From John Altman in London: Chris Laurence, the great classical and jazz bassist, comes from a distinguished musical family, the Goossens. His grandmother and great aunt were both preeminent harpists who only retired when they were in their late 90’s. As a precocious 17-year-old, Chris played his first session in an orchestra with his grandmother on harp. During the tune-up, he called out, “Give me and A, Grandma.” The conductor yelled, “How dare you talk to this lady so disrespectfully!” The terrified young bassist babbled, “But she is my grandma!”
Jon Berger was in the house band on the Oceanic, the first Disney cruise ship. The musicians found that they were to back up Wilson Pickett during a week’s cruise, and were eagerly awaiting his arrival as they chatted with his musical director and guitarists. Pickett suddenly appeared, marched up to a tall Carribean chef who clearly was unaware of his fame, and barked, “I’m Wilson Pickett. Cut me some ham!” This quickly became the musicians’ tag line when ordering food and drinks.
On New Year’s Eve 1994, a band led by Frank Amoss was playing for singer Roberta Linn at the Riverside Hotel in Laughlin, Nevada. Just before midnight, Frank started a roll on his tom-tom, and Roberta, on the microphone, started counting: “One, two, three, four…” Frank says if they hadn’t stopped her, she’d still be counting.
Lloyd Wells, down in Nashville, remembers the original production of “Cabaret” when it was at the Broadway Theatre. The pit there could be accessed through a regular door, stage right, and a trap door a little left of the center of the pit. The musicians who sat on the left side entered through the trap door, which stood with a chain holding it open. The last reed player to enter had to close it, but he had his hands full, carrying a clarinet and a bassoon, with an alto sax hung around his neck by its strap. Just as the house lights dimmed, he would enter, nudge the heavy trap door with his hip, and let it fall shut, making a noise like a cannon shot. The patrons in the first three rows would jump a couple of feet straight up. Hal Hastings, the conductor, would sit with his head in his hands, waiting for that nightly thunderclap. Then he would point to Stan Krell to start the snare drum roll that began the show. Lloyd says nobody ever said a word to the reed player about the noise.
Herb Gardner told me that, in college, Joe Hanchrow became very enthusiastic about his course in atonal music, taught by a relatively famous 12-tone composer. The conclusion of the course was to be a performance by the local symphony orchestra of the piece the class had been studying. Since he’d been so fascinated by the intricacies of the tone rows and their permutations, Joe got a front-row seat and prepared himself for a musical treat. The next thing he remembered was waking up to applause. The mathematics was great, but the actual sound of the music had put him into a deep sleep in the first few minutes.
Mark Doyle was working at a Brooklyn nursing home one day, singing “All of Me.” When he got to the line, “…Take these arms, I’ll never use them,” a woman at the back of the room called out, “Yes, you will, dear!”
Ken Dryden sent me a Steve Allen quip he found: When asked what he thought about sex on television, Steve said, “Well, you have to watch out for the antenna…”
Herb Ellis once told Jack Tracy about a club the Oscar Peterson Trio was booked into. On opening night they tried a sound check and discovered that the club’s sound system was completely dead. When they informed the club owner, he said, “Well, turn it on anyway. It might help a little bit.”
I got a fan letter from Ian Royle in the UK, and a story about a guitarist friend of his who got a gig for his trio at a prison near Manchester. He searched around for a place to plug in his amp, and found an outlet under a pile of seats at the side of the hall. Something was already plugged in there, but he unplugged it and got his amp working. It was a hot day, and the temperature was high in the room where they played, so after the first set, the warder’s announcement was well received: “Now it’s time for some ice cream!” That was when the guitarist discovered what it was that he had unplugged.
Paul Gurevich was vacationing in Tel Aviv a while ago, and had taken his cell phone with him so he could check his home answering machine from JFK. He was surprised when, in his Tel Aviv hotel room, the cell phone rang. It was bandleader Dominic Karcic. He said, “Paul, a job just came in for tomorrow night.” Paul said, “Dominic, do you realize where I am? I’m in Tel Aviv, Israel!” Karcic asked, “Does that mean you can’t make the job?”