Andrew Schulman, who plays the eight-string guitar, was invited to do a five-concert solo tour of the Soviet Union in the fall of 1991, while the dissolution of the USSR was already under way. Andrew played concerts in Smolensk, Petrozavodsk, St. Petersberg (two) and, finally, Moscow. He had played comedy clubs in the U.S., but found it difficult to project much humor across the language barrier in Russia. During the last concert he got an idea. When he announced his encore, he said, deadpan, “Musica…by Lennon.” Of course, the audience heard, “by Lenin.” Andrew told me, “The eyes of 300 people popped open, every jaw dropped, and you could instantly smell the fear in the room! It was as if they were all thinking, ‘After 74 years of Communism, who knew that Lenin wrote guitar music?’ The mere mention of his name was chilling. With my comedy club training, I mentally counted to three, and then with the same serious expression and in a very loud voice I said, ‘Norwegian Wood, by…Johhhhn Lennon.'” Andrew said it was the best and longest laugh that he will probably ever get in his life.
John Barbe writes: As a nightclub owner, I hired a pianist and a drummer to entertain my customers. After several performances, I discovered that the drummer had walked away with some of my valuables. I notified the police, who arrested him. Desperate for another drummer, I called a friend who knew some musicians. He asked, “What happened to the other drummer you had?” “I had him arrested,” I replied. We said goodbye and hung up. A few minutes later my friend called back and asked, “How badly did he play?”
Jim Hall told me about a Norman Granz tour he did with Ella Fitzgerald. At one concert hall he heard Granz announce his name and ran onstage to a roar of applause, then realized that he didn’t have his guitar with him. He ran back offstage, grabbed the guitar, and ran out again for an anticlimactic second entrance.
That reminded me of a time, years ago, when I stopped by Jim’s apartment to drive him to a gig. He had been waiting for the door buzzer with his hat and coat on, and as soon as it buzzed he grabbed his guitar and amp and ran out the apartment door. He only got a few feet into the hall before he was brought up short by the amp’s power cord, which was still plugged into the wall. The jolt pulled the cord and a couple of tubes loose, and Jim arrived at the street laughing helplessly. We had to stop by a repair shop to get the amp mended before we went on to the job.
Gordon Sapsed, in England, e-mailed this one to me: Warren Vache, on tour in the UK, was annoyed by a passenger on a train from Edinburgh to London who was loudly making a string of calls on a mobile phone. Warren retaliated by reading aloud from a newspaper. The other occupants of the carriage followed his lead, and soon nearly everyone had joined in, a chorus of voices blaring out whatever they happened to be reading. Gordon says the phone user took the hint.
A story in this column reminded Pete Hyde of a comedian he used to work with in the Catskills who always wanted to borrow Pete’s horn at the end of his act to play “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.” The comedian bummed scotch from the customers and drank it during his act while smoking cigarettes. Pete wasn’t thrilled about all that bad breath going through his mouthpiece and into his horn, so he decided to trick him. One night he handed him his C trumpet. But it had no effect on the comedian, who just played “Cherry Pink” up a whole step without noticing the difference. The pianist/leader wasn’t too happy, though. He thought someone should have told him the tune would be in a different key that night.
When Jerry Bria first came off the road and began doing club dates, he accepted every call that came in. One was a job with a band he didn’t know in New Jersey, on which the drummer rushed, the sax player “warbled,” and the bass player was woefully out of tune. After arriving safe but sorry at the end of the job, Jerry packed his guitar and headed for the door, hoping no one he knew was there. A man ran after him and intercepted him at the exit. “I just wanted to tell you that I really liked the band!” Jerry looked around with surprise and said, “You liked the band?” The man leaned forward, cupped his hand to his ear, and said, “What?”
Carlos Burns passed along a story that Harold Greenblatt was told by drummer Omar Clay, who was working in a club with pianist Al Plank. A customer dropped a dollar on a music stand near the piano along with a request for four tunes. Al stopped by the guy’s table during a break, apologized for only knowing three of the tunes and handed the guy twenty-five cents.