On a job I played in Pleasantville with Herk Ferranda last June, a lady came up to pianist Johnny Morris and said, “You jumped in our pool!” John chatted with her for a while, and later told me the story: About 15 years ago, on another of Herk’s jobs, the band was set up outside this lady’s house beside the shallow end of the pool. As they played, the guests sipped cocktails and chatted while a few of their children played in the water. One young boy, not a swimmer, lost his footing while wading and began to stumble down the slope toward the deep end. Johnny, seeing him swallowing water, called to the boy’s father, “He needs help!”
The father removed his $400 jacket, laid it carefully on a deck chair, and sat down to untie his expensive shoes, calling to the boy, “Wait!” Herk and Johnny saw that the boy was now underwater, drowning. As Herk turned to put down his tenor, Johnny vaulted over his electric piano into the pool, fully dressed, dove to grab the boy and pulled him out of the pool, squeezing his chest to eject the water that was choking him. The boy recovered, but Johnny’s tuxedo, watch, wallet, etc. were completely soaked.
After the owner of the house provided Johnny with some tight-fitting but dry clothing, the band continued to play. Somewhat embarrassed about his role in the rescue, the boy’s father came over to Johnny and said, “Why don’t you send me your cleaning bill?” Johnny, incensed at the father’s evident priorities, replied stonily, “No, I don’t charge for saving lives!”
Down Philadelphia way, Drummer Jim Miller occasionally works in a jazz trio at a steakhouse in suburban King of Prussia. The place is laid out in a large L-shape and the trio performs in the boisterous Sports Bar, around the corner and down a hallway from the main dining room. To pacify management, they play unamplified and Jim uses brushes instead of sticks. But even though they were playing especially softly on the first set one night, the manager informed Jim that the drums were too loud. Jim told him the trio could barely hear each other over the din of the sports fans in the bar, but the manager said customers in the dining room were complaining. When Jim suggested that it was difficult for him to believe that the drums could be heard at all in there, the manager insisted that he come and listen for himself. Drummer Jim followed him, to the delight of the other two musicians. In the dining room, the manager folded his arms and demanded, “Well?” Jim, straining to keep a straight face, said, “Honestly, I can’t hear the drums at all.”
Herb Gardner sent me a copy of an ad from the Contoocook Valley School District in Peterborough, New Hampshire, announcing an opening for a grade 5-8 music and band teacher at their South Meadow School. The line that appealed to Herb was: “Candidates need to be energetic, possess a sense of humor, be committed to young adolescents, and be certified or certifiable.” Usually, it’s after teaching grades 5-8 for a while that teachers become certifiable.
While I was chatting on the phone recently with drummer Winston Welch, my old section mate in the Claude Thornhill orchestra back in the 1950s, Winston recalled a December night before I joined the band, when they were playing in New York City. Several bandmembers, including tenor player Al Thomson, were lined up at the bar at Junior’s, one of the musicians’ filling stations on West 52nd Street near Roseland. Fully aware of Al’s tendency to overindulge, Kurt Bloom, Claude’s road manager, said, “Be careful, Al, it’s New Year’s Eve.” Al dismissed Kurt with a wave of his hand. “What the hell,” he said, “I made it all year, didn’t I?”
Reed man Mark Lopeman had an auto accident while returning from a gig in Princeton last June. He was rear-ended by another car, spun into a wall, and his car was totaled. Fortunately, he only sustained a couple of bruises, and his horns were okay except for a small dent in his baritone sax – but he was in shock when a car full of musicians from the same gig saw him and stopped to help. Dave Belts, Chris Byars and Dave Glasser helped him get his horns out of the car and gave him a ride back to the city. Mark lives in Westchester and Glasser, a Manhattanite, asked him, “Do you want to crash at my pad tonight?” Mark ruefully replied, “Thanks, I already crashed.”
Jules Lavan, who used to conduct the band at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City and who also conducted for Paul Anka, now lives in retirement in Desert Hot Springs, California. There is a piano in the lunch area where he lives, which he plays to keep his hands in shape. While he was playing one day, a guy came up to him and said, “I’m a washboard player, and I’d like to accompany you. Would that be all right?” Jules emphatically said no, and then added, “But after I’m through here, you can follow me home and do my laundry.”
Pete Brush called my attention to a weekly column in Parade magazine in which Marilyn Vos Savant responds to letters from readers on a wide variety of subjects. Last June she listed some questions that she had received over time that were unanswerable. The one Pete liked was from S. P. in Huntsville, Alabama: Do you believe in the big band theory?