Here’s one that made its way around the theatres:
The orchestra for a Broadway show had just gone into the pit. The second viola player was still in the band room, changing a string, when the company manager rushed in and said, “The conductor just had a heart attack, and they’ve taken him to the hospital! The assistant conductor has already checked in and gone home. Does anyone else know how to conduct the show?” The viola player said, “Actually, I’ve watched some rehearsals, and I think I can do it.” She went into the pit and stood at the conductor’s podium. Sure enough, she knew the show well enough to get them through the performance without any train wrecks, and she went home feeling satisfied that she had saved the show. The next night, she took her usual place in the string section. The first violist looked at her and said, “Well, where were you last night?”
One of the last jobs that Al Cohn and Zoot Sims played together was at one of our favorite clubs, in Edgewater, New Jersey, called Struggles. I was happy to be in the rhythm section. When Al got on the bandstand, he handed me a little slip of paper on which he had written some chord changes. “I wrote a new bossa nova,” he said. There was no music stand there, so I Scotch taped the slip of paper to the back of Zoot’s jacket. He was standing right in front of me, and the spotlight was lighting up his front, but his back was dark, and I couldn’t see the first chord very well. What I saw was a C7, but he had written a Cm7, and I missed the little “m.” I played a major third in my line by mistake. I heard that it was wrong, and I corrected it the next time around. After the set, Al said to me, “Hey, you played a major third on the first chord of that bossa nova.” I said, “But I only did it once!” Al said, “Yeah, but after that, on every chorus, I worried!”
On Facebook, Chuck Erdahl told about a wedding guest who kept hounding the keyboard player to let him play. So the keyboard player secretly set some “aftertouch effects” on his DX7 and let the guy sit in. As the band played “Johnny B. Goode,” a wild boogie woogie with undulating pitch and dynamics poured out of the DX7, making the guy give up in about 20 seconds, and cracking the band up.
Barry Nitikman told his Facebook group about an outdoor society gig at a private home in Montecito, California on a very chilly night. The caterer had provided heaters for the guest tables, but none for the band. The guests said they were freezing, so they were invited inside to continue the party in comfort. The band remained outside, with the family dog. Eventually someone noticed that the poor dog looked cold and let him inside, while the band played on.
From Herb Gardner:
There was a trio job in Westchester County on which the trombone and banjo players, discovering that the last train back to Manhattan departed before the final set, left Art Hovey, the tuba player, to finish the gig alone. Art later confirmed the story: “Oh yes, I started with a Dixieland tune and went into a sing-along medley. Then I decided it was time for a ‘Tuba Feature’ number!”
From Ed Palermo:
Here’s one involving the great trombonist Randy Andos. I was playing a gig with Randy and during the break, the guitarist was telling us about his upcoming wedding. Of course, Randy and I asked him if he had hired a band. The guitarist said he had hired a duo. Without missing a beat, Randy asked, “Who’s playing trombone?”
Keith Bishop told about a TV show he once played with Buddy Rich’s band. They accompanied guest artist Ray Charles. At the rehearsal, Ray wasn’t happy with the way the sax section was phrasing a particular lick. He demonstrated what he wanted by playing it on the piano three times in succession, but each time he played it, he phrased it differently. Of course, when he asked, “Got it?” the musicians all said, “Yes!”
Another one from Keith Bishop: some years ago, Keith was playing a show in Munich. The hotel management wouldn’t let him practice his tenor in his room, so he used to go out into a huge park called the Englisch Garten, where he had found a secluded spot in a grove of trees where he could play without disturbing anyone. Sometimes, people would follow the sound and occasionally would throw coins in his horn case. One bilingual German lady said she had enjoyed hearing him play. He told her he appreciated that no one had stopped him from practicing in the park. He said, “If this had been in the U.S., I would have been arrested by now.” She explained that this was the new Germany, with all the attendant freedoms. As soon as she had said that, two policemen approached, and using the lady as an interpreter, told Keith that he wasn’t allowed to play there. She told Keith that maybe she was wrong about the new Germany.