Art Baron told me about a club date he played at one of Manhattan’s major hotels. He arrived a bit early, while Tony Sotos and Eddie Montiero were playing the preheat. The hors d’oeuvres tables were groaning with food, and since Art was wearing a tux just like all the male guests at the party, he mingled with them and selected a plateful of delicacies for himself. As he was doing so, he noticed the maitre d’ heading toward him with an accusatory gleam in his eye. Art quickly walked over to Tony Sotos and said, as he munched on a shrimp, “So, if you could play that tune for us on the first dance set, I’d be grateful. It’s a very special occasion.” Tony never missed a beat. “Certainly, sir,” he said, “It will be our pleasure to play it for you as our second number.” The maitre d’ arrived in time to hear this exchange, and returned reluctantly to his station by the door. Only later, when he saw Art on the bandstand during the dancing, did he realize that he’d been had.
Dave Welsch, up in Syracuse, told me about a small theatre production of “Cinderella” where the size of the orchestra had been reduced to cut costs. The musicians would look at more than one book in order to fill in missing parts. At the rehearsal, a trumpet player was trying to play cues from the violin book, and was missing some notes. Dave yelled over, “Maybe you should try more rosin!”
When guitarist Lloyd Wells first came to New York City in 1964, he was having lunch with another guitarist, Mundell Lowe, who was from Lloyd’s home town in Mississippi, and arranger Marion Evans, also a southerner. The conversation got around to jazz musicians from the south, and Brew Moore’s name came up. At the time, Lloyd had only heard a couple of the saxophonist’s records, and he wanted to know more about him. “Tell me about Brew,” he said. Marion thought a moment, and then offered, “Lloyd, Brew never understood this one universal truth: You must first get to the gig!”
Dick San Filippo told me about a gala event at Lincoln Center a few years ago. The management arranged to have fanfares played from the roofs, and Dick was on a large elevator filled with trumpet players who were all carrying their instruments, headed upstairs. The car stopped at the next floor, the doors opened, and there stood Dinah Shore. She beamed with delight at the array of shining brass and said, “This must be heaven!” and got right on with them.
While mixing down one of his tunes for a CD, Herb Gardner said apologetically to Bruce McNichol, “Call me crazy, but I think the banjo should be louder.”
Richard Zoller, a piano tuner and Herb Gardner’s father-in-law, got an emergency call from his local theatre to fix a broken string on their grand piano. Leaving the theatre after finishing the job, he glanced up at the marquee and discovered that he had just replaced the “G” string for “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”
Don Hahn told me about a friend of his who had a weekly gig at a club in one of the outer boroughs that paid a hundred a night. The owner had fallen behind on the guy’s pay, and he went to see about getting his money. The owner told him, “I can’t afford you at these prices. I’ve found another guy who’ll do the job for less money.” Don’s friend said, “You mean you’re going to not pay him less than you’re not paying me!”
Mitzi Scott attended a benefit in California for Ray Reid, who was hospitalized. During the afternoon, various bandleaders told anecdotes about Ray. Bob Lawrence said he had put together a collection of Ellington tunes titled “Dukeisms.” When Ray Reid came to play a date and Lawrence handed him the chart, Ray looked at the title and said, “Wow, I didn’t know you wrote a John Wayne medley!”
I recently got a letter from Brooks Tillotson, who used to be one of the busiest French horn players on the New York recording scene. Brooks asks to be remembered to all his old friends and colleagues. He retired upstate in 1995 and painted his horn battleship gray in honor of his Navy days, intending to make a lamp out of it. But the phone began to ring, and now, at age 72, Brooks is busy as a fill-in player with orchestras in Albany, Utica, Schenectady and Glens Falls. He says, “Playing the French horn for me now is sort of like riding a bicycle with flat tires.”