When Zoot Sims passed away in 1985, his widow, Louise, said that instead of a funeral, Zoot had asked that his friends throw a big party for him. With the help of many friends, she did, and those parties turned into an annual event, sponsored by the New School’s Zoot Sims Scholarship Fund, held in the school’s auditorium in Greenwich Village. Tenor man Turk Mauro’s friend and music-school partner Red Carraro brought a video camera to the first of those parties, in 1986, and Turk recently copied the footage Red shot onto a DVD and sent it to me. What nice memories! In one shot, of the set played by Gerry Mulligan, Roger Kellaway, Bob Rosengarden and me, I still had brown hair! Gerry and Roger sounded wonderful.
I also played on the second set, with Ben Aronov on piano and Ron Turso on drums, with a saxophone section made up of Turk, Al Cohn, Al Klink, Lew Tabackin and Bob Wilber. Lots of great solos and lively backgrounds. Then Dick Katz and Lee Konitz played a couple of lovely duets. Another duo was an exquisite performance by Bob Brookmeyer and Jim Hall. Ira Gitler and Paul Weinstein did the announcing.
Inserted into the filming of the concert is a shot taken in the outer lobby where everyone was noshing and socializing while Turk played with an off-camera pianist. As the camera wandered among the guests, I recognized Al Cohn’s dad Dave, and Clark Terry, Barry Harris, Eddie Locke, Mike and Sonny Canterino, Tommy Flanagan, Attila Zoller and Jimmy Heath, and also that denizen of the entrances to jazz clubs, Sidewalk Stanley.
Closing the CD was a group with a front line of trumpeters: Joe Wilder, Ted Curson, Red Rodney and John Glasel, who at the time was president of Local 802. John played the upright flugelhorn that he called a soprano tuba. The excellent rhythm section on that set was Frank Tate on bass, Ron Turso on drums and Don Friedman at the piano.
This CD reminded me of one of those Zoot parties a couple of years later, in the same New School auditorium. I was seated a couple of rows from the back of the hall, listening to the music while waiting to play. Dorothy Donegan had agreed to perform, but asked to go on early, since she had to get to an evening gig uptown.
Wearing her signature sequined Chanel cap, Dorothy played a couple of tunes, thanked the audience, and hurried up the aisle toward the exit doors. As she passed the row where I was sitting, a young girl rushed up to her and gushed, “Oh, Miss Donegan, you were wonderful!” Dorothy grabbed both her hands, held her at arms length and examined her with obvious approval, and then slowly inquired. “W-a-s I?”
Howard Heller tells me his 97-year old grandmother never uses glasses. She still drinks straight from the bottle.
He also told me a story he heard about a customer in a piano bar who kept requesting “That’s What You Are.” The pianist didn’t know the song, nor did the bartender or the maitre d’. The man became indignant. “The song was very popular when I was young,” the man said. “‘That’s What You Are’…you must know it!”
The pianist asked if he could sing a few bars of it, and the man complied: “Unforgettable… that’s what you are…”
Joe Lang sent me a new way to avoid any alcohol issues while driving:
“I went out with some friends last night and tied one on. Knowing that I was wasted, I did something that I have never done before. I took a bus home. I arrived home safe and warm, which seemed really surprising as I have never driven a bus before.”
In the early 1950’s, when Jimmy Wizner was the pianist with Charlie Ventura’s band playing a jazz club in Toronto, a couple at a table invited him and drummer Chick Keeney to their table during a break. They sat down, and the man said, “That was great! What would you like to drink?” Since neither of them drank, Jimmy ordered a ginger ale and Chick asked for a Coke. Then the man took out a pack of cigarettes and offered them to the musicians. But neither of them smoked, so they said, “No, thanks.” The guy grew angry, and said, “On second thought, I don’t think I want you guys at my table!” Jimmy and Chick quickly got up and left, sorry to have disillusioned the man about jazz musicians.
Ruby Braff was loved internationally for his beautiful cornet playing. But among those who knew him, it was understood that he could be difficult to deal with. Steve Voce, in England, told of a trip Ruby once made to London. His friend Dave Bennett found a hotel for him, and at 2 a.m. Bennett’s phone rang. Ruby didn’t like the hotel. Bennett said, “Okay, I’ll find you a better one in the morning.” “Not in the morning,” said Ruby. “Now.”
Bennett dressed and drove in to London, calmed Ruby and the outraged hotel staff he had been fighting with, and moved him to a different hotel, not an easy task at 3 a.m.
The next night the phone at the Bennett home rang at 2:30 a.m. Bennett and his wife Ann switched on the light and looked at each other in horror. She picked up the phone. It was the headmistress at the school where Ann worked, telling her that the school had just burned down.
“Oh, thank God,” said Ann.