The Band Room
Volume 122, No. 1January, 2022
Back in the 1970s, I did Peter Duchin’s first work for a couple of years. It was mostly flying around the country to play at rich weekend affairs at country clubs or private mansions, where everything was always very expensively catered. At one New Year’s Eve party in Texas, a huge tent had been erected for the party, and the entire ceiling of the tent was covered with mesh nets that held hundreds of inflated balloons, ready for twelve o’clock.
When the time came, our band began to play “Auld Lang Syne,” as several waiters pulled the cords to release the balloons. But the only thing that fell from the ceiling was the netting. Someone, accustomed to sparing no expense, had filled all the balloons with helium, and they remained where they were, pressed against the ceiling canvas, for the rest of the night.
One year when the Gerry Mulligan Quartet was playing at Storyville in Boston, George Wein suggested that the trad band at his Mahogany Hall club on the floor below us might come up at midnight and play “Auld Lang Syne” with us. Gerry said, “Great, I’ll write a little chart for the four horns.” George called a rehearsal that afternoon, and Pee Wee Russell, the clarinetist with the other band, expressed discomfort at having to read his part, but he read it okay. That evening, just before midnight, the trad band came up and joined us on the bandstand, but Pee Wee couldn’t find his part. Disappointed, Gerry said, “Okay, we’ll just fake it.” And we did. When Pee Wee got up to go back downstairs, I saw that he had been sitting on his part.
John Altman posted this story on Facebook:
This was told to me by the great Irwin Kostal who orchestrated West Side Story. He got a call from Stephen Sondheim shortly after “Gypsy “had been a smash on Broadway. He asked, “Would you orchestrate my new show?” Kostal said, “I’d love to,” and asked, “Who’s the composer?” Sondheim replied, “I am!” Kostal was shocked, as he only knew Sondheim as a lyricist. He said, “I went to his place where he played me the score. I said “Stephen these songs are terrific, I had no idea!” In the main love song, after the words ‘I love you’ Sondheim played a crashing discord on the piano. I asked him to repeat that section and there it was again, so into the song it went.”
At the party after the premiere, Kostal was standing with Sondheim when Leonard Bernstein walked in. Kostal said, “He came straight up to me and hissed ‘how DARE you ruin that lovely song with that awful discord?’ Stephen said, ‘Leonard, that was me.’ Bernstein swiveled around to Sondheim and and retorted ‘Who the hell do you think you are, ME?’”
Roger Walls told this story on Facebook:
We set up at the Sheraton and started playing for the people in the ballroom. A man came up and said, “We didn’t book a band, but you guys sound good. You can keep playing.” I called the agent and found he had mixed up the hotels. We were supposed to be at a doctor’s convention at a hotel four blocks down the street. We tore down fast and made it to the right gig, a little late, but all was saved.
From Herb Gardner:
Carrying his helicon home from a gig, Vince Giordano passed an outdoor flea market. One of the bargain hunters took one look at Vince with his horn and approvingly remarked, “Oh wow, what a find!”
Jack Stafford posted this on Facebook recently: When Lee Konitz lived out my way for a while near Monterey, California, Jim, a friend of mine decided to have a sax lesson with him. Jim had to save up his money because in those days, fifty dollars for an hour lesson was a lot of loot. When Jim got it together and went for his first lesson, he never even got to take his sax out of the case. Lee had him start the lesson by learning to sing the low B flat on the horn, without any help from anything. When the lesson was over, Jim said he felt cheated, but later on felt it was worth it.
Roy Wiegand once was in a trio that was hired for a street celebration in Los Angeles. They were put on a U-Haul flatbed truck that had a power generator up in the cab with the driver. After they had played for about ten minutes, Roy smelled gasoline. The sound system was turned up loud, so Roy had trouble alerting his bandmates that something was wrong. He shouted to them, but they just smiled and waved. Then the driver suddenly stopped and ran from the truck, and the musicians saw flames coming from the cab window. Roy’s trumpet case got singed, but his trumpet was okay, and the sax player was able to get all his instruments off the truck safely, but the keyboard player was unable to save his gear before the entire truck was engulfed in flames, and then blew up! It turned out that the generator had been left at an improper angle and its fuel had leaked out into the cab. Roy looked at the smoldering ruin and said, “Does this mean we’re not eating on the gig?”
Jack Stafford tells me that his friend, bass player Wyatt Ruther, was in one of Dave Brubeck’s early groups. He told Jack that he ended up giving his notice, because he could see that the group was going nowhere.