Harvey Kaiser passed along a story he got from Sonny Stitt:
Sonny was once playing at a New York theater. In his stocking feet, he stepped out of the dressing room for a minute, and when he returned, he discovered that his brand new pair of Florsheim wing tip shoes was missing. He heard a noise at the open window, looked out, and saw Charlie Parker descending the fire escape stairs. Sonny played the next show without shoes.
Harvey got the second part of this story from reed repairman Saul Fromkin. Charlie Parker had brought his horn in for some needed repairs. He said he didn’t have any money, but he had a brown paper bag that he left with Saul, saying that it was collateral. “Keep this,” he said, “but don’t open it.” Saul told him his horn would be ready in a couple of weeks.
Time went by, and Parker didn’t return for his horn. After a couple of months, Fromkin became curious and opened the brown paper bag. Inside were a pair of Florsheim wing tip shoes, the soles well worn. When Parker eventually returned for his horn, he paid for the repairs and collected his brown paper bag. Fromkin said nothing about the shoes.
In December 1969, Howard Danziger’s wife, Lori, had a booking at the Skyline Hotel in Ottawa. They arrived at the hotel on a Monday for a 2 p.m. rehearsal and were pleasantly surprised to find a ten-piece band waiting for them. Howard began rehearsing Lori’s opening number, an up-tempo arrangement in B major. During the first eight bars, Howard realized that something was missing. He looked at the baritone sax player and saw that his mouthpiece was not in his mouth. He stopped the band and had the following conversation with the guy:
“Excuse me, but I noticed that you haven’t played a note of my chart. Do you read music?”
“Is this not one of those times, or do you just read music on alternate Thursdays?”
“If you want to know the truth, I can’t read music, ever! But, please don’t report me to the management, ‘cause they’ll fire me. To make up for it, I’ll draw a caricature of you that you’ll never forget.”
Howard didn’t report him, and did get an excellent caricature of himself. He says, “I proudly display it on my piano to this day. It’s a great conversation piece.”
Reminiscing with me via e-mail about the late Manny Albam, Doug Ramsey told me:
We met by chance one night at the Vanguard because the joint was full, and Max Gordon installed me at Manny’s table. I bought Manny a drink. Years later, in California, I wound up at a table with Manny, Bob Brookmeyer, Herb Geller, and their wives, and Bill Perkins. It had been at least 15 years since I had seen Manny, but he remembered me. “You bought me a cognac,” he said. “I’ve never forgotten that. Nobody ever buys me a drink.”
Ron Mills, while fronting a combo at a dance in Chicago, was approached by a couple of dancers. The husband asked, with an earnest look, “Do you play a lot of songs in the key of F? That’s the key I dance best to.” The wife nodded in agreement. As the night progressed, Ron couldn’t see any difference in their dancing whether the band was in F or D- flat, but he scrupulously announced the key whenever they were in F, and the couple eagerly took the floor on those tunes.
When William Zinn had an audition for the New York City Opera, he was asked to bring a duet for violins to show ensemble ability. Since he had played with Michael Rabin in string quartets, and Rabin had an apartment near Lincoln Center, Zinn thought he would drop in on him and practice the duet. When he arrived at Rabin’s door, he heard him practicing the Mendelssohn violin concerto. He took out his violin, waited for a pause in Rabin’s playing, and then played the next passage in the hallway. When Zinn stopped playing, Rabin continued the passage on the other side of the door. They alternated in this manner until the end of the movement. Then Rabin shouted, “Bill Zinn!” and opened the door, saying, “I knew it was you!” Zinn asked, “Did you recognize my sound?” Rabin replied, “I figured only you would pull a stunt like that!”
They practiced Zinn’s duet together, and Zinn got the job with the NYC Opera.
In the early 90’s, tenorman Peck Allmond used to play jazz brunches in Carroll Gardens, before the gentrification of that neighborhood. On one Sunday, with Joe Cohn on guitar and Doug Weiss on bass, Peck noticed a group of tough-looking older guys at the bar, already deep in their cups. They mostly weren’t paying any attention to the trio’s music, except for one guy who kept shouting drunkenly, “Can’t you play some of the old songs?” Peck began calling old favorites of his own, like “Lady Be Good,” “Blue Skies” and “Sweet Sue,” but the guy kept grousing about wanting “old songs!” Peck decided to have it out with the customer. “Sir, we’re doing our best to play old songs for you. That last one was from 1925.” Looking exasperated, the man said, “Dammit, I’m talking about the old songs! Like (sings) “Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head…”
This story originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Allegro, the magazine of the New York City musicians’ union (AFM Local 802). For reprint requests, send an e-mail to editor Mikael Elsila at Allegro@Local802afm.org.