I’ve pretty well figured out my computer, and I’m still figuring out how to use some of the features on my cell phone. The telephone has undergone some amazing changes since I first figured out how to use one.
When I was a kid, the phone in our house in Kirkland, Washington had a receiver that hung on the side of the hand set. I would to pick it up, listen for the operator to say “Number, please,” and then give her the number I wanted to call. Our number was Black 137. (There was a black and a red network in Kirkland, one for each side of town.) The operator (Shirley) plugged callers into the right socket to make the local connection they wanted. To call Seattle or farther away, you asked Shirley for long distance, and she connected you with another operator who got your number for you.
When we visited our grandparents in Othello, Washington, we were amused that they were still using phones that had little cranks on them. You would pick up the receiver and turn the crank to generate a ring on the line. It was a party line, which meant that all the people with phones on your line would hear the ring. Each phone was assigned a specific number of rings, but when the party line phone rang, everyone picked up to see what was up. The phone was only used for emergencies or news of the day.
When dial phones with one-piece handsets replaced the telephone operators, I thought I had witnessed a tremendous technological leap forward. And, years later, when the phone company stopped owning all the equipment, it seemed like the dawn of a new day.
When I first came to New York City, the pay phone booths on every corner and in every building lobby, bar and restaurant were important to musicians like me who were living in furnished rooms without phones. With a handful of nickels, you could stay in touch with your sources of work, and find the location of jam sessions. Some guys would put the number of a phone booth phone on their business card, and would hang around that booth during certain hours, hoping for a call.
Nowadays, as I walk up Eighth Avenue from the bus station to Local 802, I see that most of the phone booths along the sidewalk have been removed. Wherever there used to be a booth, there is an eight-foot high slab of plastic with a sign that proclaims: “Super fast free Wi-Fi coming soon.” We’ll see, when the work is completed, whether this will be a useful new amenity, or just another damned thing to figure out.
Chris Coletti posted a nice memoir of trumpeter Mel Broiles on his blog, written by his teacher at Juilliard, Mark Gould. Broiles was principal at the Met Opera for many years. He died in 2003 at the age of 73 after being a member of Local 802 for over 50 years. A great enthusiast for the opera, he loved his job and sometimes said so, loudly, in the pit during performances.
When Gould joined the Met Opera orchestra, he was sitting in the back of the orchestra room observing a rehearsal of “Pagliacci.” He wrote, “The musicians were pretty much taking it easy, just rounding themselves back into shape, playing the rehearsal as a kind of warmup for the long opera season. Not Mel. At the end of the opera, when the trumpet plays ‘Vesti La Giubba,’ Mel let loose. The paint on the walls of the rehearsal room turned from blue to purple and the entire viola section involuntarily doubled over, instinctively ducking their heads to avoid having them severed from their necks. The conductor, John Nelson, was blown backwards two steps, landing with one foot completely off the podium. When the music stopped, the stunned maestro said, ‘That’s great, Mel, but in rehearsal I think we can take it a bit easy. I think mezzo forte should suffice.’ Mel quickly responded, ‘John, that was my mezzo forte!’”
Jason Ingram sent me a note that was posted on trumpeter Roger Ingram’s Facebook page. It seems that Roger got a call from a new contact asking if he could do a jingle date for a German-American radio station, playing oom-pah brass band music. When he accepted the job, Roger was asked for his waist size. “For the lederhosen.” Denying that there would be a video shoot, the guy said he just wanted lederhosen to put everyone in the right mood. Roger told him, “I’ll wear the lederhosen over my jeans, and it will cost you double.” The guy declined, and said he’d find somebody else. Roger was fine with that.
Reading of the passing of master alto saxophonist Phil Woods last September, Howard Rittner remembered Phil’s days at Juilliard. He told me that Phil was the most outstanding musician in that class. Teo Macero had put together a jazz band made up of musicians from the school. He needed a baritone player, and Phil said he could do it. The school provided the horn, and Howard provided a mouthpiece with a plastic reed. Howard says that playing with Phil and some of the other heavyweights at Juilliard was a major part of his musical education.
On my first Broadway show, I needed a sub for one performance during previews. I called a bass player friend, who accepted the gig and came in to watch a show. Afterwards, while saying goodbye, he asked me casually, “How accurate do they want this?”