December ’13

The Band Room

Volume 113, No. 11December, 2013

Bill Crow

In 1955, Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh recorded an experiment with time displacement, playing the last chorus of the bebop standard “Donna Lee” starting one beat early and keeping it there while the rhythm section stayed with the original placement. This is how Kenny Berger tells the story, which appeared on Facebook: “Around 1976, Lee Konitz tried to get all six horns in his Nonet to play ‘Donna Lee’ starting on beat two rather than the customary beat three. After several train wrecks, Burt Collins cried out ‘Okay, who’s the idiot who keeps playing it right?’ At the end of the same rehearsal John Eckert said to Lee, ‘After all these years thinking you were years ahead of your time, it turns out you were only one beat ahead!’”

(By the way, some readers may not know that Miles Davis wrote “Donna Lee.” The tune is often misattributed to Charlie Parker. It was actually Miles’ first recorded composition, written in 1947.)

Back in his busiest days, Joe Shepley was at home one morning practicing some slow figures from the Arban book to strengthen his chops. Ruby Braff dropped by, and after greeting him, Joe went back to his practicing. Ruby listened for a bit and then asked why he was doing it. Joe said, “Well, you know, when I go into the studio, I never know what I’m going to have to play. I have to be ready.” After a few more pages in the Arban book, Joe went upstairs to make a phone call, and before long he heard Ruby playing his horn, trying out the Arban exercises. But within four measures of it, Joe said Ruby began improvising little runs and decorations. It was impossible for Ruby to not play jazz.

Howard Hirsch’s reputation as a percussionist had reached Duke Ellington, and in the early 1970s Duke called Howard and asked him to drop by. This was an overture for Howard to eventually join the Ellington band, but it never came to pass. Ellington’s health was failing, and he passed away before they came to an agreement. During their conversation when they met at Duke’s home, Ellington said to Howard, “Tell me what’s nice here.” Howard pointed to Duke’s grand piano and said, “That’s nice.” “Describe it,” prompted Duke. “Well, it has white keys and black keys…” “And,” said Ellington, “don’t the white keys and the black keys make beautiful music together?”

Dick Rose, an old friend of mine from high school in Kirkland, Washington, told me about a band he once played with in the Northwest whose leader’s command of the English language wasn’t too good. A dance team was on the bill with them, and liked to be introduced with the descriptive phrase, “Poetry In Motion.” Unfortunately, the bandleader transformed “poetry” into “poultry.” The band had a hard time keeping their embouchures while laughing.

On Facebook, Dave Edwards posted: A local killer saxophonist… hired a sideman to play a gig up in Lake Tahoe. When asked for directions to the gig, the leader said, “You drive up the hill, and when you see the sun, you make a left.”

Scott Robinson was playing in Philadelphia a while ago with Ryan Keberle’s quartet. At the sound check, Ryan passed out the parts to a new piece of music, on which he wanted an intro that was floaty and “A minor-ish.” On the part, he had written the symbol for A-minor (Am) followed by the suffix “ish.” Bassist Jorge Roeder looked up from his part with a perplexed expression and asked, “What’s Amish jazz?” Scott told him that he had to start by unplugging his amplifier.

Ron McClure told me about a nice moment in jazz education. He said a kid came into NYU jazz auditions carrying a horn case. Ron asked him: “Is that a cornet?” He answered: “Yes, it was my great uncle’s.” Ron asked, “Who’s your uncle?” and the kid said, “Nat Adderley!” Then, to Ron’s delight, he played “Work Song” by his great uncle.

I found this one on the Internet: Pablo Casals was asked why, at the age of 90, he still practiced the cello. He replied, “Because I think I’m making progress.”

Peter Rubie told Bill Wurtzel that Jack Wilkins once stuffed a towel in his guitar to cut down the feedback. Jack called it the Towel Farlow model.

Brian Nalepka was playing an Oktoberfest gig on tuba. The band, wearing lederhosen, was in a barn, playing “Tavern in the Town” or something like that. A gentleman stepped up and asked to make a request. He wanted to hear “The Folks Who Live On The Hill,” a beautiful Jerome Kern song. The leader thought for a second and said “How about ‘Blueberry Hill’?” The man looked dejected and said “No, thanks,” and walked away.