Mike Zwerin, who I knew around New York in the 1950’s as a jazz trombonist, now writes on jazz for the International Herald Tribune in Paris. In an e-mail message to my friend Frad Garner, Mike mentioned the jazz tenorman Don Lanphere (recently deceased), who was living in my old hometown, Kirkland, Washington, near Seattle. Don had lived a hard young life, which included some addictive problems, but had won his battle with those demons. He gave the credit for his recovery to a religious awakening, and proclaimed himself a born-again Christian. “When I was visiting him in Seattle,” said Mike, “I had a bad toothache, and he asked me if I minded if he prayed for me. Me being me, I said yes, I minded. He said, ‘I can do it anyway and you’ll never know.’ The toothache went away.”
Mike also told Frad a story from his days on the Claude Thornhill band. Among a collection of lush dance arrangements, Thornhill’s book also contained some very modern Gil Evans jazz charts. Mike said, “Claude would call out a fictitious number of a non-existent stock arrangement, and after we’d all shuffled madly through the book, he’d shout, “F*** it…play ‘Anthropology!'”
For years Bob Emery has been the drummer at the Villa Roma in Calicoon, NY, up in the Catskills. Like most resort bands, the musicians at the Villa Roma provide accompaniment for whatever acts come their way. So they were a little taken aback one night when one of the ladies in the audience passed by the bandstand and said, “You’re wonderful…better than professionals!”
Eddie Caccavale added a seven-year-old boy to his roster of drum students. At one of his lessons, Eddie showed him how to play triplets, and was satisfied with the boy’s first attempts. Then he said, “Now see if you can put an accent on the first note of each triplet.” The boy said, “Can I ask a question? What kind of an accent?” Eddie asked, “What do you mean?” “Well,” said the boy, “German…Italian…?”
When Frank Foster was leader of the Count Basie Orchestra, one of their gigs was to play the six-month anniversary celebration of Barbara Walters’ marriage, in the ballroom of a major New York hotel. After the band had played two sets of Count Basie staples and popular standards arranged in the swinging medium-tempo Basie style that hundreds of thousands of people had happily danced to since 1936, Frank saw Ms. Walters coming toward the bandstand with a not-too-pleased expression on her face. She said to Frank, “You know, you haven’t played a single thing all evening that we could dance to!”
Chris Walker, whose band plays on the QE2 from England, sent me a story about a British trumpeter who had steady employment at a bar in Gosport (Hampshire). The manager of the place was skimming some of the money allocated for music. He would often call the bandleader on the day of the gig and reduce the size of the band, pocketing the difference. On one occasion he told the trumpeter he wanted only three musicians that night. When asked “Which three?” he said, “Well, yourself, the drummer, and the guy who plays that long curly gold thing.” “That’s trumpet, sax, and drums…what about the chords?” The answer was, “Oh, wear anything you like.”
Herb Gardner’s daughter Abbie has been singing with the small jazz groups Herb plays with, but noticed something different on her first gig with big band arrangements. She told Herb, “Big band guys are kinda weird. After they play the last note, they don’t laugh at each other like you guys do.”
Pete Peterson called for a chat, during which he described a musical instrument I hadn’t heard of: the fnartin. He claims it is thirty feet long, with a bell in the center and a mouthpiece and keys on both ends. The player has to run from one end of the instrument to the other while performing. During a rendition of the duet for fnartin and harp, during the allegro, the fnartin player ran the wrong way by mistake, straight into the harp. Pete said they had him in the hospital in rooms 508, 509, 510, 511 and 512.
Those of you who read the other pages of Allegro may have noticed that I didn’t run for re-election to the Executive Board this time. I thought twenty years of service was a nice round number. But I’ll still be at my desk on the second floor in the Recording department here at Local 802 on Mondays through Wednesdays, and I’ll continue putting this column together as long as the editor keeps asking for it. Stop by and say hello, if you feel like it, and be sure to tell me your stories. Or you can e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.