In March 20, which would have been Marian McPartland’s 96th birthday, a program of remembrance and celebration of her life and career in jazz was presented by the 92nd Street Y and South Carolina ETV Radio, the co-producer of Piano Jazz, the public radio program that Marian originated in 1978 and hosted through 2011.
Jon Weber, the new host of that program, was also the host of the memorial concert. I played one of Marian’s compositions with Jon and the alto saxophonist Grace Kelly. The other pianists who played that night were Barbara Carroll, Bill Charlap, Bill Dobbins, Kenny Barron and Helen Sung. Besides myself, bass players included George Mraz, Eddie Gomez and Chris Brubeck. On horns were Jon Faddis, Mike Kaupa, Bria Skonberg and Jerry Dodgion. There was only one drummer, Doug Kassel, who is Jimmy McPartland’s grandson.
Barbara Carroll and Nnenna Freelon sang, as did surprise guests Michael Feinstein and Tony Bennett. And filmmaker James R. Coleman Jr. (a/k/a “Huey”) showed clips from the documentary that he made about Marian titled “All In Good Time.”
The backstage hang was especially pleasant for me. On most of my jobs, I’m the only bass player, and so it was great to have three of my favorite people from the bass section together in the same room. We told stories and laughed a lot. Marian would have enjoyed – as I did – chatting with everyone and enjoying the music. Getting everyone together and letting the good times roll was one of her specialties.
Margo Guryan was a student at the Lenox School of Jazz one summer long ago. She told this story on Facebook: “Ornette Coleman really shook up everyone at the Lenox School of Jazz. One night there was a jam session. It started with the teachers and filtered down to the students. Everyone was trying to get as far out as possible. I was standing next to a student bass player when he was called to play. He did admirably. When he returned to the observers, his friend asked, ‘How did you know what to play?’ He replied, ‘I just played my exercise book… when I finished one key, I went on to the next!’”
Michael Weiss asked one of his students if she had been playing any gigs lately. She said she recently had played “the music of Jesus Christ” with a bassist and saxophonist. Michael, a bit surprised, asked, “How did it go?” “Not bad.” “What music did you say you played?” “The music of Gigi Gryce.” (Aha!)
Ian Royle, my friend in England, tells me they’ve been having some serious floods there this year. He told me about a bass player who arrived at his gig in a taxi, an hour late. “What happened?” asked the leader. “It was the wife… she came home from shopping in her car and said, ‘The car won’t start. There’s water in the carburetor.’ I told her she didn’t know what a carburetor is. ‘Where’s the car?’ ‘In the river!’”
Frank Tate said, “I went to the check window at Local 802 one day, and gave the guy my name. He started flipping thru, saying ‘Buddy, Buddy, Buddy, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady, Grady…Nope, nothing here for Frank.’”
From John Barbe: “I was driving to a gig with Buddy Morrow and stopped to ask directions. The helpful answer was: ‘Go a few miles, then turn left where the Boy Scouts have their annual picnic.’”
A friend found the remains of an insect in a food package she had bought. She wrote a letter to the company to report the incident, and received a courteous reply from the company manager, expressing deep apologies and thanking her for bringing the matter to his attention. A post-it note also fell out of the envelope. It read, “Send this nut the bug letter.”
Tim Wendt got this story from Jon Rossi in Pennsylvania. Jon was playing the road company production of Smokey Joe’s Café in Harrisburg. The music director was having trouble with the guitar player. He would give the guitarist copious notes after every show, and the guitarist would say, “Got it,” but nothing would change. Finally, the music director gave up and stopped giving him notes. The next day, the guitarist asked, “Any notes for me today?” The MD snapped, “Only two. Act One and Act Two!”
Steve Slagle was hired to accompany a singer who he hadn’t met before. When she handed him her music, he asked, “Are these charts in C?” She looked horrifed and said, “Is that the only key you play in?” Steve said he didn’t ask any more questions that night.