Moe Wechsler dropped by the office recently and gave me a couple of stories: He was once hired to play single piano for a couple of hours at a Christmas party. He ran through his entire repertoire of Christmas songs, forward and backward, and when his time was up he began packing up to leave. One of the guests asked him to play just one more song. Moe asked, “What do you want to hear?” “Dr. Zhivago” was the answer. “Why?” Moe asked. The man said, “It reminds me of Christmas.”
Moe also told me about a saxophone player who was strolling the tables at a restaurant in Germany. As the musician, still playing, headed toward Moe’s table, he gave an inquiring look and Moe said, “Stan Getz.” The saxophonist took his mouthpiece from his mouth just long enough to say, “I played him yesterday.”
Charles McCarty tells me that pianist/singer Johnny Andrews celebrated his 50th year as an entertainer at the Monkey Bar of the Hotel Elysee a few years ago. Charles and Johnny talked about how the music business had changed in their time. They agreed that, with bands getting smaller or disappearing entirely, it was good to be able to work as a single. Johnny said with a grin, “Not much help to you, though. Your singles future is probably confined to the race track or the graveyard.” (Charlie is a trumpet player.)
Pianist Walter Hautzig told Abba Bogin about a concert tour he played in Japan a few years ago. When he arrived at one city, the local impresario told him the concert was completely sold out. He said there would probably be a couple of hundred people waiting outside the concert hall that night, hoping for ticket returns or no-shows. Hautzig told the manager, “Put chairs behind me on the stage and sell tickets for them. More people will be able to hear the concert, and we will have more income.”
It was the first time that stage seats had ever been sold in that city. When Hautzig arrived, all the seats in the house and on the stage were filled. He walked onstage to welcoming applause, bowed to the audience in the house seats, then turned and bowed to the patrons on the stage. As he did, the 200 people on the stage rose in unison and returned his bow. Hautzig said it was difficult to restrain his laughter while playing the first composition.
Herb Gardner tells me that, while playing a solo piano cocktail hour for a celebrity gala, Vince Giordano looked up to see a fantasy coming to life. Jane Fonda was hurrying straight toward him, with outstretched arms and a beaming smile. But she stopped short about five feet from the piano, her face darkening into a frown. “You’re not Peter Duchin!” she exclaimed, as she turned and walked away.
Leo Ball used to provide the band for the acts that appeared at the Nanuet Theatre, up in Rockland County. The money wasn’t the greatest but it was steady, while it lasted. Poor business, coupled with rumors of mismanagement, had thrown a wet blanket on the musicians’ hopes for continued employment and three of them — Leo, Charlie Camilleri and Danny Stiles — were cheering themselves up after work at a bar in Nyack. Another guy at the bar, a well-dressed business-suit type, started a conversation with them. He mentioned that he had heard that the Nanuet Theatre was up for sale. “They’re willing to let it go for five million,” the man said. “It’s a steal at that price!” Charlie looked hopefully around the four of them and said, “All we need is one more guy!”
Randy Sandke told me about a dixieland job that tubaist David Ostwald was leading at a party honoring Senator Ted Kennedy, who was seated directly in front of the bandstand. David was shouting instructions to the other musicians as the band played. But the band thought it might have been better on this occasion if David hadn’t shouted in the Senator’s direction, at the top of his lungs, “Go back to the bridge!”
While providing the music for an affair for several hundred lawyers held in the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, saxophonist Vinnie Riccitelli leaned over to trombonist John Thorp. “I hear that Diogenes just came to the front door.,” he said. “But the guard said, ‘Go away! Wrong group!’ ”
Randy Sandke was playing a late-night set at a jazz festival in Cork, Ireland, last fall. He says the audience was enthusiastic, and also quite drunk. On the last tune, drummer Butch Miles climaxed his solo with a single stroke roll begun at lightning speed and then gradually slowed down until the individual beats were separate and deliberate. At which point a heckler yelled, “Use Duracells!”