Howard Johnson told me a story he heard about a 10 a.m. recording date in Los Angeles many years ago, for which Henry Mancini hired trombonist Frank Rosolino. Frank told Henry, “I have a gig the night before in San Francisco, but don’t worry. I’ll catch the early plane back and be here in plenty of time.” Henry did worry, but Frank reassured him that he had a booking on the early flight. But on the date of the gig Frank arrived 15 minutes late, apologizing to Henry with, “Sorry, I was fogged in at San Francisco.” Henry fumed, “I knew you’d come in here with that B.S., so I called the airport at San Francisco and they said it was clear there!” Frank said coolly, “I didn’t say the airport was fogged in. I said I was fogged in!”
Judd Woldin enjoyed the unintended humor provided by a very serious chanteuse he recently heard. She walked slowly to the microphone as the drummer played the opening of Ravel’s “Bolero,” and then began to sing her first number: “Do I Hear a Waltz?”
Herb Gardner was playing a party for a bunch of lawyers with Robbie Scott’s band. Robbie wanted to get the attention of his vocalist, Susan Scannell, who was across the room from the bandstand, and he called out, “Sue. Sue! SUE!” Herb cautioned him, “Robbie, around here, that’s like yelling ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater!”
During a break on another job, Herb saw a customer approaching after his name had been announced and he prepared to answer a question he is often asked, “Are you Herb Gardner the writer?” When the customer asked the question, Herb began to deny that he was the famous playwright, but the customer continued, “the one who sends all those stories to Bill Crow?” Herb told me, “For once I was able to puff up to my full height and say, ‘Why yes, as a matter of fact, I am Herb Gardner the writer!'”
Last year Bob Maxwell had to undergo surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. While he was being wheeled on a gurney to the operating room, he noticed that all the rooms on the long corridor had been closed down and boarded up. Bare work bulbs hung in the place of the normal lighting fixtures. It looked dark and ominous. By the time they arrived at Surgery, which was the only room still intact, Bob, distressed, asked his doctor, “What’s going on here?” “We’re shutting down this whole facility,” responded the surgeon. Bob told him, “I’ve closed many rooms in my time, but I’ve never closed a hospital before.”
Joe Levinson told me about a funny scene at the old Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. Bandleader Hal Monroe had assembled 16 musicians to play a dinner dance for a corporate client, and had hired vocalist Jimmy Damon to sing after dinner. Damon specialized in singing from table to table, and so had been provided with a microphone with a very long cord. When it was time for him to go on, the house lights were dimmed and Monroe prepared to conduct the show. He pointed to the drummer for a roll and then announced Damon. The band went into a fast vamp and Damon quickly headed for the spotlight at the center of the dance floor, uncoiling his mike cord in the darkness as he went.
The band waited for his first note, their cue to continue with the chart, but there was no sound from the vocalist. The musicians could see that Damon’s cord had gotten caught under one of the legs of the bandstand riser and he was tugging at it frantically, trying to free it. Realizing that something was wrong, Monroe looked over to see what was keeping the singer. Damon yelled, “The cord! The cord!” Monroe immediately cut the band off and shouted, “Chord!” And before Damon had a chance to begin his song, the whole band played a very final-sounding “Tadaaaaah!”
Sam Levine was once playing in a band at the Army-Navy Country Club in Arlington, Virginia. Since he was sitting near the end of the bandstand, dancers called several requests to him and he dutifully passed them on to the bandleader. When the requests were not immediately forthcoming, Sam received angry complaints from the dancers. His solution was to immediately play each request himself, in total disregard for what the rest of the band was playing. The resulting cacophony didn’t bother the club’s manager, who commended the band for “being very responsive to the audience.”
Ed Bonoff found a Mexican restaurant in New Rochelle whose owner seemed interested in his proposal to bring in a jazz group. Ed asked if there was a piano in the place. When the owner said no, Ed said, “That’s okay, I’ll use a guitar player instead.” The owner’s eyes lit up, and he responded eagerly, “Oh, yeah! Maybe three or four guitar players!” Ed convinced him that, in a jazz band, one guitar would do.