Larry Benz spends his summers in Santa Fe. Since he likes to work on cars, he has become a member of a sports car club that meets every Tuesday noon at the Santa Fe Bar and Grill. He says it was no harder joining the Car Club than becoming a member of 802. In 1963 the doorbell to his West 76th Street apartment rang. He went down and met a cigar-smoking union rep, who asked him to play a B-flat scale. Larry went back to his room and assembled his trombone, came back to the foyer and played a B-flat scale. The man said, “Good, kid,” and left.
At the Car Club last June, Larry met Denise McCluggage, a regular at the Tuesday meetings. In 1961, Denise won the endurance auto race “12 Hours at Sebring” in a Ferrari. They got to talking about New York in the 1960’s. At that time she had taken a gig as sports reporter for the New York Herald Tribune and had fallen into the jazz social scene with Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis.
She said that Miles approached her one evening asking if she would help him buy a Ferrari. They made a date to go to the dealership on the East Side. In the showroom, Miles circled around the car he had his eye on. Someone checking out another Ferrari hit the horn button and Miles said “E, G!” Denise asked, “What do you mean?” Miles said, “Those are the pitches of the horn.”
Miles bought his Ferrari.
During the last year of Miles’s life, Roger Rosenberg was called by contractor Gil Goldstein to be part of the band backing Davis at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Gil Evans and Quincy Jones had provided the orchestrations, and Roger was ecstatic to be playing such fine music. When he returned to New York, Roger was called by Goldstein for another date, this time backing puppeteer Shari Lewis. Roger told Gil, “You never know where you’ll be in the music business… One day playing with Miles, and the next day with Lamb Chop!”
I recently played a library concert in Manalapan, New Jersey with Marty Napoleon’s trio, with Ray Mosca on drums. We were the remaining members of Marty’s quartet that played the New York World’s Fair in 1965 with the late Joe Puma on guitar. Marty told the Manalapan audience about our first night at the Top of the Fair restaurant. Tony Cabot, the head of Restaurant Associates, gave us the run-down before our first set: “No conversations. I don’t want musicians talking to the customers,” he told us. “And don’t hang around the dining room or the bar on your break. Don’t take long breaks. Stay on the schedule. No drinks, no food. Keep the music soft. Now, go out there and have some fun!” Joe Puma asked him, “How?”
Back in the 1950’s, during the days when I was living in a basement apartment on West 10th Street with Dave Lambert, we were walking north from Charlie’s Tavern toward Columbus Circle one day and passed the Huntoon-Raffo auto dealership. In the window were several used Cadillac hearses. Dave’s eyes lit up. “What a great car that would be for a quartet!” he said. “All that room in back, and they would have to be low mileage… they only drive them from the funeral home to the cemetery and back!” He went right in and found out about prices, and began making plans. He had visions of a group traveling on the road with Barcaloungers in the coffin bay. Eventually Dave outfitted one of the agency’s older models for a scientist friend, who was heading for the Southwest with a lot of weather equipment, and who needed a large, reliable vehicle. Dave never was able to convince any of the traveling jazz groups he knew to let him design a hearse for them, but he did love making the plans.
Jim Ford told me that the GI’s at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, were once standing outside for their usual early morning formation. The executive officer, who was in search of athletes for the institute’s team, announced: “It has come to my attention that one of you has played in the Rose Bowl. Will the person who played in the Rose Bowl step forward?” A not very athletic-looking soldier did what was asked. The officer then said: “What position did you play?” The soldier answered smartly: “Left clarinet, sir.” The laughter lasted quite a long while.
The late British tenor man and club owner Ronnie Scott once told me that he was standing one day on the platform of a tube station in London, and he suddenly realized that the man standing next to him was Charles Laughton. Ronnie said excitedly to the great actor, “Excuse me, sir, but I just have to say what a great fan of yours I am. I have seen everything you’ve ever done, and admire your work tremendously.” Laughton thanked him, and asked, “Are you an actor?” Scott replied, “No, I’m a jazz musician.” Laughton considered this for a moment, and then inquired, “Do you have any pot?”