Tony Mottola Jr. posted this one on the Internet: Back in the 1980’s my father was with Sinatra at Symphony Hall in Boston. They were doing, as they did every show, a few duets, just Frank and guitar. They were into “These Foolish Things” and things were going swell until they came to the release. Frank drew a blank. He looked at my dad and said (on mike): “What’s the next line?” Without missing a beat, Dad said, “I don’t know, Frank, but the next chord is C-sharp minor seventh.” At which point a woman stood up and sang out, “You came, you saw, you conquered me…” It got a big laugh and they moved on with the concert.
Dave Carey was with the Sinatra orchestra the first time Frank Sinatra Jr. took the baton for a concert. He told me that Sinatra senior rehearsed the entire book that day, which was unusual. The band enjoyed playing all that good music, and the young Sinatra got to hear everything his father might sing, and to practice conducting it all. That night, the fledgling conductor was very nervous. He gave the orchestra a miscue in the middle of one number, and things got so confused that Sinatra stopped singing and cut off the band. He handed the microphone to his son and said, “Here, you sing, and I’ll conduct.” Young Frank sang nicely, Frank senior conducted very well, and that was how they finished the number.
From Herb Gardner: One night Vince Giordano started his old Volkswagen squareback and discovered that the cable from the gas pedal to the throttle had snapped. He took a string from his bass, tied one end to the throttle arm, ran the string up to the driver’s seat and wrapped it around a drum stick. He was able to make the engine go by pulling on the drum stick, and got home just fine.
George Maniere was playing a show called “The Rink.” One day he walked across the street from the theatre with Johnny Campo, who has a very strong work ethic, never missing a show. They headed for a deli, George to get coffee, and Johnny to buy a lottery ticket. The lotto was up to $24 million that week. Johnny told George, in all seriousness, “If I win the $24 million, no more matinees!”
A few years ago the Canadian pianist Oliver Jones was playing a club in New York. Joe Lang told me that the sign promoting his appearance listed Oliver as “Canada’s answer to Oscar Peterson.”
John Thomas was watching the Jazz Channel on cable TV. The caption at the top of the screen identified the film “Let’s Get Lost,” with the trumpet player “Chet Atkins.”
During over 18 years with the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, William Zinn sat in every seat of the violin section as needed, from concertmaster to principal second violin. After the intermission at each performance, it was customary for conductor Al Bergeret to shake hands with the principal players he could reach. Zinn received a handshake for many years, but when he became the permanent principal second violin, he sat too far from the podium. He found a lifelike plastic hand in a Broadway joke shop, attached it to a broomstick, and brought it into the orchestra pit at Symphony Space. When Bergeret began shaking the hands of the principals, Zinn reached his fake hand into the front row of musicians. When the conductor grasped it, Zinn let go of it, leaving him vigorously shaking a disembodied hand. The audience never knew what the musicians were laughing about that day.
John Altman told me about an incident in London, in a basement club in Soho in the late 1970’s. John was playing baritone sax in a band led by a fine English stride pianist, which also included a good jazz violinist and two guitarists. The rhythm guitar player fit well into the rhythm section, but he doubled on a soprano sax that he would whip out at unpredictable moments, making a sound that reminded John of amplified feedback. On one set, just as John felt the band was sounding really good, he was surprised to see Bud Freeman, who was then living in London, coming down the stairs followed by Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, Bob Haggart and Eddie Miller. As Bud’s foot hit the bottom step, the rhythm guitarist chose that moment to add the wail of his soprano sax to the sound of the band. Bud executed a quick 180, pushing the others back up the stairs to safety outside the club. John says, “If I were charitable, I’d say he thought the fire alarm was going off, but I know better!”
Rob McConnell told me about a night that the late Jimmy Rowles wanted a drink, and headed into a club where the music was being provided by a group led by a tenor player who didn’t have a firm grasp on the art of improvisation. Jimmy made his way to the bar and suffered through a couple of tunes. Then, when the band took a break, he found himself confronted by the tenor man, who recognized Jimmy, and asked him how he liked his playing. Jimmy’s version of diplomacy was to say, “Hey, man… that was great. I heard the changes passing you by!” Fortunately, the guy took it as a compliment.