Dave Frishberg remembered his first night with Ben Webster’s group at the Shalimar in Los Angeles. Ben was at the microphone introducing the next song, “Danny Boy,” and he turned to Dave at the piano and said, “Reminisce.” Dave said, “What?” and Ben repeated, “Reminisce.” Dave asked, “What are you talking about?” Webster explained, “When I’m talking to the people, you reminisce behind me.” Then Dave understood, and began to play soft chords as Ben spoke to the audience.
While Jon Berger was playing a concert version of Jesus Christ Superstar the director called in the choreographer to help spice up the visual part of the overture, since the band was onstage. After a playthrough, the choreographer looked up at the two synth players and said, “Could you at least move your heads a little? You look like Mount Rushmore!”
Ron Vincent was explaining the families of musical instruments to a group of young schoolchildren. To make sure they got the idea, he asked questions: “What family does the violin belong to? The saxophone? The trumpet?” The kids were doing well with the answers until he asked, “And my drums belong to what family?” A young boy quickly raised his hand. “I know! They belong to the persecution family!”
Howard Hirsch sent me a story that he got from violinist/composer William Zinn. When Zinn auditioned for the Pittsburgh Symphony, Fritz Reiner asked about his background. Zinn replied, “I sat next to the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic.” Reiner asked, “What season did you play with the Philharmonic?” Zinn replied, “I didn’t play with the Philharmonic. I sat next to the concertmaster in the Carnegie Delicatessen.” (Reiner hired him anyway.)
Joe Levinson in Chicago told me about a bandleader out that way named Bill Porter, an alumnus of the Stan Kenton trombone section. He got so busy around Chicago that he often had to send in subs on one-nighters with jobbing bands. One summer evening a big band had been booked to play an outdoor concert on the Navy Pier on Lake Michigan. Porter had been hired for the job, but hadn’t yet put in an appearance when a Navy submarine sailed into view and headed for the dock. Lenny Druss quipped, “Finally! Here comes Porter’s sub!”
Howard Williams told me about a gig he worked some years ago at a club called the Flagship out on Route 22 in New Jersey. Howard was hired as the piano player, but when the guy who hired him had a misunderstanding with the club owner, Howard wound up as the bandleader. They played for the acts that worked there, and Howard had the job of booking the musicians that each act required.
When Enzo Stuarti appeared there, his contract called for tympani. Howard told the boss what it would cost to rent a pair and have them delivered. The boss, a very tough cookie indeed, refused to bear the expense. Howard tried to find a cheaper source, but had no luck. When he told the boss this, and reminded him of the stipulation in Stuarti’s contract, the boss growled, “Screw him.”
At Stuarti’s rehearsal, the drummer played the opening roll on his floor tom-tom. Stuarti complained, and Howard directed him to the club owner, saying, “Don’t yell at me, go talk to that man over there.” The singer and the owner conferred in the office while the band took a break. Howard said that about half an hour later two very tough looking guys showed up with a brand new pair of tympani. “I don’t know where they got them,” said Howard, “and I wasn’t about to ask.”
Jimmy Cara worked with the late Lionel Hampton for a short time. Later, Jimmy was playing with the Sammy Kaye Orchestra at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum for President Reagan’s inaugural ball. He heard that Hampton’s band was playing on the other side of the building, and Jimmy and a few other musicians from Kaye’s band walked over to see Hamp. He hugged them and then, looking at the initials on their red band jackets, inquired, “Ah, ah, who you with now? Stan Kenton?”
On a break at the Café Carlyle during a gig with Bobby Short’s band, Arun Luthra and Eddie Bert were walking across the red carpeted lounge where patrons, seated on plush divans, were enjoying their coffee. An impeccably dressed gentleman stood by the coatroom with his pre-teen daughter, who wore a pretty dress, patent leather shoes, and pigtails. As Arun and Eddie walked by, the gentleman leaned down to his daughter, pointed, and said, “Look, honey! That’s a sideman!”
Doug Ramsey told me about a memorial played for the late Ray Brown at the Port Townsend (Wash.) jazz festival in July. Ray’s trio had been scheduled to appear, so John Clayton subbed for him. John also put together a choir of ten bassists as a tribute to Ray. When the pianist Dave Peck saw them all in a row carrying their instruments toward the stage, he said, “Ah, a walking bass line!”