The Newport Jazz Festival was always the high point of the year for me during my years as Gerry Mulligan’s bass player. I not only got to hear some of the best jazz groups playing at the time, I got to hang out with the musicians at the hotel and backstage at the venue. It was great to see old friends like Bill Evans, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Buck Clayton, Jo Jones, Milt Jackson, Connie Kay, James Moody, Miles Davis and Bud Freeman, and to meet heroes like Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, and to spend some time in conversation with them.
It was especially rewarding to rub elbows with musicians of an earlier generation who I had in my record collection, but hadn’t met before.
One year I was hanging out backstage at the Festival grounds in the afternoon when Willie “the Lion” Smith came offstage after playing his set. He sat down among the group of musicians I was chatting with and accepted everyone’s congratulations on his playing. Then he sat listening to the conversation, during which someone complained about the lack of respect that musicians encountered in the music business. Willie spoke up sharply. “Musicians get exactly the amount of respect that they deserve!” he said. “They don’t get it because they don’t demand it. You got to educate people to give you the treatment you want. I’ll give you an example. I was called last month by this club owner up in Connecticut who wanted me to play in his establishment. After we agreed on a price, he started telling me what bus to take to get up there! I said, hold it! What I want to know is what time does the limousine pick me up at my house? Otherwise, the deal is off! I had to educate him, you see.”
My friend John Simon, the record producer who helped create albums for The Band, Simon and Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Blood Sweat & Tears and many others, has written an engaging book about his adventures in the music world, entitled “Truth, Lies & Hearsay.” In it he tells of his parents’ first meeting, at a summer camp in the Adirondacks. The young man later to be John’s dad asked the young woman later to be John’s mother for a date. She accepted. Five days later, on the appointed day, he showed up at her door and asked, “Would you rather go to a movie or get married?” She replied, “I’ve seen a movie…” So they drove to Maryland for a speedy wedding, creating a marriage that lasted for 40 years.
Michael Sherwood wrote this on Facebook:
After several years of ignoring jury duty notices, I finally decided, ‘You know what? I’m just gonna go.’ So I went – and guess who I hung out with all day? My hero Herbie Hancock! We were both dismissed, but the judge reminded me of Chris Farley.
The judge asked Herbie, ‘What’s your name?’
Herbie answered, ‘I’m Herbert Hancock. I’m a musician.’
The judge said, ‘Remember when you played the Hollywood Bowl? You didn’t have a drummer, but you had some guy with dreads tap dancing all the rhythms all night. Remember that?’
Herbie kindly said, ‘Yeah, I think I remember something like that.’
The judge said, ‘Yeah, that was awesome.’
When they got to me, they said ‘Who are you?’
I said, ‘I’m a huge Herbie Hancock fan. My name is Michael Sherwood. I play keyboards.’
They said ‘You two can go,’ and we walked all the way back to our cars together, waxing poetic about music and social justice and gear. What a great day!’
Steve Herberman wrote on Facebook about a night in Boston when he went to hear Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel play a duo gig. He sat close to the bandstand to enjoy the music more. At the end of the gig, an old friend of Herb and Barney’s came up to the bandstand for a chat. Steve said the guy was carrying some serious body odor. When the guy left, Herb said to him, “Straight ahead, and strive for tone.” Barney said softly to Herb, “Straight ahead, and strive for soap!”
A friend of mine in London, drummer Peter Cater, was using a drum throne that had the same pearl finish that was on his drums. On one date, Peter set up his kit and left for a break. When he returned, he found that the sound man had set up microphones on each of his drums, and had even put a separate one on his drum throne.