Herb Gardner tells me that, during the long wait to begin the show at a function at the Waldorf, the guys in the reed section got bored and began fitting pieces of their clarinets together to form a nine-foot-long composite with a mouthpiece on one end and four pairs of hands fingering the thing. The band had been told that the cue for the show would be the announcement: “Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Miss Kathy Lee Gifford!” Just as the reedmen were beginning to get some interesting and ominous sounds from their giant clarinet, the public address system boomed out: “Ladies and Gentlemen . . .” During the ensuing panic, clarinet parts flew in all directions as the musicians tried to get their horns back together. And then the announcer continued, “please take your seats so we can begin the show.”
Irving Fields tells me that when he was playing at the Plaza Hotel’s Palm Court, he got into the Christmas spirit at a Saturday brunch one year by dressing as Santa Claus, complete with beard and belly, and played the piano with white mittens. It was a great hit with the children, but Irving made the mistake of taking one tyke on his lap while he played “Jingle Bells.” The excitement caused the child to wet his pants, as well as Irving’s. Irving says he should have played, “By A Waterfall.”
Pianist Jim Ford worked with the late Gino Calistri during the last two years of his life. Gino told him that, as a teenager, he had worked in the pit of the old Capitol Theatre in Binghamton. Looking at some new music being passed out, he saw the word “Tacet” and asked the saxophonist next to him what it meant. He was told that it meant “take it” – so, when they came to that place in the music, Gino took a solo. I wonder if that was the beginning of that old joke?
Bill Blacher sent the following, written by his step-brother Alan Koblin: I’m not a musician, but, back in the late fifties I used to meet my brother, a member of Local 802, at the union hall on West 52nd Street. Usually we’d meet on Wednesdays, then go out for coffee. One afternoon, while I was waiting for Bill, a guy walked by and nodded to me – someone I used to see at the poolroom at 96th and Broadway. Later I saw him again at the union hall. “Hey, man,” he said, “I didn’t know you blew.”
One of the problems I’ve had all my life is that I don’t know when to keep my mouth shut. I said, “Yeah, I play.” He asked, “Are you working?” and I quickly said, “No.”
The next week I saw him again, and he asked, “How’s it going?” “Still no work,” I said. “Things are pretty slow.” He asked what I played, and I said the first thing that came to mind: “Vibes.” “What kind do you use?” “I don’t have any right now. I’m looking for a new set.” “What are you looking for, a Deagan?” “Yeah.” Then he asked how I stayed in shape. I said, “In a club, after hours.” “What . . . on their xylophone?” “Yeah.”
I didn’t run into him for several weeks, and I thought maybe my lies wouldn’t catch up to me. But one Wednesday my brother was a little late, and the guy comes up to me and says, “I know of a gig for you, a club over in Jersey.” I realized things had gone far enough. “No, thanks, man,” I said. “Things are real lousy around here. I’m splitting for the coast.” Needless to say, I didn’t show my face ever again at the union hall or the 96th Street poolroom.
Pianist Rich Siegel got a Mother’s Day brunch gig at a luxury hotel in Jersey, but when he arrived he found a piano that was so out of tune that it was unplayable. The food and beverage manager was unimpressed when Rich told him that the piano was so far gone that some of the notes were on completely wrong pitches, while others were tuned to three different pitches on one hammer. He asked if there was another piano on the premises, and even offered to go home and get his electric keyboard at no extra charge. The manager was convinced that he was just a prima donna, and refused to help. One of the hotel’s banquet managers eagerly offered a solution: “If it’s that out of tune, don’t play any classical music. Just play jazz.”
Rich left the hotel, called the agent who had booked the job, and the agent called the hotel. They eventually found Rich a playable piano in an adjacent hallway. Rich says, “You can’t make this stuff up!”
When Larry Siegel first came to New York from Ohio in the 1970s, he found a lunchtime gig at a cafe in the South Street Seaport. After working there a few months, he brought in a promo sheet he had printed up, which included pictures and quotes. He laid one on the cafe counter and then started his set. One of the waitresses, who had been listening to him play for months, began reading the promo. At the end of his set, Larry asked her what she thought. “I didn’t know you were this good,” she said.