The Band Room
Volume 115, No. 2February, 2015
On Facebook, Roberta Gambarini posted a very nice tribute to the late James Moody. It reminded me of an encounter I once had with him. One winter night I was walking up 54th Street nursing a cold. As I walked by a large car (a Caddy, I think), I pulled out a handkerchief and blew my nose. The car door opened and Moody leaped out. He embraced me, snatched the handkerchief from my hand and threw it in a nearby trash basket. “Don’t put a cold in your pocket!” he admonished. Then he reached into the back seat of his car and pulled out a box of Kleenex, which he pressed into my hands. “Now go take care of yourself!” he cried, and leaped back into the driver’s seat.
The late Bernie Privin once told me a story about the great trumpeter Charlie Shavers. Charlie was in the band that was backing Frank Sinatra Jr. on tour. Frank and Charlie ended up hanging out many nights after the gig in some nearby bar. One night at an after-hours spot in Japan, after having a few drinks, Frank Jr. asked Charlie, “Do you like my singing?” Charlie raised his glass and replied, “Not yet!”
Floyd Levin sent me the following story. The multi-talented Dick Cary had a rehearsal band in California from the 1970s until his death in 1994. After his death, his Tuesday Night Band assembled at his house, as they had done for many years. As they were playing Cary’s arrangement of Ellington’s “Ring Dem Bells,” Levin heard a loud, rasping sound in the adjacent hallway and went to investigate. The noise seemed to be coming from what Levin thought was a smoke alarm, but when he tried to silence it, a voice came from the device, asking loudly, “Dick! Are you there, Dick?”
Levin said, “This is a friend. Dick is…” but the machine clicked off.
Realizing that he had been speaking to an alarm service, Levin wasn’t surprised when a squad car soon rolled up and two policemen approached. They were met by Tony, a friend of the lady who rented the small guest house behind Dick’s rehearsal room.
One of the policemen asked, “What’s goin’ on here?” Tony said, “I dunno…they just broke in and started rehearsing!” The officers laughed and left, and the rehearsal continued.
When bassist Doug Shear first came to New York, he got a recommendation from Bobby Rosengarden to Mel Lewis, who co-led a band with Thad Jones at the Village Vanguard on Monday nights. Doug did a sub there for George Mraz, and was very impressed with the quality of the band. He told Thad and Mel, “This is the best band I’ve ever heard.”
Doug called me recently from Portland, Oregon, where he now lives. He told me he had a dream, in which he relived that night with Thad and Mel, and repeated his remark about the band. Then, in his dream, our dear friend, the late Joe Beck, called down from heaven, “Come up here…you ain’t heard nothin’ yet!”
Bill Spilka was videotaping the Bobby Shew Sextet in Los Angeles. During one set, Bobby told a story about Jack Sheldon. Jack’s band was playing a lot of bebop tunes on a gig, and a customer asked, “Isn’t there anything slow in your book?” Jack replied, “Yeah, January and February.”
The recent death of English clarinetist Acker Bilk reminded Bill Wurtzel of a night at the West End Café in New York, where Bill was playing with Haywood Henry’s quartet. On one set, Haywood called “On the Show,” and nodded to Bill for an introduction. Bill looked at him in bewilderment, feeling embarrassed at not knowing a tune, especially in front of a packed house. Then Haywood explained, “You know…‘On the Sho’…by Acker Bilt.” Relieved, Bill played the intro to Acker Bilk’s “Stranger on the Shore.”
Pete Hyde tells me his friend, Don Mecca, up in Scranton, Pa., got a call to sub on trumpet with a local polka band. Worried about playing a strange book without rehearsal, he told the leader, “I don’t know… your book isn’t hard, is it?” The leader replied, “Well, it is if you can’t play it!”
Herb Gardner was trying to tell a friend via e-mail about a writer, vocalist and pianist who likes to play in odd meters: 5/4, 7/4, 11/8, etc. In his message he called her “Queen of the odd meters,” but his spell checker kept changing it to “Queen of the odometers.”
I played a New Year’s Eve party in a band that included Andy Stein. He told me that one of John Moses’s favorite lines was: “If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a hundred dollars, it’s not about the money!”