When Bobby Day was Fred Waring’s featured banjo player, he often played golf at Waring’s country club in the Delaware Water Gap. It was a favorite hangout of many famous cartoonists and comedians, and Bobby enjoyed their company on the course. He told me that Waring constantly redesigned the course, making it tougher by adding traps and hazards. During one-day’s play, the golfers noticed that a section near the fairway had been marked out with stakes, indicating where Waring intended to add a small lake. Jackie Gleason, a member of the foursome that day, drove his ball right into that staked-off area. He walked over, removed his shoes and socks, rolled up his pants and, carrying a seven-iron, “waded” out in the imaginary lake and looked at his ball. He called out, “Bobby, this ball is playable!” and proceeded to knock it forcefully toward the green. He then “waded” back to shore, put his shoes and socks back on, and continued with the game.
Here’s a story Michael Finckel got during an interview with composer Henry Brant. Brant said, “I had an opportunity in 1950 to conduct my first symphony with the National Orchestral Association in Carnegie Hall. It was a very odd evening indeed. We started to play, and I found it more and more difficult to see what was on the score as we went on. There were sort of black blobs covering some of the notes. I’d turn a page, and more black blobs would appear. I brushed them off with my left hand, but new ones took their place. This went on for 25 minutes, throughout the piece. In my dressing room afterward, I discovered what had happened. I was wearing a set of tails that had been sitting in my closet for 15 years. The lining had rotted and then, with the perspiration on this terribly hot day, it came apart in bits and fell out of my coat. Backstage, when I took everything off, I was blue all over.”
In several different places on the Internet, the following story has emerged. At Bruno Walter’s first rehearsal with an American orchestra, he admonished them as they reached for their instruments: “Already too loud!”
While writing a chart on Miles Davis’s “Nardis,” Joe Gianono tried to look up the source of the title, but couldn’t find any reference to the word. The answer came when he mentioned the chart to his friend Andy Farber. Andy asked Joe if he knew where the title came from. “Funny you should ask,” said Joe, who had been searching for weeks. Andy said, “Miles and Bill Evans were doing a gig together somewhere and somebody asked Bill if he would play some stupid tune. Bill said, ‘I don’t play that crap…I’m an artist.'” (He pronounced it “a nardis.”)
Howard Hirsch was Judy Garland’s percussionist for 15 years. He told me about a concert in Syracuse when, during the overture, Johnny Bello began his trumpet solo on “Over the Rainbow.” The stagehands hadn’t put a railing behind the brass section, and John’s first two notes were powerful enough to cause his chair to slip off the riser. John and his chair fell backward and down several feet, luckily landing on a large pile of electrical wires that broke the fall. The remarkable thing was that John never stopped playing. He finished his solo and climbed back onstage, where he received a round of applause from Judy and the orchestra.
Neal Miner was riding up the long escalator at the 53rd Street stop on the Lexington Avenue line one evening, taking his bass to his gig at the Hotel Carlyle. Coming down in the opposite direction was an odd-looking man, probably homeless, who looked as if he hadn’t had a shower, haircut or a shave in a long time, and whose clothes were worn and torn. As they passed each other, the man eyed Neal’s instrument and called out, “Bass man!” Then he asked, in a superior tone, “Do you know who Arthur Duvivier is?” Neal corrected him: “You mean George Duvivier!” As the man continued to descend, he called back to Neal, “Excuuuuse me!” Neal told me, “Only in New York would a bum know who George Duvivier was.”
Bill Wurtzel was with some musicians who were having fried chicken before a gig. Bill told Russell George that he had recently played at a club uptown where the fried chicken was the best he’d ever had. Another musician overheard their conversation and wondered how big the band was at that club. “How many pieces?” he asked. Russell quipped, “A leg, a breast and a thigh!”
Here’s a little fantasy that was sent to me by Lou Carter, my friend from New Jersey who has written tunes like “The Girl With the Three Blue Eyes” and “If I Had a Nose Full of Nickels.” Lou says Dizzy and Bird were playing a jazz concert. After a couple of tunes, a man approached the stage and asked Dizzy to play “Happy Birthday.” Dizzy said, “Man, this is a jazz concert.” The man said, “I’ll give you a thousand dollars.” Dizzy shook his head. “I’ll give you five thousand!” No. “Ten thousand!” Dizzy said, “Ten thousand for ‘Happy Birthday?’ Whose birthday is it, anyway?” The man replied, “Nobody’s. I just dig the tune!”