It was an unhappy day when we said goodbye to Hank Jones, who passed away on May 16 at the age of 91. He was one of the most wonderful jazz pianists to ever grace this city.
I had been a bass player for only a few years when I got my first opportunity to play with Hank. It was a commercial recording date, with a good studio band, and Hank made everything sound wonderful. We struck up a friendship on that date, and I was always glad to run into him now and then in the studios.
When I got my first steady gig in town, with Marian McPartland’s trio at the Hickory House, Victor Feldman dropped in one night to hear us. He had just arrived in New York from England, and came to visit Marian, whom he admired. Victor liked the way Joe Morello and I sounded with Marian, and invited us to play on a record date that he had booked with Keynote Records.
When we arrived at the recording studio, we found that Victor had hired Hank Jones as his pianist. The music was all original tunes of Victor’s. Hank made everything easy, choosing wonderful voicings and accompaniments for Victor’s vibraphone. A couple of times, when I played a bass note I hadn’t intended, Hank would say, “Oh, thank you!” and reharmonize his chord to include my wrong note.
We were all excited about the album when we heard the playbacks. But then Victor went on the road with Woody Herman, and when he came back to New York, he discovered that the record company had lost the master tapes! So Victor’s first album (really his second) was released on the West Coast. The lost tapes were never found.
On an online newsgroup, Ira Gitler was remembering Hank Jones, whom he knew for many years. At one of the Basque jazz festivals Ira and his wife lunched with Hank every day. Ira said, “Puns flew back and forth across the table, and he told jokes like the one about Mr. Opporknockity, the piano mechanic who only tuned but once.”
My friend Gordon Sapsed, in England, sends the following report:
The Concorde Club, like many jazz venues, is finding it hard to maintain an all-jazz schedule and has, increasingly, turned to “tribute acts” with a schedule that typically has on Tuesday a tribute to Rod Stewart, and on Thursday a tribute to Tom Jones.
On one jazz night we had Ken Peplowski and Bucky Pizzarelli. Introducing the band, Ken said, “Bucky is not only here this evening, he’ll be back in about three weeks from now doing his Michael Jackson tribute act.” There was laughter around the room, and then a slight apology from Ken, who said, “Maybe it’s a bit too soon for that line.”
However, as I was leaving the club, the receptionist called me over and said, “I have had several people wanting to book for Bucky Pizzarelli, who they say is back here in a couple of weeks, but I can’t see it in the schedule – do you know anything about it?”
Scott Robinson told me about his Danish friend Niels Lan Doky, who, when he arrived in this country at JFK, on his way to Berklee College of Music, boarded a bus for Boston. His seat mate noticed his accent and asked where he was from. “I’m from Denmark,” said Niels. “Oh, yes. Denmark,” said the seat mate. “Isn’t that the capital of Stockholm?”
Scott also reported on a record date he did with trombonist Dan Barrett. After one of his solos, Dan remarked, “Did anyone get the license number of that chord change?”
Bill Mays was visited at his home by an IRS auditor, who wanted to see Bill’s music studio and the second grand piano he had listed as a purchase for the year in question. After Bill answered a number of questions about the music business, contracts, etc., the auditor waved at the pianos and said, “You actually know how to play these things?” Bill said, “Yep, for about the last 50 years.” The auditor said, “I’d love to hear something.” Bill wasn’t sure if this was part of the audit. “What would you like to hear?” he asked. The auditor immediately said, “Fur Elise. Beethoven’s always been one of my favorites.” “Which piano?” asked Bill. “The Steinway.”
Bill says he had never played Beethoven before with such verve and conviction.
Lee Evans has been teaching at Pace University for the last two decades. In his Music Appreciation class, a student recently told him of a music lover he knew who named his cat Claude Depussy.
Years ago, Barney Bragin’s brother Jack was asked to play a special tribute for Cardinal Spellman at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Jack had a day gig at a school in Lawrence, Long Island, but he told them he was sick that day and played the gig. When he got back to work the next day, he was shown a copy of the New York Post that had his picture on page two, playing at the Spellman tribute. Barney says it all worked out okay.