Oscar Peterson told this story on a Jazz Cruise last year, and a friend of Marshall McDonald’s brother in New Orleans passed it along to him: On a Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic tour, most of the musicians would play poker in the basement while Ella Fitzgerald and her trio were on stage. They would park their instruments on a table in the theater wings as they filed downstairs. Oscar and one other musician who didn’t gamble stayed in the wings to listen to Ella, and Oscar’s eye wandered over to the table. He noticed that the mouthpiece on Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet had a shallow cup with a large bore, while Roy Eldridge’s had a deep cup with a small bore. He asked his colleague, “Shall we switch mouthpieces?” They did it.
When Ella went into “Lady Be Good,” it was a cue for the other musicians to return to the stage for the big finale. They all rushed upstairs, picked up their horns and ran onstage. Ella finished her scat, turned to Gillespie and said, “Take it, Diz!” He put his horn to his lips and went, “Splatt!” Roy, quick to the rescue, said, “I got it, Diz!” He put up his horn and went, “Squeeeak!” It brought down the house. Oscar Peterson said he didn’t dare tell the trumpeters who had perpetrated the sabotage.
Jeff Atterton passed along a letter he found in Jazz Journal from Kym Bonython in Adelaide, Australia. Bonython owned one of Pee Wee Russell’s paintings until it, along with his record collection and the rest of his belongings, was destroyed in a bush fire in 1983. Having been in the art gallery business, Bonython went to Russell’s New York apartment in 1965 to look at his paintings. When he asked, “How much for a painting like this?” Pee Wee replied, “Twenty-five hundred dollars.” Bonython said that was a bit more than he had intended to go. Pee Wee came back instantly, “How about four hundred?”
Another prospective customer once asked Pee Wee why his paintings were so expensive. Pee Wee replied, “Well, you know, they’re all hand made.”
Dick Sudhalter has discovered that those little adhesive springs that some athletes wear across the bridge of the nose to keep the nasal air passages open are useful as an aid to breathing while playing the trumpet and cornet. When Dick played a concert tour in Germany last year, the hot stage lights at one concert hall softened the adhesive on one side of the strip he was wearing. While he was taking a chorus, one end of the thing sprung loose and it stood straight out from his nose. In one quick move, Dick snatched it off and dropped it while continuing to play. At the end of the tune, during the applause, he mentally congratulated himself on his deft handling of the problem, and then stepped to the microphone to announce the next tune. As the audience quieted down, a lady in the front section called out loudly, “It’s on your sleeve!”
Irvin Karan told me about a Saturday night club date he played in the Hamptons with trombonists Danny Repole and Frank Vacarro. They were closing a set when the leader called Artie Shaw’s arrangement of “Stardust” and Tommy Dorsey’s “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.” After Danny played the Jack Jenny solo on “Stardust” and Dorsey’s theme song solo in its original key, the audience applauded their efforts. Then someone gave the band a laugh by asking, “Now can we hear Ravel’s ‘Bolero?'”
Dave Carey’s pianist son Norm was called by the friend of a friend to play a freebie for a worthy cause and said, “Okay, as a favor to my friend, I’ll do it.” Then he was told, “There may be a problem, it’s way upstate.” Norm said that was okay. “But I can’t get you transportation up there.” Norm said that was no problem, he’d get there. “One more thing. We don’t have a piano. Is that a problem.” There Norm drew the line. “Yes,” he said, “I think we have a problem.”
From Herb Gardner: Tony Tedesco was the drummer for a tribute to Cy Coleman at the 92nd Street Y. Although it was a demanding parade of showstoppers which required all of his technique as a percussionist, Tony played it flawlessly. As he walked through the lobby after the performance, a lady nodded approvingly and remarked, “Nice banging!”
On the way to the office the other day I noticed a sign in an Eighth Avenue delicatessen that should be brought to the attention of the ASPCA: FRESH SQUEEZED ORANG JUICE.
Just before he recently moved to the Kansas City area, Roger Wilder was the pianist on a gig we played with singer Glenda Davenport. Glenda called a standard tune in an unusual key, sang it beautifully, and then gave Roger and me a chorus each. Afterward, I whispered to Roger, “I can’t play any of my cliches in that key!” Roger whispered back, “You’re supposed to practice your cliches in every key!”