The recent passing of Hugo Fiorato, former conductor of the New York City Ballet Orchestra, reminded Jay Blumenthal of the following story.
One of the things Hugo found particularly irksome was when orchestra musicians continuously looked down at their music, failing to watch him. His preference was to have all eyes trained on him, and he was quick to reprimand anyone caught doing otherwise.
During a rehearsal, Hugo called out a rehearsal letter to work through a difficult passage. The bass section failed to hear the letter clearly, and someone in the section called out the wrong starting point. Hugo began, with the basses clearly playing a different passage than the rest of the orchestra. Hearing the “train wreck,” Hugo stopped the orchestra and asked, “Basses! What happened?” Without missing a beat, Dave Walter, who was leading the section that day, replied, “We looked up!”
Ron Wasserman sent me this one about his teacher, David Baker.
David told his jazz history class, “Back a few years, Miles Davis had just come out with ‘Filles de Kilimanjaro.’ My boss at Downbeat told me to transcribe Miles’s solo so they could print it. So I did and it was published. A few weeks after that, my phone rings in the middle of the night. A gravelly voice on the other line says, ‘David Baker?’ I said yes. ‘This is Miles Davis. What the f___ are you doin’ puttin’ my s___ in that jive-ass magazine? You no-good m––f––!’ Miles cursed me up and down for about 15 minutes. I started sweating. I mean, it’s 3 a.m. and Miles Davis is on my phone yelling and cussing. After he was done there was a long silence. Then I hear him say in his gravelly voice, ‘That was some hip s___, though, wasn’t it?’ Click.”
Jack Stuckey told Dan Levinson about gigging with Benny Goodman on his last band. He said, when the band played “Don’t Be That Way,” the arrangement went into the key of D near the end, and the saxophones had a hard time playing the “B” melody note in tune. So Ted Nash started calling it “Don’t Play B That Way.”
Lew Del Gatto does a jazz series in Naples, Florida, with what he calls the Naples Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra (trumpet, tenor, violin and rhythm section). They bring in a guest artist every month. Recently the guest was Dante Luciani, a fine trombonist and professor of jazz studies at Miami University. He has played with Maynard Ferguson and Woody Herman, among others.
In the middle of the concert, someone shouted out a request for “Limehouse Blues.” Luciani quickly replied, “We aren’t going to play ‘Limehouse,’ but we will play a tune that uses many of the same notes.” After a good round of laughter with the audience, they played “Come Rain Or Come Shine.”
When Lloyd Wells was living in New York some years ago, he and his wife were on the subway. At one stop, Lew Tabackin got on, carrying his tenor and a suitcase. He spotted the Wellses and sat down with them, saying he had just returned from Europe. Lloyd joked that they were his bon voyage/welcome home party. When the train got to Lew’s stop, he headed for the door, and then turned and said, “I’ll let you guys know my travel plans as soon as I get home and check my schedule.”
Joe Levinson keeps me posted on the music scene in the Chicago area. Recently he told me about a drummer named Jack Brand, of Rockford, Illinois, who found a novel way of moving his equipment around. He saw a funeral director moving a heavy coffin out of a hearse with a collapsible four-wheeled cart. He found a source and bought a used one. The funeral people called it a “church truck,” but Jack called it his “death cart.” He laid a piece of plywood on the cart, spread out the metal parts on it, laid on another piece of plywood, and put the drums, without cases, on top.
At a jazz festival in Moline, Brand wheeled his “death cart” loaded with his drum set onstage just as the Louis Bellson band was playing “The Saint James Infirmary Blues.” The singer had come to the line “stretched out on a long white table…” just as the cart arrived, and the band began to break up laughing. Brand said they never did finish the tune.
Trumpeter Al Porcino has been living in Germany for some time. When Ken Berger was in Munich in 1979, he visited Al, and they had dinner together, after which Al suggested they go to hear Mal Waldron, who was playing at a small coffee house nearby. Parking was a problem, but Al finally squeezed his VW Beetle into a small space at the end of a block. The car was partially blocking a crosswalk, and Ken asked Al if he wasn’t afraid of getting a ticket. Al said, “I’ve got it covered,” and placed a small printed sign bearing an official-looking seal on the dashboard. The sign read, “City of Hoboken. Official Business.”