I recently got a call from my friend, singer Keisha St. Joan, who is now in her 80s. She said she had a story to tell me, but I was on my way out the door, so she promised to call me at noon the next day. Three days later, she called back and said, “You know, God sometimes plays little games with me. Like hiding my keys, or my phone. I tried to call you, and I just found out that my phone was on Airplane Mode, and I wasn’t even on an airplane!”
The story she told me was about a chance encounter that she had one day when getting on the Manhattan bound subway in Brooklyn. She saw a striking looking couple, the man with long black hair and a black beard. They looked as if they weren’t sure if they were on the right train. Keisha asked them if they needed help, and she directed them to their destination. They said they were from Italy, and they were very grateful for her help. When she said goodbye to them, she mentioned that she was going to participate in the Labor Day parade two days later.
On the day of the parade, Keisha was riding up 5th Avenue in a vehicle that Local 802 had provided. She was smiling and waving to the crowds on the sidewalk, when she saw on one block, standing at the back of the huge throng, her two Italian acquaintances. She began jumping up and down and waving to them, but she wasn’t sure if they saw her.
She said to me, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you wrote about it in your column, and they saw it in Italy?” I said, “Why not?” and here it is.
I got this from Keith Henson:
My friend, Vaughn Wiester, sent me this story. When I was on Woody Herman’s band, one night we were playing a dance. The floor was crowded, and as we came to the end of a tune, suddenly a guy’s voice came out from the dance floor saying “Hey Woody! Play something we can dance to!” Bad move! The attention of the entire room was now focused upon this guy. Woody promptly stepped up to the microphone and said, “Oh yeah? Let me see you dance!” The guy and his wife essayed a few timid steps. Woody said, “There’s no music in the world that goes with that!”
Thorbjorn Siogren sent me this one: One night, back in 1967 at The Montmartre in Copenhagen, Clark Terry came in, watching Zoot Sims and James Moody jamming with a couple of local tenors. He unpacked his trumpet, left the case at my table, and said, “Now, please keep an eye on this.” This resulted in me having to stay until three in the morning, and hike all the way home, but it was worth it.
That made me think of when I was working at the old Half Note with Clark Terry. I noticed that, when young brass players would come to talk to him, he would give them a lot of time and good advice. And when we were at the Oslo Jazz Festival one year, I watched him show a young flugelhorn player how to adjust his horn to get it more in tune, and he adjusted his valve springs to make the valves move faster. He probably saved the young man a year of figuring things out on his own.
I told Clark that I liked the kind and generous way he dealt with young musicians, giving them good advice. He said, “I always try to be as helpful as I can, because, when I was coming up in St. Louis, those older guys wouldn’t tell me NOTHING! There was one guy I idolized. I asked him how he got such a big, beautiful sound in the high register. He told me, ‘Always keep your teeth clenched tight when you’re playing high.’ I tried to play that way for a month before I realized he was putting me on! I’m STILL mad at him!”
Drummer Sonny Igoe and trumpeter Pee Wee Erwin both had jobs in the New York radio studios back in the day. Sonny told me that one morning, when they were carpooling into the city together, Pee Wee said, “Owen, I believe I’d rather face a rattlesnake than that mouthpiece, this morning!”
Terry Mcknight posted this on Facebook:
Many years ago, Phil Woods came to Sydney to do some gigs, and I went every night. I knew all the guys who played, local musicians. The bass player was a good friend of mine. First song, Phil turns around and says, “I love you.” The bass player says, “I love you too.” Phil Woods says, “in B flat.”
Mark Taylor posted:
After Steven Spielberg screened “Schindler’s List” for John Williams to compose the score, Williams was so moved by the movie that he had to walk outside for several minutes. Upon returning, Williams told Spielberg that the movie needed a better composer than him, to which Spielberg replied, “I know, but they’re all dead.”