I once knew a piano player who wrote a song with a name embedded in the lyric in a way that didn’t require a rhyme. He could change the name every time he sang it for a different girlfriend or partner, and could claim he had written it just for her. After I posted that on Facebook, I got the following reply from Tim Roberts:
Jimmy Van Heusen and Phil Silvers had a duo in the 1930s that played private parties and birthdays. They wrote a song, “_______With The Laughing Face,” and changed the name at every party. When they played Nancy Sinatra’s birthday and did that, Frank ran up, thanking them profusely for writing a song just for her. Because Frank had said it, it stayed as “Nancy With The Laughing Face.”
Also on Facebook, Ray Vega posted this story about the late Howard Johnson:
My trumpet was stolen in the fall of 1978, right before I was to start taking college auditions. This loss threw me for a real tailspin, as my mother had purchased the horn with monies from my grandfather, who had passed several months before. It was my first Bach trumpet, and as a kid from the projects with limited resources, I really treasured this horn. I had auditions coming up, and now I didn’t even own a trumpet.
Stan Shafran, who was my private teacher at that time, shared the story of my incident to his dear friend Howard Johnson. I didn’t know Howard personally, but I knew who he was from all of his recordings, his work on SNL and his group, Gravity. Howard instructed Stan to give me his number. I called Howard and he said that he could lend me a horn until I worked things out.
I went to Howard’s loft. Soon after my arrival he put a beautiful vintage King trumpet in my hands, with a nice gig bag, and then said, “Keep the horn. You need some positive vibes after what you’ve been through.” As you can imagine, I was completely blown away.
With the pandemic having eliminated hanging out in bandrooms and musicians’ bars to exchange stories, Facebook has become a good place to find material for this column. Mike LeDonne recently posted this:
Jake Hanna told me this story back when I was playing with Benny Goodman. He went to a rehearsal with BG for a big band gig and, as he was known to do, Benny made some kind of negative comment to Hanna at the beginning of the rehearsal. Instead of defending himself, Jake just said, “Strike one.” A little while later Goodman made another critical comment, and Jake said, “Strike two.” Before the break, Goodman made another negative remark to Jake. When they came back from the break, the drums and Jake were gone.
Lou Califano posted this:
I remember doing a floor show one night. Two guys wanted us to bring them on with “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” in F sharp. The pianist asked who was singing. They said neither. So the pianist said to me, “We will do it in F.” One guy heard him and said, “No, it has to be in F sharp. It’s brighter that way.” So we said okay, but we brought them on in F. After the show, one of them said, “See what I mean about F sharp?”
AlIan Zolnekoff wrote on Facebook that he volunteered to pick up and drive Jimmy Rowles to play at the Playboy Jazz Festival one year. Jimmy grabbed some sheet music as they left his house, saying, “This is our ace in the hole, kid.” When they got to the first traffic cop at the bowl, Jimmy waved the music and proclaimed very authoritatively, “We need to get this music to Zoot Sims now!” He repeated his claim with several other traffic cops going up the hill. They had no parking credentials for the gig, but the next thing Allan knew, he was parking his Mercedes under the bowl stage right near Bill Cosby’s Rolls Royce.
Gary Burton is well known for playing the vibraphone with four mallets, and wasn’t sure what to say to a man who came up after a concert and said, “You know, when you get going really fast, it looks to me like you’re holding two of those things in each hand!” Gary just said, “Thanks,” but wondered how the guy thought he was playing full chords with just two mallets.
After a college date in Illinois, a man came up to Gary and told him he admired his playing. “I’ve only heard one other player who plays the vibes that way.” Curious, Gary asked who it might be. “It was a long time ago, back in the 1960s, there was a kid through here with Stan Getz’s band who played just like you.” Of course, the kid with Getz was Gary.