The Band Room
Volume CIX, No. 10October, 2009
Marlene Verplanck sent me a nice interview with her late husband Billy that had been published in the Jersey Jazz Society’s monthly newsletter.
Telling of his days as a big band trombone player, Billy described his time on the Jimmy Dorsey band:
“Jimmy broke up the band and went with Tommy… We were in Las Vegas when we got our notice. So I got back to New York and was in Charlie’s Tavern and Leon Cox said, “Do you want to join Claude Thornhill’s band?” I got on the band, and we played that marvelous arrangement of ‘Godchild.’ I said to Claude, ‘Do we really get paid to do this?’ I’ll never forget, he said, ‘Oh God, I hope so!’”
Billy was still on Claude’s band when I joined it in 1953. He had written a couple of very good charts for Claude. He was in love with the things that Gil Evans had written for the band. Claude didn’t have Gil’s scores on the road, but every night Billy would borrow the parts of Gil’s arrangements out of one or another of the books, take them back to his hotel room and copy them, and would return them to the music stands before the gig the next night.
By the end of that summer he had copies of all Gil’s parts, and from them he reconstructed the scores, which he studied avidly.
This unsigned story zipped around the Internet recently. It was sent to me by several of my e-mail pen-pals, including Joe Hanchrow and John Barbe:
A jazz trio, playing at an upscale nightclub, goes through several artistic renditions in elegant good taste, including a Wayne Shorter tune and a medley of lesser-known Harold Arlen songs.
Then a middle-aged man approaches the bandstand and requests “Lara’s Theme” from “Doctor Zhivago.”
The pianist explains that they are jazz musicians, and don’t usually take requests of that sort.
The man takes out three $100 bills and lays them on the piano. The pianist looks at the bassist and the drummer and says, “Lara’s Theme, in G.”
They play it well, emulating the orchestral textures of the original version, but this obviously does not require the same level of artistic concentration that their previous repertoire had demanded.
As the pianist plays, he absently thinks of the structure of the soundboard in his Steinway B, and wonders how the tonal characteristics might be altered if the grain in the wood ran the other way.
The bassist amuses himself with an assortment of well-placed double stops and harmonics as he daydreams about his mid-19th century bass made by the French master Paul Claudot, wondering how many times the top has been varnished, and how it had affected the tone of the instrument.
The drummer gazes at the single-ply, medium weight head of his 1950’s vintage black oyster pearl snare drum and thinks to himself, “One, two, three, one, two, three…”
A friend of Russ Kassoff’s, Norman Vickers, in Florida, passed along this story:
A California jazz fan named Duff Campbell visited New York, went to Eddie Condon’s club, introduced himself to Eddie, and told him he was a big fan of Turk Murphy. Eddie made some unflattering remarks about Turk, comparing his music to dinosaurs, etc, which shattered Duff. Upon returning to San Francisco, Duff reported Condon’s diatribe to Murphy, who laughed it off, saying Condon was just being Condon. Some time later Turk was contacted by George Avakian, then at Columbia Records, asking for a tune to be included in an Eddie Condon recording project that was tied to Eddie’s latest book. Turk responded with a most difficult tune, with many twists and turns, in the key of D flat. He titled it “Duff Campbell’s Revenge.” Condon wrote in his liner notes: “If we had been able to cover all the personalities and chapters in the book without doing a tune of Turk Murphy’s, we’d have gladly ducked the toughie in this collection, but the Bald Eagle that presides over the Columbia eyrie insisted that the discipline was good for us. It’s called Duff Campbell’s Revenge and the Head explained something about the meaning of the title, but we were too busy digging the manuscript… Frankly, the band staggered through this one; it’s a jawbreaker, and if you don’t believe it, listen to the general struggle. I am very fond of Turk. There’s a piece about him in the book. But he gave us a severe penance on this one.”
While Greg Thymius was waiting for the D train at 7th Avenue early one morning, he finished reading everything there was to read in his copy of AM New York, and with no train in sight, he decided to do the crossword puzzle. He isn’t a crossword fan, but he solved most of the puzzle fairly quickly. There was one corner that didn’t seem to work, until he realized what was wrong. For the four-letter word for “Hawk’s rival,” he had written “PREZ.” The puzzle maker was looking for the word “DOVE” in that spot. But for a moment, Greg had been impressed with the hipness of the folks at AM New York.
My old friend Stu Joseph, who is now living in Florida, asked me to spread the word about a project documenting the career of pianist Beryl Booker. Anyone who knew her or worked with her can add to the information pool by contacting Kent@BerylBooker.com.