In 1982, I received a last-minute call to sub for someone at a concert who had become ill. When I got there, I noticed there was only one other trombone player in the section. That was longtime Local 802 member Jack Gale, who many of you know. (Jack and his wife Julie are currently living in Ithaca, near their daughter Cathy.)
I was a little nervous since I was in my early 20s and just getting started in the music business. As I walked on stage, I was immediately greeted by Jack, who made feel completely at ease. The concert went well, and Jack went out of his way to help me through it. After the concert ended, Jack and I talked for a while. He was so encouraging and supportive. It really meant the world to me. Then he asked “Do you like Chinese food?” I said, “Of course!” Jack went on to say that every Saturday between shows he goes to Hop Kee in Chinatown with a bunch of Broadway musicians, and if I were ever interested in going to let him know.
Well, I didn’t have to let Jack know. He called me the following week and invited me. And that’s how my Hop Kee stories began. I was amazed at how Jack had everything worked out. Broadway matinees typically ended around 4:40 p.m. Departure time was around 5 p.m. at a designated meeting point. Usually Jack and one other driver would drive to Chinatown. Lincoln Center musicians would take the subway and meet us there. Part of the experience was getting in Jack’s Dodge Dart which could seat six — but there were times we squeezed seven people in. Jack would always have an abundance of cassette tapes and had music playing the entire ride downtown. He knew the route and he knew every street and where you could and couldn’t park. One time he parked in an iffy spot. I said, “Jack, I don’t think you can park there. It says ‘Authorized Vehicles Only.’” He said, “Why not? ‘Authorized’ for who?” Jack parked there and we didn’t get a ticket!
Each week, after we parked — which was usually only two or three blocks away from Hop Kee — we would first visit the outdoor stand where they sold bags of little egg cakes. That was the appetizer before heading downstairs to the restaurant. Once inside, Jack would take command. All the waiters knew him, and Jack would order all the food. Ung choi with foo yee sauce, salt-baked squid, dumplings, stuffed peppers, beef chow fun and spring chicken. There were always two orders of every dish to start. We typically had 8 to 10 people. Sometimes we had as many as 18, and one time we had 32! Occasionally there were added dishes at the request of new guests. Jack’s rule was that at 6:15 p.m., we couldn’t order any more food. When we finished eating, Jack would get the check, take out his trusty calculator, and figure out the bill.
After leaving Hop Kee, we walked about two blocks to Häagen-Dazs for those who wanted ice cream. Jack would treat anyone who had come to Hop Kee for the first time. He took such joy in the whole experience.
In 2004, Jack and I were playing “Wonderful Town.” On this particular Saturday, we were able to squeeze seven people into Jack’s car. As we drove downtown, we realized that the traffic was pretty bad. The further downtown we drove, the worse the traffic got. We finally made it to Hop Kee at 6 p.m. Fortunately, Jack called ahead to some of the musicians who had already gotten there and asked them to order all the food. We sat down, ate, and literally had to turn around and leave so we would all make our 8 p.m. shows. I decided to take he subway back uptown to avoid the traffic. Jack made it back uptown around 7:15 and dropped off several musicians who had ridden with him. Jack then decided to go to Colin Music on 53rd Street to drop off several cases of sodas he had in his trunk. He then drove down Ninth Ave. to find a parking spot as close to the Hirschfeld Theatre on 45th Street as he possibly could. Unfortunately the traffic on Ninth Ave. was at a standstill, and Jack was forced to put the car in a parking lot for the first time ever! We actually held the show for 10 minutes so Jack would have enough time to get to the theatre and on the bandstand. (The orchestra was on stage for this show.) After the overture, Jack put his horn down and was beside himself. I asked him if he was O.K. and he said, “Not really.” He couldn’t come to grips with the fact that he had to park in a lot and that it was going to cost him $50. I said, “Jack, you’ve been in the business about 50 years. That comes out to one dollar a year. That’s pretty good.” Jack had his head down. But when I said that, he looked up at me with a big smile and said, “You know, now I don’t feel so bad.” On the way home that night, Jack called me with great news. The parking attendant only charged him $25. Jack was so thrilled because, as he put it, “That’s only 50 cents a year for the past 50 years!”
Below are some reminiscences from others who were a part of Jack Gale’s Hop Kee group.
For years, Jack delighted in giving people a ride in his car to Hop Kee. One Saturday I called him at the last minute to see if there was room, and he said the car was fully booked. I walked down to his theatre just in case there was a no-show, but everyone was there. I was really counting on some great food so I said, jokingly, “I’ll just ride in the trunk.” Jack was always good for an adventure, so he opened the trunk of his Dodge Dart and pointed out there was plenty of room. I accepted the challenge and made the trip, which wasn’t bad at all, especially since I was able to talk to people through the partial opening into the car interior. Some in the car were aghast at my situation, but Jack and I just carried on as usual with our banter and our traditional debate of whether I was entitled to a free ice cream cone at the end of the meal. On the trip back Jack offered to drive me up town since traffic was light. Jack opened the trunk in front of Lincoln Center where hundreds of people were milling about, and I got out shouting, “Where are the Guinness World Record people? We came all the way from California and they didn’t even show up?” Jack played along and gave me a congratulatory handshake, while people just stared and wondered out loud. Then Jack drove away and we all went back to work with thoughts of next Saturday’s Hop Kee adventure.
— Bob Haley
I went to Hop Kee a number of times with Jack Gale, riding in his Dodge Dart and getting ice cream afterwards. Shortly after 9-11 we had a conversation about how the Chinatown neighborhood had been devastated by the attacks. He wondered if it was a good idea to try to go back to Hop Kee. I said I thought that was the best time to go. That they were probably struggling and needed their regulars more than ever. So back we went.
— Martha Hyde
I played several shows with Jack in the 1980s and 90s. I jokingly referred to my Hop Kee meals as “My Dinner With Jack,” a play on the film title “My Dinner With Andre,” which was popular then. Jack drove us down in his Dodge Dart, often with trombonist Dean Plank, and the enjoyable conversation would largely be about cars.
One night, late after the evening show I met up with an old friend who had been out of the country for a decade, and just flew in from Tokyo. Traveling with him was his friend Sven, a scary looking Scandinavian who was almost seven feet tall. After many beers at a bar in Chelsea they wanted to get Chinese food, so of course I said Hop Kee.
We arrived about 3 a.m. and the place was half shut down, maybe there were five people there, most of the chairs were on the tables, and the door was locked.
I knocked on the window and a very grumpy and tired waiter let us three sketchy dudes in.
He sat us at a booth and threw three menus at us.
But I said, “I don’t need a menu. We’ll have the boiled pork dumplings, stuffed hot peppers with shrimp paste, salted squid with hot peppers, spicy beef chow fun, and Singapore chow mie fun.”
The grumpy, tired waiter looked at me, immediately smiled, and said “Ahh, you come with Jack!”
— Dave Weiss
One Saturday I was with Jack and the usual suspects around the table at Hop Kee. At the end of the dinner the owner came over to greet us, describing Jack as one of his best customers, with such a long history of Saturdays there, and so as a thank-you this dinner was FREE for us all. Jack related to us that once the owner had told him that he so appreciated us “because we show up early and leave early”! (That way, we leave table space available for the Saturday dinner crowds.)
Once we drove down and with Jack’s king-of-parking luck found a prime spot on Worth Street near the courthouses. As we got out of the car a woman rushed up to us and said we could not park there. When asked why, she said there was a film shoot happening, or about to happen, so there was “no parking.”
Of course Jack pointed out that there was no official signage to make this real, just some handwritten papers taped up! The woman got more huffy about it and said if we parked there she would have Jack’s car towed away.
Jack said it would take a couple of hours to actually get the tow truck there, so “go ahead” and call them, we’ll go have dinner — which is exactly what we did.
Of course when we returned to the car later, no tow trucks had ever appeared.
— Steve Shulman
I went to Hop Kee with Jack many times over the years, loving the food every time. On Saturday between shows, when he drove down to Chinatown for dinner, his car was always full. There were two trips that are foremost in my memories. One was when, while we were about to leave 52nd Street and Eighth Ave. to head downtown, Jerry Kail exclaimed, “Wait a minute! There’s my favorite porn star crossing the street! I have to get her autograph!” He jumped out of the car, ran after her and talked with her for several minutes before returning with her autograph. Another trip that comes to mind is, while returning from eating at Hop Kee’s with a full car (his Dodge Dart at the time seated six), we were stopped by a cop car. I seem to remember, Jack might have gone through a light turning red. When the cop looked in the car, he saw six adult men all dressed in black from head to toe, and Michael Hinton was sitting in the back seat holding his infant girl on his lap. Shocked by the appearance, the alarmed policeman went back to his patrol car while we waited and spent a long time on his radio, I suppose having Jack checked out. All was well, however, and the cop sent us on our way back to play our evening shows.
— Lowell Hershey
I remember heading back to midtown in the Dart one Saturday night. We had to stop along the way due to a sudden ominous banging from outside the back of the car. Looked under the bumper and immediately found the culprit. The tailpipe had begun to fall off and was bouncing off the tire. We wedged it between some struts or something, got back in and we kept on our way. Problem solved. Only shaved a few precious minutes off our return time. You couldn’t kill that car.
— Bob Suttman
In the early 2000s, I had only recently started dating Jack’s daughter (now my wife) Catherine. I joined the family and crew for one of Jack’s between-shows dinner runs to Chinatown. I was impressed with his methodology. While driving, he selected a very specific moment to call Hop Kee, informed them of our seating numbers and ordered a bunch of appetizers. As we got close to the restaurant, Jack told everyone that if he didn’t find a parking spot along the way, he’d drop us at the front door and then go find a place to park. He was very confident and clearly quite proud of his parking skills (Jack’s parking skills could be an entire article too). On WorthSstreet, we paused for traffic at a short cutout of the curb and sidewalk, which created an extra lane maybe three or four car lengths long. I thought I saw a space and I was feeling bold so I told Jack “I think there’s a spot right there!” He dismissed this right away. “Oh no, there’s no legal parking there,” and kept driving. He didn’t find any parking, so he dropped us off at the restaurant as promised. We sat down, then about ten minutes later Jack walked in with a look of shock on his face, sat down and told me I had been right. He had driven back to that same place and examined it more closely. Pulling into the spot, he asked a cop nearby whether the parking regulations had changed and if it was legal to park there. It seemed that a new parking sign had been installed that week. Apparently, the cop looked at the sign and said, “Well, I guess so.” He had been doing this for 30 years and I spotted an entirely new parking space on the first try. I don’t think I got his blessing to marry Catherine that day, but perhaps it earned me at least a little respect.
— Mike Titlebaum
Sometime, probably in the late 1980s we had an unusually high turn out for the Saturday between show Chinatown excursion. Several tables, including Tommy Mitchell’s family, brought the total to somewhere around 30 or more musicians and guests. Jack counted and turned to me and said, “I think we have tied the record!” As soon as he said that, John Beale came into the back room at Hop Kee and officially broke the record!
Jack, Dave Gale, Dean Plank and I played a “Live from Lincoln Center” broadcast in the early 1990s with Paul Gemignani and the American Theatre Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall. The day started early and we parked Jack’s Dodge Dart on one of the side streets west of Lincoln Center in an alternate side parking spot, respecting Jack’s aversion for paying for a parking garage. It was the dead of winter, January or February, very cold and when we returned to the car around 11 p.m. or so, the Dart wouldn’t start. Jack repeatedly cranked the car up but no luck. Dean, who was an experienced auto mechanic and had kept the ‘74 Dart running for years, opened the hood and began to try various things to get the car started, but was unsuccessful. A gentleman who had been sitting on a stoop across the street, came over and offered to help but Jack said, ‘Thank you but we’re O.K.” Dean continued to try various things but to no avail. Eventually the gentleman came back and said, “I think you guys need some help.” The man got under the hood and a few seconds later asked Jack to start the car. Voila! The Dart cranked up like a brand new Ferrari! We chipped in to offer our hero a few bucks and headed across the GWB!
During the run of “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” Jack had a Saturday afternoon “outside” gig but was able to make Chinatown and the night show. We got back to the theatre just in time for the 8 p.m. downbeat. On his way to the pit, Jack took his horn with him to the men’s room before entering the pit. Just as Paul Gemignani raised his baton to give the downbeat for the overture, Jack saw that his trombone stand was empty. Then the pit door opened and a stagehand came in holding a silver Bach 36 trombone. He asked, “Does this belong to anybody here?” At least a minute or so passed before Paul and the orchestra were composed enough to start the show!
— Bruce Bonvissuto
One last story about Jack. In 2003, Russ Rizner and I were playing the show “Flower Drum Song.” One Saturday, we both joined Jack Gale at Hop Kee. The food was great and plentiful, and the company was wonderful as always. One of the dishes Jack always ordered was stuffed peppers. The peppers were stuffed with a spicy shrimp paste and were delicious. But sometimes the peppers could be really spicy. Well, there was one stuffed pepper left and Jack cajoled Russ into eating the last pepper. It was a hot one! Russ realized it almost immediately and turned several shades of red. We all had a good laugh about it but Russ was really suffering. No amount of water or rice could quench the burn Russ was experiencing. Not even the ice cream after dinner. Just before the 8 p.m. show I looked at Russ and he was ashen white and sweating profusely. I asked him, Russ are you all right? His response was, “Well, as long as I don’t move, I’ll be fine.”
— Jack Schatz