After reading my note about the Nut Club in a recent Band Room column, Phil Woods sent me this note:
“I worked the Nut Club after Juilliard in the early 50’s, with Nick Stabulas (leader), George Syran (piano) and Jon Eardley (trumpet). We mostly played bebop, even for some of the strippers, but ‘Harlem Nocturne’ and ‘Night Train’ were frequent for the three shows a night. (I did not see a woman from the front for three years.)
“One night someone told me Bird was across the street jamming in Arthur’s Tavern (which is still there!). Bird was playing Larry Rivers’s baritone and was scuffling with the beat-up horn. I was on a break and asked the maestro if he would like to use my horn. At the time I thought the horn was not happening. Didn’t like the horn, the mouthpiece or even the strap. The piano was only about three octaves and the cat playing it had to be 95 – and his father was on drums that consisted of pie plates and a skinless tom-tom!
“Bird played ‘Long Ago and Far Away,’ and my horn sounded just fine. Even the strap sounded great. Then Mr. Parker handed me my horn and said, ‘Now, you play.’ I knew the tune. I knew all the tunes. I was a living Real Book.
“Bird leaned over and whispered in my ear: ‘Sounds real good, son!’ Be still my heart! I levitated back to work and played the bejesus out of ‘Night Train,’ stopped complaining about the horn, and started practicing 26 hours a day. Best lesson I ever had!”
Here’s a message I got from Herb Gardner:
“Some years ago, the Nighthawks played a party that turned out to be a tribute to a very popular guy who had recently passed away. Our instructions were to start the evening with the vocal chorus of Irving Berlin’s ‘Cheek To Cheek.’ After a brief welcoming speech, the MC said, ‘He urges you to be happy for him and he has a message for you.’ That was our cue for the singer to start: ‘Heaven. I’m in Heaven…’
Randy Sandke wrote the following:
“When I moved to New York, there was a cheap clothing store on 96th and Broadway called Fowad. I needed to get a tux and they had them on sale for $20. Ironically, my first gig in the new tux was for the Fashion Council of New York. I was standing in the buffet line between Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta, and wanted to ask them how much they thought I’d paid for my tux.”
Bill Kring up in Michigan told me about his entry into playing with a band. His early experience had been with choral work, but he agreed to fill in with a Local 47 band for a pianist who was departing for a year of military service. No one had told him that standards were usually played in established keys, and when he was given a solo, he began to play the standard he had chosen in an unusual key. Then when he got to the bridge, he mistakenly played the release from an entirely different tune. He was surprised that the rest of the band, all old pros, followed him perfectly, even matching him on the wrong bridge. He was also surprised that they were unfazed by his lack of experience. They kept him on for the entire year.
Bill Turner used to test violins for a little Irish guy named Tommy Corrigan, in Brooklyn. Corrigan made beautiful instruments, but didn’t actually play, so he needed Bill to evaluate his products. He also did repairs, many for the local Irish fiddlers on Celtic bands. After Bill played one of those instruments, Corrigan, in his thick Irish brogue, said, “It’s jammin!” That was the term he used for many of the violins and bows that he repaired. Bill thought it was a term of approval, until he played one violin that didn’t sound so good.
Corrigan said, “It’s jammin.”
Bill replied, “No, this one doesn’t quite have the tone…”
“Jammin,” insisted Corrigan.
“No, no way…”
“Yes, it is, lad. It’s from Jamminy!”
William Zinn tells me that, when he reached the age of 80, he asked his cardiologist if he could keep him alive for seven more years, since he had begun composing a long work for orchestra titled “The Seven Seasons,” based on the seven Jewish holidays. The doctor said he thought he could manage it. Seven years later, he asked Zinn if he had finished the work, and if he was off the hook. Zinn answered, “Not quite. I’ve started to write a concerto in the style of George Gershwin for solo violin and orchestra. It should take me two years to finish it.” The doctor said, “Is that your last request?” “Well,” said Zinn, “I do have another project in mind that may take ten years to compose.” The doctor said, “I’m not getting any younger… you may outlive me! Why don’t you stop writing and go back to playing?” Zinn’s response was to move to Florida, where he says people live longer. He is still writing.