I turned on my car radio a few weeks ago day and heard the voice of my old friend Walter Norris, a wonderful jazz pianist who has been living in Germany for many years. He was talking on an NPR program about a Hungarian Gypsy bass virtuoso named Aladar Pege (pronounced Peggy). Intrigued, I sent Walter an e-mail message, and got the following reply:
“I’ve worked frequently with Aladar since I arrived in Berlin in 1977. He is a unique musician and human being – never smoked, drank or swore. He’s just a lovely gentleman who loves to eat large quantities of food. His wife is a fantastic cook.
“He speaks very little English, and my German is horrible, but we somehow communicate on the most basic level – of course with many misunderstandings. But we connected musically and remain very close friends. When I was rehearsing in his apartment in Budapest, we took a coffee break. He started playing, on bass, a Paganini etude for violin. The TV was on, and he watched the screen while he played. Even laughed heartily when the cowboy fell off the horse. And yet, he never missed a note.
“Once, at the North Sea Festival, back in the early seventies, he entered the musicians’ room backstage where several great bassists were sitting around drinking and telling stories. He introduced himself, ‘I am Aladar Pege, the Paganini of the contrabass.’ Everyone roared with laughter, so Aladar picked up one of the basses that was lying there and played a cadenza with so many notes that afterward there was a shocked silence.
“He belongs to a class of Gypsies who are classical concert artists. His father and grandfather were contrabassists, and Aladar was trained in the art from childhood.”
Somewhere along the way he discovered jazz, and added that to his repertoire. Pege would have liked to have come to the U.S. after he attracted some international notice at European jazz festivals, but it wasn’t possible at that time because of the political situation in Hungary.
Now that it is easier to leave, he says he is too old to pull up his Hungarian roots, and will stay in Budapest. Walter sent me a couple of his CD’s. Pege sounds fabulous on them.
At an awards show in Syracuse, a big band was set up, for purposes of a quick change, in a single line that stretched across the stage. During the rehearsal, bassist Dave Welsch looked down the line of musicians at lead tenor player Brian Scherer, way at the other end. When Scherer missed a note, Dave called him on his cell phone and said, “B flat!”
The same Dave Welsch was working with a pianist who played so many bass notes with his left hand that Dave couldn’t decide what to play. He finally put masking tape across the lower section of the keyboard and marked it: “DAVE’S NOTES – STAY OUT!”
When the musical “Titanic” was opening on Broadway in 1997, Russ Anixter finished copying some music for the show and delivered it to the theatre. He noticed a men’s room backstage, and when he went in, a huge stagehand followed him and growled, “Are you a musician?” “I’m a copyist,” said Russ, hoping he hadn’t violated some area only intended for the stage crew. The stagehand whipped a newspaper, folded to the crossword, from his back pocket, and inquired, “Who wrote ‘Lucia Di Lammermoor?'”
Jazz fans may have wondered what ever became of the bassist Henry Grimes, who was featured with Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Rollins, Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner, Thelonious Monk and Benny Goodman, among many others, back in the 1950’s and 60’s. For unknown reasons he stopped playing in 1967 and disappeared from the jazz world. Recently, on the Internet, there were rumors that Henry had passed away, but then someone offered information that he was alive in Los Angeles, in good health, but living marginally. He had sold his bass years ago for survival needs, and was living in an SRO hotel, living on Social Security and odd jobs. Marshall Marrotte, a social worker and writer, has found him and taken him under his wing.
Through Margaret Davis, who publishes the Web magazine “Art Attack,” Marotte got the word out that Henry was interested in finding a bass so he could get back to playing music.
William Parker saw an e-mail message about Henry’s plight. He sent one of his basses to luthier David Gage for minor repairs and had David ship the bass and a bow to Henry. Sprocket, one of Gage’s able assistants, contributed toward the shipping costs. So now Henry Grimes has a bass again, and is happily practicing.
Ms. Davis wrote in her article: “To send donations, letters, cards or gifts to Henry Grimes, mail them to Marshall Marrotte, 4696 Tallassee Road, Athens GA 30607-2229, and Marshall will forward them to Henry.” Donations should be by postal money order, not by check, since Henry doesn’t have a bank account.