The Band Room
Volume 118, No. 5May, 2018
Gil Evans developed his composing and arranging chops back in the late 1940s writing for the Claude Thornhill band. I’ve always loved an instrumental arrangement he did for Claude of a ballad by John Benson Brooks called “The Happy Stranger.” I was glad to find it on YouTube recently, and I posted it on Facebook. He made wonderful use of Claude’s French horns and bass clarinet, re-harmonizing a simple melody to give it amazing colors.
I was staying at John Brooks’s Riverside Drive apartment in 1950 when the record company released Claude’s recording, and I went downtown to a record store for him and got the record. John put it on his record player and we began to listen. After four bars he snatched up the needle and said, “That sonofabitch! I spent a month trying to get that quality into this tune, and Gil does it better in four bars!” Then he played it all the way through with a big smile.
Spider Robinson, a Canadian writer friend of mine, has a sax and clarinetist friend named Chuck Currie who told him about an encounter he had while visiting the Vine Street Bar and Grill in Hollywood in the early 1990s. Annie Ross was singing there, doing a welcome-back show after an extended stay in England.
Chuck and a friend got the last two seats at the bar, next to a very hip elderly African American lady with a voice deeper and more gravelly than Louis Armstrong’s. Chuck chatted with her for a bit, and when she realized how much he was into music, she warmed up to him. Then he told his buddy that Annie would probably sing “Twisted.”
His friend said, “You mean the Joni Mitchell song?” Chuck laughed.
“No, man, Joni just covered it. Annie wrote the words 30 years ago, but it wasn’t her melody. It was from a sax solo by Wardell Gray about ten years before that, when Joni was about six years old.”
The lady next to Chuck was gaping.
“Man, I thought you were pretty hip, but I can’t believe a young white dude knows about Wardell Gray! That’s too much!”
Just then Annie came on, and announced that she was going to open with “Twisted,” and wanted to dedicate it to Wardell Gray’s widow, “sitting over at the bar with those two white boys.”
Chuck said, “She got treated like a queen all night, and went backstage at intermission with Tony Bennett and other stars that were in the house, while I was still just sitting there swallowing my tongue. Glad I knew my stuff.”
Pete Hyde found a story in a biography of Bunny Berigan by Michael Zirpolo, and passed it along to me. On the road in 1937, Bunny’s road manager, George Stacy, sometimes had an unusual duty to perform with Bunny’s band, besides all the details of seeing that the band was set up and properly presented and paid. Every night, after the final high note of his closing theme, Bunny would throw his horn back over his head, high in the air, and Bob Walker, the band boy, was supposed to catch it behind the stand. Now and then he would miss, and Stacy would be faced with the problem of finding a trumpet for the next gig. He said, “How in hell do you find a trumpet in “Nowheresville,” Pennsylvania on a Sunday morning?”
I recently got this note from Dick Burd:
Around 1973, I sneaked my camera into a Benny Goodman/NY Philharmonic concert in Ames, Iowa. Quietly (timed with the rhythm section), I clicked a few shots. Back then, I didn’t know one sideman from another.
Fast forward to 2010, when I took a print to the Elkhart jazz fest, to give to Dave Bennett, who has been called ‘The new Benny Goodman.’
“Thanks, man!”, he said, “Did you print one for Bucky? That’s Bucky sitting behind Benny!”
The next day I saw Bucky, who said sure, he’d like a print, and wrote his address for me to send it. I got a very nice thank-you note, written in nice feminine penmanship, not Bucky’s shaky printing. (I don’t think my printing would be very good either, after a hundred million rhythm guitar strokes.) The note listed the rest of the sextet, including George Duvivier (bass) and Peter Appleyard (vibes).
When Scott Robinson was on the road in Germany last year with Ryan Keberle’s band, there was a big discussion in the tour van about music streaming and the effect that services like Spotify have had on the scene. Finally bassist Jorge Roeder spoke up: “I think there should be a new streaming service where all the music has to be approved in advance by Scott. It’ll be called Scottify!”
Jeanie Perkins told about a friend whose mother had been a well-known opera singer. Now suffering from Alzheimer’s dementia, she is in a very good special care facility that frequently checks up on and evaluates the needs of its patients. They recently gave her an especially long survey to fill out. The mother said, “So many questions! These reporters are just getting too NOSY!”