I played at a jazz festival last September up at Chautauqua Lake, N.Y., an annual event that is put together by Joe Boughton of the Allegheny Jazz Society. Joe is an enthusiastic organizer and always puts together a good program. One of his pet peeves is jazz concerts where musicians play endless choruses on old warhorses like C Jam Blues and How High the Moon. He encourages the musicians at his events to choose less familiar material from the great American songbook.
On the last concert, Joe scheduled a medley on which each of the guest horn players and singers did one chorus of a ballad of their choice with the rhythm section. As some of us stood around in the anteroom waiting to begin that part of the program, Scott Robinson said to Dan Barrett, “Just to bug Joe, you should play C Jam Blues as a ballad!” We laughed for about ten minutes, turning the idea every which way to see how it might go. But Dan didn’t go through with it…he really didn’t want to bug Joe that much.
Howard Hirsch sent me a letter remembering his attendance at the Metropolitan Vocational High School in Chinatown in the late 1940’s (it later became the High School of Performing Arts). Many of the alumni went on to prominent positions in the music world. Howard especially remembers pianist Lloyd Mayers, drummers Maurice Mark and Charlie Simons, bassist Frank Salerno, and the teachers Julius Grossman and Arthur Aaron. Stan Auld brought arrangements from his uncle Georgie Auld’s band for the students to play. Lunch hours were often spent in nearby Chinese restaurants, where Howard learned the custom of bowing with respect. At the entrance audition of the late Harvey Estrin, at age 16, Harvey stood alone on the stage before 200 music students and played a selection from Massenet’s Thais on his saxophone. It was such a remarkable performance that, as the students cheered and applauded, Howard made a deep bow to Harvey as he walked offstage. Harvey said, “Howard, you don’t have to bow so low. Applause is good enough.”
Herb Gardner told me about a wedding gig he led with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks. The cake was festooned with hundreds of little silver metallic decorations. When the bride, who had been drinking many toasts, went to cut the cake, she lost her balance, lost control of the knife, and got a nasty gash on her hand. After she was bandaged up, the festivities continued. Herb’s comment: “For once, the cake cut the bride!”
I received another report from my bassist friend Joe Levinson in Chicago. Joe had a trio gig at a wealthy country club with Joe Vito, who was playing a Yamaha console with the top open. As they were getting ready to start, the sponsor of the party stepped over to the piano and held out an envelope that contained the check for the band. It slipped from his fingers and fell into the piano. No one could get their fingers around the hammers to reach the envelope. Not even the busboy’s tongs could reach it. So they played the first set with the envelope still lying there out of reach. On the break, they removed the front of the piano and got the envelope, but they couldn’t figure out how to reattach the panel, so the second set was played without it. On the second break, Joe finally figured out how to get the piano back together again. Levinson told Vito, “The last time someone put an envelope into an upright piano was when Rick Blaine dropped the letters of transit into Sam’s piano in the movie Casablanca!”
Shortly after Sam Levine moved to Reston, Virginia, in 1966, a skeptical contractor telephoned: “I never heard of you, but you come highly recommended. How good do you rate yourself as a trombonist?” Sam said, “I’m the best of the second-rate trombonists!” “Don’t settle for being second-rate,” lectured the contractor. “Try to improve yourself.” Sam responded, “I’m always trying to improve. Soon, I hope to be the worst of the first-rate trombonists!”
Several years ago Lenny Israel was playing outdoors with Bruce McNichols’ band at the opening day ceremonies at Yankee Stadium. It was a chilly day, and the gig began uncomfortably. After a while it began to rain a bit. When the rain turned to snow, Lenny, who is of the Jewish faith, raised his hands and looked up at the heavens. “Five thousand years!” he cried. “Haven’t we suffered enough?”
Bill Nelson, flying out of Newark, didn’t want to send his guitar through the scanner, so the security guard had him open the case for examination. He picked up the instrument and demanded, “Is this your guitar?” As Bill told him it was, the guard gave it a strum. “It’s out of tune!” he said, and returned it to its case. Bill was relieved that bad tuning didn’t prevent him from boarding the airplane.
At a rehearsal of Bill Whited’s in the 802 Club Room, Carmen Leggio told Ronnie Zito, “I’ve got call waiting now.” “Oh, yeah?” said Ronnie. “Yeah, I sit by the phone and wait for a call!”