When Robert Lindner got a call in 1990 from the Steven Scott office to play at John Gotti Jr.’s wedding at the Helmsley Palace, he was originally booked to play cocktail piano music at 7 p.m. in a separate room from the band. That morning they called to ask if Robert could come at 5 p.m. and also play in the penthouse for John Gotti Sr. As Robert walked through the lobby of the hotel, he noticed many large gentlemen with bulges in their jacket pockets. It seems the feds and the mob were all carrying, and it was hard to tell them apart.
At the penthouse Robert was escorted to the piano in one corner of a fairly small room. At the other end of the room, several men were watching a large-screen TV. One of them was Gotti Sr., wearing an informal jump suit. They were watching a live news broadcast from outside the hotel. One of the reporters said, “We’re awaiting the arrival of John Gotti Sr., who should be here at any minute.” Robert says that all the men laughed. Then one of Gotti’s men came over and handed him two $100 bills. He said, “Don’t let John give you any money! And his favorite song is ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’”
Robert started playing background music and eventually played the request. Ordinarily, he would have taken a short break after playing for an hour. But he thought – what if Gotti offers me money? If I take it, the other guy will get mad. If I don’t take it, Gotti will get mad! He decided to not take a break and played for two hours straight, and then slipped out quietly to go downstairs to do the rest of the gig. He never found out if Gotti knew that his guy had given him money. He wound up playing two hours overtime for cocktails. He said, “It was a very lucrative gig, and I did play ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ three times!”
For many years Howie Smith taught Jazz Appreciation, a large lecture class that was mostly first-year non-music majors. Each student in the class was required to attend at least one jazz concert – or go to at least one jazz club during the semester – and write about the experience.
The papers that were turned in varied greatly with regard to quality and the amount of information or misinformation they included. Howie saved some of the best quotes. Here are a few that he shared with me. All spelling and grammar appear in their original form:
“During this piece there were different utensils used by the trumpet players.”
“There was tenor saxophonist, keyboardist, drummer, and elected guitarist.”
“Walter played the double bass with a bow known as Arco and with his fingers known as pistacardo.”
“I felt it was worth the money, but I would have enjoyed it more if it were free.”
“The playing style of the song is very smooth and an up-tempo type of beat which made your head bob and your foot tap the floor almost enjoying the song.”
And Howie’s favorite: “The rhythm section included the typical execution of piano, bass and drums.” He wrote a note on the student’s paper saying, “I’m sorry I missed that concert. I think I worked with that rhythm section once.”
Michael Ragan plays in a big band in Miami that is led by the trumpeter Paul Cohen. Paul told Michael that, when he was 22, he had just finished a tour with Artie Shaw that started in Detroit and ended in Los Angeles. There he did a recording session with Benny Carter, with Gerald Wilson and Max Roach.
Cohen joined Roach for the Super Chief train ride from Los Angeles back to Chicago, sharing a Pullman car. It was near the end of World War II, and it was unusual then for blacks and whites to travel together. They brought food onto the train and reached Chicago two days later. There they switched trains and arrived in New York City three and a half days after leaving Los Angeles. That November, Roach would record the Savoy session with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, to expose bebop to a wider audience.
Ragan says, “I asked Pauly what he thought of his first visit to L.A. Pauly’s response was, ‘As a New Yorker, when you exit the Lincoln Tunnel, it’s considered camping!’”
Many years ago, a French society booked Bill Wurtzel’s guitar and bass duo saying it would only be a small crowd. When Bill and bassist Peck Morrison arrived, they were ushered into a huge room. It turned out to be a dance for over 200 guests. There were requests for foxtrot, waltz, rhumba, bolero, swing, mambo, merengue, paso doble and polka. Bill says he and Peck handled it all well, and everyone danced as if there was a full orchestra. He told me, “The society saved a few bucks, and we saved their butt.”
The Grand Island (Nebraska) Independent reported that a suspicious package in a school band room recently resulted in the evacuation of approximately 900 students and staff members from Walnut Middle School. The fire department opened the box and discovered it indeed contained a dangerous object… an accordion.