Greg Thymius passed along a story Harvey Estrin once told him, about an event at the Waldorf-Astoria for president Richard Nixon. There was a long break between the rehearsal and the performance, and during the break, Harvey squeezed in a record date. When he returned to the hotel, he was stopped by Secret Service agents, who couldn’t find his name on any official list. He told them he would be vouched for by people in the ballroom, and two agents escorted him there, each holding him by an arm. Going up the stairs, they met the drummer, who, when queried about Harvey, said, “I’ve never seen this man in my life.” The agent’s grips tightened on Harvey’s arms, and suddenly he found himself on his back on the floor. “No, no,” said the drummer, “I was only kidding! He’s Harvey Estrin, our lead alto sax player!” But it wasn’t until the bandleader came and identified him that the agents let him go. “Okay, thank you,” they said, and headed back toward the door. Harvey stifled an impulse to shout, “And don’t come back!” He had learned that those guys don’t laugh too easily.
Tony Posk sent me a quote from Jascha Heifetz that was published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1993:
Once, in Seattle, just before a concert, I was running through my arrangement of Debussy’s “L’Enfant Prodigue.” I wasn’t satisfied with the way I was playing the ending, and kept doing it over and over. I was trying different ways of playing a certain passage. As I was practicing, a waiter came in to wheel out a tray which had contained my lunch. A bus boy followed on his heels. Both of them watched in amazement while I struggled. As they closed the door I just managed to hear the waiter tell the bus boy, “What a racket! This guy is giving a concert tonight, and he don’t even know how to play!”
Dan Block told me about a gig he did with Mike Kanan at Arturo’s, a venue Dan refers to as the “Yellow Ribbon Zone” because of the dumb requests they get there. A singer there asked if they knew any Oscar Brown tunes, and Dan asked if she knew any standards. “All right.” “How about ‘I Thought About You’?” “All right.” “What key?” (haughty stare) “E Minor diminished.”
Herb Gardner met a lady at a jazz festival who said she had been able to fulfill her late husband’s last request. All of the clergy at his funeral wore bright yellow T-shirts marked, “EVENT STAFF”.
When Forrest Buchtel was with Duke Ellington, backstage at Caesar’s Palace, he was asked by Duke’s son Mercer if he was comfortable playing with the band. He answered, “Duke doesn’t talk to me very much.” Mercer asked the other members of the band, “He talk to any of you?” Forrest heard, “Not me,” several times. Someone said, “He talked to me about a week ago. Nobody since, I guess.” Mercer said to Forrest, “You’re the only one he’s talking to.”
Bill Zinn’s Ragtime String Quartet featured Gay Nineties costumes, a barber pole support for the music stand, a cymbal-playing mechanical monkey, finger cymbals on the tip of the cellist’s bow, a Bombay carriage horn for tuning, and a prop telephone that could be rung with a foot switch. Zinn would ring the phone, answer it and say, “Hello. Jascha? Jascha who? Oh, Heifetz! Sorry, Jascha, I’m busy giving a concert and can’t give you a violin lesson. Call me tomorrow.”
On one concert that was booked at a college in Springfield, Mass., the quartet arrived early, set up their stage paraphernalia and sound system, donned their costumes and took the stage, to discover that there was no audience. The absent-minded professor who had booked them had advertised a different date.
Apologies were offered, but the musicians were told that they would have to play the concert if they wanted to be paid. The professor found one student who was appointed to be the audience, and they proceeded with their performance for an audience of one.
When they finished, the student arose from her seat and applauded wildly. Shouting “Bravo!” The quartet invited her up to the stage, where they discovered that she was quite deaf. Her hearing aid batteries had gone dead, and she hadn’t had time to go to her locker for fresh ones.
Eric Hochberg sent me this one: Chicago pianist Larry Novak was opening with his trio for Oscar Peterson at the London House. After his set, he was sitting in a booth with Oscar when a guy from the audience came up wanting “your autograph, Mr. Peterson” and handed the paper and pen to Larry! Oscar kept quiet and Larry signed.
Scott Robinson was playing at the Ear Inn one night. Jon Kellso called a tune and then specified “five flats.”
“Just like my old Rambler!” Greg Cohen exclaimed. “Even the spare was flat!”