Joe Wilder is such a perfect gentleman that it often comes as a surprise to anyone getting to know him that he has a devilish sense of humor.
In its mildest form, it expresses itself in outrageous puns, but in his youth Joe was known as an expert in the administration of the hotfoot.
Somewhere in between lies his skill at the put-on.
On a record date for the late Lester Lanin, Joe started one that nearly got out of hand.
After a run-through of an arrangement of “Sweet Lelani,” Lanin stepped into the studio and suggested to guitarist Everett Barksdale that he follow each phrase of the melody with a little rising arpeggio that he sang to him.
Joe wasn’t sitting near Everett, but he overheard their conversation, and so, when Lanin returned to the engineer’s booth, Joe spoke into the microphone in front of him, suggesting to the engineer, “You know, it would make this sound better if you would have Everett play (and he sang Lanin’s arpeggio) after each phrase of the melody.”
Lanin was amazed.
“You know, I just made the same suggestion!”
Joe couldn’t resist.
On the next number, Eddie Bert was playing the melody to “Lassus Trombone,” and Lester came out and suggested to Eddie that he play more exaggerated smears.
When he returned to the booth, Joe called in on his microphone and said, “Why don’t you have Eddie exaggerate those trombone smears?” Lester still didn’t catch on.
“You won’t believe this,” he said, I just suggested the same thing!”
Joe went through the entire session repeating all of Lanin’s suggestions word for word.
“I was putting him on so much,” said Joe, “that I started to feel bad. But I just couldn’t stop.”
On the last tune, “Hello, Dolly,” Lanin asked the whole band to sing a chorus, but wasn’t happy with the result.
Joe called in to the booth again: “Lester, what we need is for you to come out here and sing it with us, to get us into the right spirit.” Lanin came right out and sang, and the effect on the band was wonderful.
Marky Markowitz, sitting next to Joe in the trumpet section, was laughing so hard he could barely play.
After the date, the engineer told Joe that Lanin had said, “I wish I had someone as conscientious as Joe Wilder on every one of my dates.”
Pete Hyde has a friend in Scranton, Don Mecca, who sent a couple of lines from the late Don Reina, known around Scranton for his great high trumpet range, and for a cutting wit.
To a student who asked if Reina practiced etudes, he said, “No, they’re too easy. You have to practice your ninetudes and tentudes.” Listening to a kid playing with a local band, Reina said, “You know, you should go to New York. The walk will do you good.”
Irving Fields told me about a private party he played for Donald Trump (his boss at the Plaza Hotel).
Fields was pleased to see that the instrument he was to play on was a Steinway concert grand, but when he tried it out he found that it was terribly out of tune, and the keys were sticking.
He complained to Trump, who called Mr. Steinway personally.
Fields says that Steinway came over, checked out the piano, and rubbed his name off of it.
To hold the attention of a music class of teenaged boys, Herb Gardner once told them that learning a little piano could help their social lives.
He showed them the shuffle accompaniment to Hoagy Carmichael’s “Heart and Soul,” and told them that if they learned to play it, no teenage girl would be able to resist sitting next to them to play the melody.
As they were learning it, Herb noticed the peculiar look on the face of the teacher’s aide at the back of the room, and wondered if he’d been too flippant about reducing the serious business of music education to a way to pick up girls.
After the class, the aide said to Herb, “That’s the way I met my husband!”
Herb also thinks he knows why the Democrats lost the 2004 presidential election: “They sent rock bands to the swing states!”