value the creative arts then more than we do now? Shouldn’t every child have a chance to learn to make his own music?
Bassist Gene Perla started out as a trombonist. At Pascack Valley Regional High School he played that instrument for a band director who was wary of him because he was a bit of a jokester. The director’s opinion of Gene was confirmed when at a concert, by accident, Gene lost control of his trombone slide while playing a note in seventh position. The slide flew off toward the front of the stage, past the director and into the audience. No one was hurt, but after that Gene said he never got back into the director’s good graces.
At a gig someone said to Larry McKenna, “I’m really enjoying listening to you. You sound wonderful. [pause] Do you still play?”
Dick Sheridan posted this on Facebook: Dick (Haymes) was sick one night so Fran Jeffries had to do the show by herself, and did an excellent job, but when it came time to introduce the trio she said. “Tonight we have Don Evans on piano, Dick Sheridan on drums and Aaron Bass on bell.”
Herb Gardner told me about a gig with Robbie Scott’s band, the annual debutante ball that went from midnight to four A.M. During a break around three-fifteen, bassist Mike Weatherly looked at his coffee mug and said, “If I drink this, I’ll be up all night!”
Turk Mauro told me that, one night backstage at the Village Vanguard, Zoot Sims said, “I’m just the opposite of paranoid. I keep having the feeling I’m following someone.”