THE BAND ROOM
Volume 120, No. 1January, 2020
It doesn’t seem possible, but I’m about to begin my 38th year of writing this column. It all started when I was elected to the Local 802 Executive Board in December, 1982, as part of the ticket headed by John Glasel. After we were sworn into office, John said to me, “How would you like to write a column for Allegro?” I said, “Yes, and I know just what kind of column I’d like to write. Whenever musicians get together, on jobs, in bandrooms, on buses, they tell funny stories on each other. Someone always says, ‘Somebody should write these down!’ Let me be the somebody.” And so the Band Room was born.
The first couple of months, I told stories that I remembered, and right away everyone got the idea. I got stories left and right, some from as far away as the Canary Islands. In the past 37 years I haven’t run out of stories, thanks to everyone who contributes.
To celebrate, here are a couple of stories from one of my early columns:
One night in Birdland, back in the 1950s, I noticed trombonist Frank Rehak standing by a pillar, sipping a beer and listening to the Basie band. The beard he’d been wearing for years had recently been shaved off. A young woman walked by him, did a double take, and said, “Frank?” He looked at her, did his own double take and said, “Oh, I didn’t recognize you without my beard!”
Teddy Podnos of the Philharmonic tells me that when he was rehearsing with Paul Whiteman one day, he asked if the violins should play a certain passage octava or loco. Whiteman replied, “Play it as crazy as you want.”
Zoot Sims was one of the many tenor saxophonists who took Lester Young’s style as a starting point for their own development. But Zoot also idolized Coleman Hawkins. He once told me, “Hawk never played a wrong note in his life.” Zoot had a classic Volvo that he was very fond of. He had it completely overhauled, had it painted red, and polished up the chrome. He was showing it to Hawkins one day, and when Hawk turned the handle on the passenger door to look inside, the handle came off in his hand. He handed it to Zoot, who went around to the driver’s side and opened the door for Hawk, and then put the handle in the glove compartment. Because the door handle had come off in the hand of his idol, Zoot never had it repaired. The handle remained in Zoot’s glove compartment for the rest of his life.
Clarinetist Ron Odrich told me about a club date he once played with bassist Whitey Mitchell. He wrote: “I had just taken two choruses on ‘Darktown Strutters’ Ball,’ after which the bass stopped playing. We were all treated to a slowly sauntering Whitey who casually picked up the mike and announced to the crowd, ‘Just want you all to know that that’s the best solo you’ll ever hear on that tune in your lifetimes.’ The band fell apart as Whitey slowly strolled back to his place next to the drummer and resumed playing as though nothing had transpired. The leader was in such shock that he had no reaction except to stand and stare straight ahead.”
A Facebook post from Tommy Bridges: “I was granted a special waiver to join the the musicians’ union at age 14. I lived in the small town of La Crosse, Wisconsin. I was a new member at a young age and joined AFM Local 201 and read all the rulebooks, rates and scale books and really tried to understand the musicians’ union rules and policies. Around 1979, the AFL-CIO group in La Crosse was having their annual holiday party for all the trades. Plumbers, electricians, iron workers, all the trade unions were invited to the holiday party. And they hired a nonunion band to play the union party! So my fellow comrades of Local 201 picketed the party. It made the newspaper, and we laughed about it for many years afterward.”
Ellen LaFurn found this ad on Craigslist: “Bass player available for PAYING GIGS ONLY. I play G, C, D. If your songs are not in G, please transpose them into G. If your song has an Em or Bm or anything off the wall, I’ll probably sit out that chord. Or I could learn those notes for $30 each. If you want me to do fancy stuff like go back and forth between G and D while you hold a G chord, forget it because I’m a ‘pocket’ player. Minimum $100 per gig within a five-mile radius of my house. Five dollars per mile travel charge for other areas out of town. Please make sure your gigs are on my bus route, or you can pick me up at my place. Must be home by 11 p.m. due to previous legal hassles. No gigs within 500 yards of schools, parks or playgrounds.”