Bess Bonnier sent me a column by Jack Riemer from the Houston Chronicle, about an Itzhak Perlman concert he attended at Avery Fisher Hall last November. Jack described the familiar process with which Perlman, stricken with polio as a child, slowly makes his way onstage with leg braces and crutches. When he reaches his chair he sits down, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his leg-braces, arranges his legs, picks up his violin and nods to the conductor that he is ready to play. On this occasion, just a few measures into the piece, one of Perlman’s violin strings broke.
Jack was filled with sympathy, thinking the violinist would have to reattach his clasps, pick up his crutches, and slowly make his way offstage to change the string. But Perlman simply signaled the conductor to begin again. He played with passion and power, giving a wonderful interpretation of the piece with just three strings. At the end, everyone stood and cheered. Perlman gestured with his bow to quiet them and then said, “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”
Jeff Atterton dug up an old column written by Herb Caen in San Francisco. It included a Benny Goodman story I hadn’t heard before. Muriel Zuckerman, Benny’s assistant, went along with the band on a European tour, where they heard a trumpet player who Benny went wild over. When he played “And The Angels Sing,” Benny said, “Gee, that guy’s got to be Jewish.” Muriel said, “I don’t know, I have his name here, and it’s McLevy.” Benny said, “Ah, McLevy!” Muriel was dubious. Benny said, “But he plays from the heart.” Muriel decided to settle the matter. She went over and asked the trumpeter, “Mr. McLevy, are you of the Jewish persuasion?” He said, “First of all, the name is McLavy, and no, I’m a Scotch Presbyterian.” Muriel marched triumphantly back to Benny with that information, and Benny said, “He’s Jewish. He just doesn’t know it yet.”
Atterton also sent me a clipping from the British publication Jazz Journal International, a letter from a man in Flaxton that reads: “almost 50 years ago I went into Derby’s leading bookshop and asked for the newly published ‘Kingdom of Swing,’ by Benny Goodman. The assistant, who was actually the manageress, replied, ‘Have you looked in the Golf section?'”
Bob Brookmeyer sent me a Hollywood blues lyric that Jack Sheldon made up: “Woke up this mornin’ and both my cars were gone…”
Here’s a news story that went whizzing around the internet from Corpus Christi, Texas, about a month ago. Multiple copies of it arrived simultaneously in my mailbox:
Ramon Cabrera, 48, was sentenced by a jury to 99 years in prison for killing a musician who did not know the song he requested. The musician, David Saenz, often played the guitar and accordion and sang for his neighbors. Ramon Cabrera lived across the street, and the two men were considered friends. Both men had been drinking beer when Cabrera insisted that Saenz play “El Guajolote” (The Turkey). Saenz said he didn’t know it, and they argued briefly. Cabrera went home, returned with a .38 caliber pistol, told people to move out of the way, and drilled Saenz in the forehead as he sat with his guitar and accordion at his feet. Cabrera testified that he was not drunk when he shot Saenz, but said he had no memory of the murder. He will be eligible for parole in 30 years.
The news story didn’t say whether Saenz had asked, “Can you hum a few bars of it?”
Howard Williams and Carl Fontana spent some time together at Louisiana State University. Many years later Carl told Howard that he had received a phone call from a drummer they both knew there, saying that he had cancer and didn’t expect to live much longer. He asked Carl if he would play at his memorial service. Carl asked, “Man, can you give me a definite date?” He told Howard it got a laugh from their friend.
A couple of weeks after the Ken Burns “Jazz” series was shown on television, Andy Shreeves was standing in the checkout line at the Williams-Sonoma store in Chelsea. The house music system was playing a Billie Holiday recording. A couple of twenty-somethings were in the line ahead of Andy and, on hearing the music, one said to the other, “I know that voice! It’s…Ken Burns.”
A man mentioned to his landlord that the tenants who lived above him were terribly noisy. “Almost every night they stamp on the floor and make a terrible racket until midnight.” The landlord asked if he wanted to make a formal complaint. “No, it doesn’t bother me that much. I’m up almost every night practicing my trombone until about that time, anyway.”