While chatting on the phone with Bill Finegan recently I mentioned Jim and Andy’s bar, the musicians’ hangout that used to share the block on West 48th Street with several music stores and the old A&R recording studio. Bill asked, “Did you know about the Green Lantern Cafe?” He recalled the night a group of sailors wandered into Jim’s, looking for some action. The musicians at the bar told them that no single girls hung out in there, but there was a place with lots of action nearby called the Green Lantern Cafe. “Just look for the green light by the doorway,” they told them, and then gave them directions to the nearest police station.
Bill also told me about an exercise group that he goes to a couple of times a week near his home in Connecticut. The physical therapists have a three-foot shelf of compact discs that contains some of the worst music he has ever heard. Bill told one of the ladies, “If you play that stuff, I’m not coming back.” He started bringing his own CDs of big band music from the swing era, and everyone enjoyed them. Bill always took his CDs home with him, which proved to be a good idea. There was a burglary at the exercise facility. A security camera caught it: The burglar comes in, grabs the CD player, looks through the discs on the shelf, shakes his head, and leaves them all behind.
Marshall MacDonald, rummaging around the internet, found the following note that was sent to the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra: “I was a bit concerned and offended by something that I noticed at a concert on 4/26. Your second trumpet player picked up a metal object off the floor at some point and did something quite offensive with it. Is this item called a mute? I think it might be. Anyways, he picked up the object and proceeded to lick it multiple times and place the object in the bell of his instrument. My wife noticed this jesture as we were sitting near the stage, on the sides of the upper balcony. We felt that this jesture was completely improper and should not have been seen on the stage of our wonderful concert hall. This is not the first unprofessional act that we have witnessed this individual perform. I would hope that he would be spoken to about this event. He completely ruined our evening.”
Lloyd Wells, down in Nashville, told me about a young friend of his who was writing charts for a dinner show with big band and five singers. For the dance production numbers, they wanted him to transcribe the music from cassettes brought by the director. The young arranger noticed that all the production numbers were Brian Setzer tunes. He asked if he might substitute a Count Basie chart for one of them, and was told, “Oh no, we’re trying to raise the quality level of this show from Basie up to Brian Setzer.”
When Wells was working and living in New York in the 1960s, trumpeter Lew Gluckin had trouble believing that LLoyd’s ultra-thick Southern accent was authentic. While waiting to check into a motel on an out-of-town gig, Lew said, “Lloyd, if I were to wake you out of a sound sleep tonight about two o’clock, banging on your door and screaming ‘fire!’…would you still be unintelligible?”
Johnny Morris passed the Hawaii Kai restaurant several years ago and recognized the midget doorman as Pee Wee Marquette, who used to be the emcee at the original Birdland, at Broadway and 52nd Street. Johnny greeted Pee Wee but he could see that the diminutive doorman didn’t recognize him. “Pee Wee, don’t you recognize me?” Johnny asked. “I used to give you two dollars every week to say my name correctly.” Pee Wee said, “Give me two dollars, and maybe I’ll remember.”
In the 1940s percussionist Howard Hirsch took a drum lesson with Billy Gladstone, who taught him the two-handed drum roll that everyone uses. Howard thought it was great until he saw a performance at the Paramount Theatre where Buddy Rich, with his injured right hand in a sling, played a roll with one hand. When he told his teacher about it, Gladstone said, “God is an exception.”
Hirsch got to know Rich and one day they wound up on the same record date. Howard asked Buddy about his feelings toward percussionists, and Rich said, “I lay down the road for them to walk on. You do it very well.”
In the early 1960s Howard had a gig at the Waldorf Astoria. Wearing his tuxedo and carrying his drum set, he waited by an elevator. When the door opened, there was tuxedo-clad Buddy Rich with his drum set. Howard said, “Buddy, the only similarity between you and me is the drum set. Other than that, you are the master and I am the slave.” Buddy grabbed Howard, hugged him, and said, “Howard, you got that right!”
My friend Gordon Sapsed, in Southampton, UK, got a call from his local bookshop letting him know that a book he had ordered had arrived. He went to their music department and said, “You have for me Val Wilmer’s autobiography, Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This.” “Ah,” said the assistant, “that would be over in the Children’s section.”