Steve Turi wrote to me about his late uncle, trombonist Joe Turi. Steve says that Joe always arrived early on jobs. He lived in Point Pleasant, N.J., over an hour from Manhattan by car, and he would leave home anywhere between four and eight hours before starting time to be sure he’d arrive at a gig in plenty of time. His family thought this might be excessive, but Joe felt that it wasn’t.
One evening he arrived at the Waldorf and was stopped by a couple of very serious-looking guys in suits, Secret Service agents who were running interference for the President, who was to be a guest at the affair. “You’re not on our list,” they told him. Joe said, “It’s okay, I’m with the band.” The agents searched his horn, case, mute bag and person, and then led him to the bandstand. “Is this guy with you?” they asked. The musicians looked at Joe and told the agents, “We never saw him before in our lives!” At this, the agents had Joe’s feet off the floor and headed for the door. The musicians on the job hurriedly explained that Joe was a musician, but wasn’t booked on that job. Joe consulted his date book and discovered that he had arrived even earlier than he thought – exactly one week early.
Steve also sent me a couple of pieces of advice that his uncle Joe gave him: “There’s music, and there’s the music business. Never confuse one with the other.” And: “There are three things that one never discusses in polite company. Politics, religion and intonation.”
Don Leight recalls his first trip with a road band with some chagrin. Shep Fields hired him in 1948, not long after Don got out of the armed services. Don didn’t mind going on the road since he had several friends on the band. Fields explained the deal to him: “Your salary is $100 a week, based on seven nights work. If we have days off you’ll get your salary, but you’ll owe me for the days off. When we get to the gig at the Cocoanut Grove in California, where the money is better, you can pay me back.” This sort of pro-rata system was common in those days. Most bands had schedules without too many holes in them. But Fields had so many days off on the way to California that by the time the band got to the Cocoanut Grove, Don owed the leader $400.
Herb Gardner had a job at the top of the RCA Building during the parade of tall ships up the Hudson on July 4, 1976. Terrible traffic was predicted so Herb switched his trombone to a hard case and took a train into the city. When he opened the case ten minutes before the gig started, he discovered that he had left his slide at home in his other case. He hurried down 80 floors to the street, sure that every other nearby trombone player would be working and that local music stores were closed for the holiday. But he found a pawn shop that was open and rushed back with a corroded old trombone, on which he played the rest of the job. Herb says the pawnbroker felt so bad about the condition of the horn that he included a free book: “How to Play the Trombone.”
Burt Collins told Leo Ball about a bandleader he was working with who often stuttered when he spoke. At one point the leader told his musicians, “I’m going to count four. If I’m not able to say ‘four’ . . . don’t play a waltz!”
Terry Teachout passed this one along via the internet: John Farrell was playing stride piano with a London-based jazz band. The Irish club owner, who had been testing the strength of his bar whisky, came to the bandstand to request a tune. “Play ‘Paddy Me Boy,'” he boozily insisted. Farrell said, “None of us had heard of it but, wanting to keep him sweet, we asked how it went.” The club owner sang, “Paddy, me boy, is that the Chattanooga choo-choo?”
Along those same lines, Paul Gurevich told me that while he was strolling with his violin at the Palm Court, a lady at one of the tables asked him to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sinatra.” “So I played it!” said Paul. Another guest asked for the Love Theme from Beethoven’s Fifth. I asked, “Did you play that, too?” “Of course,” said Paul.
Jon Owens told me a story he heard about Charles Earland. Evidently Charles’s bass player had gotten interested in playing extended solos with the bow. Charles let him go for a few nights to see where he’d go with it, but one night he felt his bassist’s explorations had gone on much too long. Charles went to the microphone, cupped his hands around it to imitate the hollow sound of a SWAT team bullhorn, and called out with deliberate authority, “Put the bow down! Slowly! Put your hands in the air, and step away from the bass!”
Phyllis Ger is the daughter of Mort Stulmaker, who played bass with Bunny Berigan’s band, as well as with Eddie Condon, Red Nichols, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, etc. (Mort’s name is spelled Stuhlmaker in some reference books.) He also played piano and organ, and gave organ lessons at Macy’s. Phyllis is working on a research project and would like to contact any musicians who remember Mort. If anyone would like to contact her, write to me here at Local 802, and I’ll be happy to forward it to her.