This story was told to Jamie Aebersold by trombonist John Welsh, and was sent to Pete Hyde by Pat Dorian, an educator out in East Stroudsburg, Penn. Pete passed it along to me.
John, 18 years old and naïve, was in New York City to study with Lennie Tristano back in the 50’s. One Sunday he walked by the Open Door, a club in the Village, where he saw a sign that read “Jam Session.” He walked in and heard some musicians playing the blues in F, so he took out his trombone and joined in.
John was into Dixieland at the time, having come under the influence of George Brunies, so he began filling in a little tailgate with the group, which immediately stopped playing the blues and went into a furious-paced version of “Cherokee.” John decided to sit that one out, and laid his horn down on a table.
Pianist George Wallington, an audience member, walked over, took the horn apart, and put it back in the case for him. John began to realize that he had made a gaffe when he discovered that the musicians playing were Bud Powell, Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.
When the set ended, Parker went right over to John’s table and said, “Look, kid, what you were doing didn’t really fit in with this group, but you were doing it well. You really were laying it down, and that’s great. You just keep going.” John was struck by Bird’s compassion, when everyone else was ready to kill him.
Harrison Cooper, who worked for Benny Goodman back in the late 1940’s, sent me a new Goodman story.
When Benny had a weekly radio show on NBC, he featured famous guests, like Peggy Lee and Lana Turner. At the rehearsal for a show that featured Count Basie as the guest, Basie passed out an arrangement to Benny’s band, then sat down at the piano and played. At the end, Benny stood holding his clarinet without having played. He asked Basie, “Where’s the solo?” Basie said, “Man, I played it!”
A few years ago Michael Levine had guitarist Ira Siegel in his recording studio. Michael’s assistant, Ari, went into the studio to adjust Siegel’s microphone, and Ira confessed he had forgotten the assistant’s name. Ari told him, “It’s the same as yours, backwards.” Ira responded with mock incredulity, “Legeis?”
Sy Johnson called the ASCAP information number and asked for a list of recordings of Harold Arlen’s song “Albertina’s Beautiful Hair.” He was put on hold for a minute, and then informed that ASCAP had no record of “Al Pacino’s Beautiful Hair.”
When a bride called a local club date office to schedule music for her wedding, she told them that she wanted the Pachelbel Canon played. When the secretary transmitted this information to Lee Evans, the subleader, she told him he was to play the Taco Bell Cannon.
Frank Amoss sent this tribute to the late Billy May:
“No other achievement in my life overshadows being accepted as a friend by Billy May. I can remember exactly where I was in 1952 the first time I heard ‘Lean Baby’ and realized there was something special about whoever was responsible for the creation of that music. Hardly ever among musicians — especially those who appreciate the art of arranging — does the mention of his name fail to produce the word ‘genius.’ His use of humor, sometimes subtle and sometimes burlesque, but always appropriate, is legendary. Spending time with Billy was like taking a course in the history and who’s who of the music and entertainment business. His pleasure in sharing endless anecdotes brought a twinkle to his eye through which the kid from Pittsburgh still shone.
Saying Billy May will be missed is inadequate. His passing leaves a void the likes of which will never be filled. The hours spent in Billy’s presence will always be among my most treasured memories. In Billy’s memory, here’s one of my favorite stories from him.
Billy recreated the music of the swing era for Time-Life, Inc., on a record which was recorded circa 1970. One of the bands included was that of Jimmy Lunceford. Working from old recordings, Billy painstakingly transcribed each note until the music was indistinguishable from that as originally recorded. For the recording sessions Billy employed as many of the original Lunceford side musicians as possible, one of which was Joe Thomas, a charter member who had also fronted the band after Jimmy passed away. After the final session Joe told Billy that he couldn’t wait for the records to be released. When Billy asked the reason for this anxiety Joe replied that he wanted to compare them to the original charts, which he had stored in his basement.”