While chatting on the phone recently, Frank Tate and I were remembering the late, great Dave McKenna, who spent most of his career playing solo piano. Dave sometimes denied being a jazz musician. “I’m a song player,” he would say. Dave loved good songs, but his jazz roots were always present. He walked better bass lines with his left hand than many jazz bass players do, and he always swung like mad. A lover of food and drink, Dave’s youthful overindulgences caught up with him in his final years. He once told me, “I suppose if I do what the doctor says, and cut down on the booze and rich food, I’ll live a little longer. But how will I know for sure?” Frank said that Dave broke him up completely one day when he told him, “In all my years in the music business, I’ve only been late 49 times!”
When the late Remo Palmier was very ill in Mount Sinai Hospital, Bill Wurtzel went to visit him. Remo was being given rehab for lost muscle tone, and hadn’t played for a while. When Bill took out his guitar and handed it to Remo, the nurse worried that he might drop it. Bill said, “He won’t… it’s a Gibson!” Remo took the guitar and played it beautifully. The nurses wheeled in some other patients to listen. Afterward, Bill got a laugh out of Remo when he told him, “Next time, they pay to listen!”
Fred Lyman sent me another Brew Moore story: In the early 1950’s, Brew was much admired by the jazz underground, but hadn’t had much exposure to the public. When he was booked for a Monday off-night at Birdland, he hoped his fortunes in the jazz world were improving. Fred wasn’t able to attend the performance, but the next time he saw Brew, he asked how it went. Brew said, “Well, I got there early. The rest of the band wasn’t there yet, so I pushed some chairs on the bandstand together and laid down across them to take a little nap. And they fired me!”
After playing for many years in a Minnesota bar band called the Jayhawks, Mark Olson played a concert at Zankel Hall. Afterward, his friend Eve Zanni visited him backstage, and teased him about the elaborate soundcheck that had been held beforehand, comparing it to his experiences with the Jayhawks. Drummer Danny Frankel quipped, “Yeah, what do you call the soundcheck for a bar band? First set!”
Carol Sloane sent me an e-mail asking if I knew where the term “short” got started, as the name for an automobile in the lingo of jazz musicians. I couldn’t help her. I started hearing that term used in the 1940’s in Seattle, and it seemed to already be a common expression. Carol said Jimmy Rowles once told her about Al Porcino driving up to his house in a large, four-door sedan. He got out and said to Jimmy, “I brought my long short.”
A bassist friend of John Robinson’s had a habit of letting out rather primal screams while playing, when the spirit moved him. Though heartfelt, the outbursts were a bit off-putting to certain bandleaders. On a social occasion off the bandstand, Johnny was telling someone about this bassist’s exuberances, and since he happened to be present, John thought a demonstration would be appropriate. He called to his friend, “Hey, man, give us a scream!” The bassist shook his head and said, “I can’t fake it!”
Lee Packtor, son of Jerry, Googled his son’s name, also Jerry, and found the December 2008 Bandroom paragraph I wrote about Jerry Packtor the elder. He called and introduced himself, and during a pleasant chat he gave me another story about Jerry. During the 1950’s, while he was playing with Lester Lanin’s orchestra, the band received an admonition from Lester about smoking. Jerry told Lester, “You don’t have to worry about me I’ve given up cigarettes.” Later, on a break, Jerry lit one up, and Lanin chided, “I thought you said you stopped smoking!” Jerry pointed to Lanin’s trombonist, Big Chief Russell Moore, a Pima Indian. He said, “I’m not smoking. I’m sending signals to the Chief!”
Barney Bragin called me from Florida to tell me that his old friend Bill Brenner had just passed away at the age of 91. Older members will remember his early days here in New York. Barney says that Bill was a rarity in the brass world, still having his trumpet chops in his 90’s. He recently played gigs with a big band and a Dixie group there in Florida.
Another nonagenarian, senior member John Duke, an 802 member since 1942, and now living in Texas, has written an engaging memoir of his career in the music world, titled “Johnny Duke, the Life and Times of a Well-Known Orchestra Leader.” For copies, call Word Publications at (806) 744-2220.