Eric Holroyd, in Australia, sent me a couple of stories: Micky Maher, one of Sydney’s top tuba players, has played with every type of band from circuses to theatre pit orchestras. He stayed at the Red Garter Saloon long enough to be eligible for annual holidays. When he began making preparations for his first holiday, another band member advised him to send in a sub who wasn’t quite as good as he was, to safeguard his job. So when Micky gave the leader notice that he was going to be absent for two weeks, he joked, “I did what the other guys suggested and got a worse player than me.” The bandleader replied dryly, “Where did you manage to find one?”
On another gig in Sydney, a big band was playing in a large auditorium where a pigeon had gotten in and was roosting in the flies above the stage. When trombonist Gerry Ramage stood to play a solo, the pigeon scored a bulls-eye with a large deposit right on his head. George Brodbeck, the other trombonist, remarked, “Everyone’s a critic!”
And at a political ball, the speeches dragged on endlessly while the band waited to play. The musicians sat in the back room eating and drinking for more than three hours, as the politicians droned on. With only 15 minutes left before the function was due to end, the bandleader called the musicians onto the stand. One of them broke the band up with: “We’re not bloody machines, you know!”
When Sam Levinson was living in New York, he found work at the Mermaid Room of the Park Sheraton Hotel on Seventh Avenue. The band had to play on a revolving bandstand. It made Sam so nauseous the first night that he had to rush to the men’s room. When Artie Kuter took him to the hotel drug store, the pharmacist inquired, “New musicians? Which one needs the Dramamine?”
Herb Gardner thought that Rich Giordano sounded great when he first played piano with his college band, but his habit of pumping the sustain pedal was annoying. The solution was to arrive early on jobs and disable the pedal before Rich got there. When he finally caught on, the guys explained to him that without the pedal he sounded like Fats Waller, instead of somebody’s grandmother. A light of understanding flashed in his eyes. When they arrived at the next gig, Rich was already at the piano, wearing a derby and chewing on a cigar. He waved and announced, “Don’t worry, guys, I already broke the piano for you!”
Joe Luciano once nearly lost his fake book on a classy NYC gig when a tuxedo-clad guest started to walk out with it. Joe grabbed him and said, “You wouldn’t like that. It just has the melody and chord symbols.” The guest asked, “What do I do with my left hand?” Joe told him, “Give me back my book, or you’ll be surprised what I can do with mine!”
Johnny Signorelli tells me that he used to get called by Bronx bandleader Anthony Pisani whenever he had a job large enough to hire an alto saxophonist. He was never used on jobs with just one saxophone because Pisani, like most society leaders at the time, thought that only a tenor sax was right for smaller bands. One Saturday morning Johnny got a call from Pisani’s tenor player, Adrian Tei, asking him to cover a noontime booking for him at Tavern on the Green. Tei was having eye trouble and didn’t want to drive into the city, and he couldn’t find a tenor player on such short notice.
When Johnny arrived at the job and explained the situation, Pisani was very annoyed. But later, as John and trumpeter Charlie McCarty started to take their break after playing the first hour, Pisani went to the microphone and startled the customers by shouting loudly, “Who says you can’t use an alto in a small band? It sounds terrific!”
Don Sitterley wrote from Huntington: A number of years ago a fine bass player, Charlie Slats, moved to Connecticut in semi-retirement. A short time later he landed a gig with a piano player in a fine restaurant along the Connecticut shore. I talked to him on the phone and asked him how the gig was working out. He replied, “To give you an idea, he plays ‘Body and Soul’ in C, and the bridge also in C.” After the shock wore off, I said, “It’s all uphill from there.”
Bob Kross wrote recalling an engagement at the RKO Albee Theatre in Cincinnati in the late 1940s, when Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were appearing there as a hit comedy team. To Lewis’ discomfort, Martin often ad-libbed and strayed from the planned routine. At one performance, Lewis decided to add a bit of his own. He wanted to display his musical talent and asked the onstage band to lend him a trumpet. Clayton Mooar, the lead man, handed him his horn. Unfortunately, Mooar was experimenting with horns and was playing a “C” trumpet that day. Lewis couldn’t figure out what was wrong, played miserably, and accused his pianist of trying to louse him up. The audience found it all hilarious, but Jerry Lewis seemed to have lost his sense of humor.