The Band Room
Volume 116, No. 6June, 2016
In 1945, William Zinn had an audition for the Pittsburgh Symphony at 11 a.m. at Steinway Hall. Zinn lived in the Bronx, and the trains were slow that morning, so he arrived on 57th Street with only five minutes to spare. As he rushed up the street, he met the cellist from his string quartet, Sam Isaacson, who was on his way to a rehearsal at Carnegie Hall. He told Sam he was late, and couldn’t stop to talk. Sam pulled out a five cent cigar, popped it into Zinn’s mouth, lit it, wished him luck, and they quickly parted.
Zinn rushed into Steinway Hall five minutes late, where he met the audition contractor, Charlie Cunin, who rushed him onstage. Zinn removed his overcoat, scarf, hat and gloves and laid them on the piano with his violin case. As he tuned up, he realized he still had Sam’s cigar in his mouth, so he removed it and placed it on the edge of the piano. A voice called out from the darkened auditorium, “Get that man and cigar off the stage!” It was Fritz Reiner, who had been listening to auditions since 9 a.m. Zinn moved his belongings backstage, and returned to complete his audition. Though he didn’t have time to rosin his bow, warm up, or calm down, he still gave a good audition. He was told that Reiner liked his playing but not his attitude, and so he would not be offered a contract. Zinn replied, “Tell Doctor Reiner that I like his conducting, but not his attitude,” and left in a huff.
A year later, at Local 802, Zinn ran into a friend, Mike Bloom, who told him he was auditioning at a nearby hotel for the Pittsburgh Symphony, and invited him to come along. Zinn didn’t think Reiner would remember him, so he agreed. Charlie Cunin didn’t remember him, and added his name to the tryout list. But when he borrowed a violin from a young woman who had just auditioned and stepped into the next room, Reiner cried out, “Zinn! Vot are you doing here?” Amazed that Reiner remembered him, he said quietly, “I came for the job.” Reiner said, “Sit down and look me in the eye!” They sat staring into each other’s eyes for a few moments, and then, suddenly, Reiner blinked. Then he said to the manager, “Give Zinn a contract for first violins.”
Mike Bloom had been listening at the door to find out what music was being given for sight reading. As Zinn emerged, Bloom said, “I didn’t hear you play.” Zinn said, “You don’t have to play. Just look Reiner in the eye, and don’t blink!” As Bloom entered the adjoining room, Zinn heard Reiner shout, “Play a concerto!” But they both ended up with contracts.
George Flynn, out on a concert tour of New England with the Maria Schneider Orchestra, told me about playing at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. After the concert, as they were packing up, a lady came up to Scott Robinson and said, “You’re all such wonderful musicians! It was so much fun to sit out there and try to guess which profession each of you is in!” Scott smiled and said, “You just made my journal.”
John Barbe sent me a road story from 1958. The Buddy Morrow band played a one-nighter in a hotel on U.S. route 40 in Indianapolis. John told the drivers to follow route 40 until they got to Columbus, Ohio and turn left on route 23 to the college, for the following night’s gig. About two hours before starting time, Walt Stuart phoned Buddy. “Four of us can’t make the gig! I drove until I saw the ‘Welcome to Illinois’ sign!”
Jean Packard, now down in Florida, told me about a seven-month gig she once had with Bob Snyder’s Grand Hotel Orchestra on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Later, in California, she mentioned that gig to a group of musicians gathered at Dick and Jessie Cary’s home, and Dan Barrett, the trombonist, said he had been on that island when a friend asked him to be part of his crew as he took his sailboat back to Chicago. Barrett told him he was no sailor, but the friend said that was okay.
They sailed west on Lake Michigan, following the coastline, and decided to come into port at the Michigan town of Charlevoix. They needed to sound a horn to let other boats know they were approaching, but they discovered that the sailboat’s horn wasn’t working. So Barrett got out his trombone and hooted them in. He was loudly playing “Charlie, My Boy.”
Herb Gardner posted this on Facebook:
To hold the attention of a music class of teenage boys, I told them that learning a little piano could really fix up their social lives. If they could learn to play the accompaniment to Hoagy Carmichael’s “Heart and Soul,” no teenage girl could resist sitting next to them to play the melody. They were doing pretty well at it, but the peculiar look on the face of a teacher’s aide at the back of the room made me think that maybe I’d been a little flippant about reducing the serious business of music education to a way to pick up chicks. After the class she came over to me and said, “That’s the way I met my husband!”