Back in the 1950’s, when Dave Lambert and I were living on West 10th Street in the Village, Dave was scuffling to survive a rough spot in his career. (This was before he met Jon Hendricks and formed Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.) He had heard that the king of Thailand was an amateur clarinetist and jazz fan, and decided to offer his services, hoping the king might fly him to Thailand and put him on an annual retainer. Dave got his ex-wife, a secretary, to write the king a letter, suggesting that he might like to have a resident arranger and bebop singer. He got a courteous reply, on royal stationery, to the effect that, “If you’re ever in town, look me up.”
Ed Berger told Frad Garner about a trip he made to Thailand with Benny Carter. Ed said they discovered that the King wasn’t a very good player. Benny Goodman had once been asked about the king’s ability, and said, “He plays okay, for a king.” Benny Carter’s reply to the same question was: “He’s no Bill Clinton.”
Broadway musicians who have ever worked anywhere in the vicinity of any show Jack Gale is playing are familiar with his twenty-five year addiction to the food at Hop Kee, a basement restaurant in Chinatown. It is a rare Saturday when Jack doesn’t organize a group of musicians from the orchestra pits to make the trek down to Mott Street for a banquet between the matinee and the evening show. Wayne Goodman joined the Hop Kee Club not long ago, and has been a frequent member of the Saturday group. But one week he called Jack to beg off, explaining that his brother was being married on Saturday. He told Jack, “I could leave the wedding party and meet you guys at Hop Kee, but since I’m the best man, I don’t think my brother would appreciate it.” Jack’s immediate response was, “Ask your brother to have the wedding at Hop Kee!” Wayne thinks he may have been serious.
When pianist Johnny Morris was playing in New Orleans with Roy Eldridge in 1975, he attended an afternoon jazz fair where he was very impressed with a young jazz trumpet player. He told the boy’s father to bring him to “Le Club” that evening to meet and play for Roy. When Johnny told Eldridge about it, he got a most unenthusiastic response: “Hell, no! He’s only 15? No, call his father and tell him no. I’m not going to have any kids on my bandstand! Who the hell do you think you are? This is my band, not your band!” etc. After a good bit of begging and pleading, Johnny finally got Eldridge to agree to let the boy play one song.
Johnny said, “A very nervous young man arrived at ‘Le Club’ that evening. His hands were shaking as he opened his horn case. After he played one song, Roy said, ‘Play another.’ His frown began to change into a half smile. After the third song, Roy was grinning ear to ear. The young man was Wynton Marsalis.”
Pianist/songwriter Barney Bragin told me about meeting Eleanor Roosevelt in 1940. He was playing with Phil Napoleon’s band, and Phil introduced them. While they were chatting, Leopold Stokowski walked by with a gorgeous woman on each arm. He stopped to chat with Mrs. Roosevelt, and she introduced him to Barney. During a brief conversation, Stokowski confided to Barney the secret of his attraction to women. He raised his pants cuffs and said, “What do you see?” What Barney saw was an expensive pair of purple silk socks, held up with garters.
Doc Solomon has written and published music for the double bass. He told me he played one of his pieces for a non-musician friend, who registered amazement. He said “I thought the bass only had five notes.” Doc asked, “What five notes?” The answer: “Boom, boom, boom boom boom!”
Dan Morgenstern reminded me of a tribute to Bix Beiderbecke that Dick Cathcart recorded in 1959. The Warner Brothers album was titled “Bix MCMLIX.” Down Beat magazine reported a comment that someone overheard in a record store: “Who the hell is Bix McMlix?”
Ron LoPinto tells me he enjoys the dry sense of humor of his frequent trumpet section mate Larry Moser. On a date with Bob Thoesan, after a pretty ballad, Larry said, “Let’s play ‘Rocky’,” referring to the Maynard Ferguson arrangement. Thoesan agreed to play the chart, and Moser took the trumpet solo. Ferguson’s version features a long solo up in the stratosphere. Moser screamed away a la Maynard for a chorus and a half, then paused and looked quizzically at the rest of the trumpet section and said, “Where am I?”