When I first moved to New York City in 1950, I had very little income for the first year I was here. I came to town playing a valve trombone, but was soon transformed into a bass player by Buzzy Bridgeford, the drummer who had talked me into coming east from Seattle. I finally fell into some work with a trumpet player named Glen Moore, who had me doubling on bass, trombone and drums (an instrument I had played a little in high school and the Army.) Glen’s clarinet player was Carl Janelli, who served, many years later, as an officer of Local 802.
We played a few jobs in Toronto and New York, and then were hired for one cruise from New York to Argentina and back on the S.S. Uruguay, of the Moore-McCormack lines. In our five-piece band I played bass on the North American music, drums on the Latin music, and trombone at the rail of the ship when we entered and left our ports of call.
One of those ports was Santos, Brazil. By the time we got there, I had resurrected some of my high school Spanish, and was able to wander around the city, exploring. As I passed through a semi-industrial neighborhood, I walked by the open garage doors of a factory building, and when I looked inside I was amazed to see dozens of valve trombones hanging on the walls! And instead of the regular trombone bells, some of them had animal and fish heads where the music was to come out. Fantastic lions and tigers and sharks and birds of prey, all with open mouths to let the sound out. They must have been especially made for carnival bands.
I wasn’t to be paid until the end of the trip, and I had brought very little money with me, so I was unable to buy one of those wonderful trombones, but I spent a couple of hours looking at everything there and watching the workers fashion some of the horns. I was delighted to discover that such a place existed.
Josh Omaits told a story on Facebook about a New Orleans-style funeral service for a military veteran in Troy, Ohio. The band was to play as the casket was put into an antique hearse drawn by two horses, and then they were to lead the procession to the grave. Everything went smoothly until they arrived at the graveside.
The casket was unloaded and the horses and carriage were moved a few yards away. A 21-one gun salute was to take place, followed by the playing of Taps. The rifles were raised, there was a loud explosion, and both horses took off at full speed. Then there was a tremendous crash, and more galloping.
The terrified horses had toppled the empty carriage, smashing it into a hundred pieces. The ceremony had to continue, and the trumpeter now had to play Taps while the two horses ran across the background pursued by groundskeepers in a gator tractor and an ATV. The trumpeter said that all he was thinking was “Don’t laugh and mess up, don’t laugh and mess up.”
He managed to play Taps correctly, the horses were caught, and nothing was hurt except the carriage. The caterer made a note to hire deaf horses if such an event was scheduled in the future.
One night when Herb Gardner was playing at the old West End Café, near Columbia University, he returned to the one-way street near the club where he had found a nice parking spot for his Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, and discovered that his car had been picked up and turned facing the other way around. He said he hoped the college pranksters who did it saw him laughing.
Trace Deaton posted this one on Facebook: A keyboard player I was gigging with was having trouble with his cable. It went on for two nights. I asked, “Are you going to do something about that cable?” He said very seriously, “I don’t think it’s the cord. I’ve had it for 20 years, and never had a bit of trouble with it.”
Kirby Tassos told me that one of his favorite New York musicians was tenor player Frank Basile. He told about a time when Frank was playing with the Concord Hotel Band. During an intermission, Frank got into an argument with the bass player, a pretty big guy, who grabbed Frank and said, “I’m gonna throw you out the window!” Frank grabbed hold of the bass player and said, “If you throw me out the window, you’re going with me!”
When Bill Wurtzel was driving to a gig with his wife Claire, and Les Lieber and his wife Edie, the car suddenly reeked of cigar smoke. They pulled over to the curb and everyone searched the car, even looking in the engine compartment, but they didn’t find anything.
Claire said “Close, but no cigar.”
Also on Facebook, Jeanie Perkins posted a conversation overheard by Scott Eckert at a rehearsal:
Sound Tech: “Testing, one two one two…”
Crew: “Why is it that you sound guys can’t count past two?”
Sound Tech: “If I get to four, the band starts playing.”