The Band Room

June '18

Volume 118, No. 6June, 2018

My old friend Howard Williams passed away recently (see Requiem). He sat at a desk next to mine here at the Local 802 Recording Checks Department from 1991 until recently, when he moved to Connecticut to live near his brother-in-law. He was a fine arranger, pianist and bandleader. The whole office was sorry to see him go.

Howard’s big band played at the Garage Restaurant in Greenwich Village every Monday night for many years, until the club closed in 2016. I played with it a few times when his regular bassist was unavailable, and I enjoyed it very much. Howard liked having the ability to write whatever he wanted to, and to hear it played by a band of first-class musicians. Since the Garage was ultra low-budget, all the bandmembers had other sources of income on which to live, but they came for love of Howard and his arrangements.

Howard grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, but his interest in music quickly brought him to New York. He played a lot of different gigs around town and on the road, until he finally settled into his routine, working days at 802 and Monday nights at the Garage. He had a great sense of humor and a sweet nature that everyone loved. His favorite joke, which he told when paying the musicians the pittance that they made at the Garage (in addition to a free meal), was to say, “The gig pays two bills. A ten and a five.”

Rosanne Soifer send me a satire she wrote on the usual “Where Are They Now” nostalgia trivia that included the following:

Some of the smaller pebbles in the garden of rock music include The Cosmic Bell-Bottoms, The Recessive Jeans, and the Tie Dyes. (Their families were all in the clothing business).

These three legendary – at least in their own minds – bands appeared at the 1969 Woodstock Festival, despite the fact that they weren’t invited. Even the heavy rains and copious amounts of marijuana failed to disguise their stupendous mediocrity, and they were collectively booed offstage.

The Tie Dyes and The Recessive Jeans slunk back home to New Jersey, while The Cosmic Bell-Bottoms stayed and attempted to get their VW Microbus out of the mud, where, 49 years later, it apparently remains stuck. According to local reports it has accumulated over $90,000 worth of parking tickets.

Kirby Tassos told me this one: A couple of weeks into a tour he was doing one winter, the conductor fired the clarinet player. At his request, the company flew in the replacement that the conductor wanted. About a week into the new clarinet player’s tenure, the conductor decided the guy wasn’t cutting it, and fired him, too. He asked the company to fly in yet another replacement. Management told him, “We just paid to fly in the new player that you requested, and we’re not about to fly in another one.”

The conductor replied, “But he can’t play his part very well, and I don’t see him getting any better.”

Management’s answer: “Well, then, see to it that he gets better!”

When Ron Smith got out of an Army band in 1974 and came back to New York, he went into Jim and Andy’s bar to see if he could reconnect to the jazz scene. Milt Hinton walked in, and Ron told him he was looking for a chance to play the bass with anyone, even a jam session. Milt was kind enough to take Ron’s number, and two weeks later Ron got a call from Buddy Rich’s manager. Buddy was looking for a bass player, and was willing to give Ron an audition at a luncheon dinner.

After the audition, Buddy said to Ron, “I’m the leader of the band, and you should play a bit softer.” Despite this, Ron was hired for one of Buddy’s in-town jobs. (He turned down Buddy’s offer to play on a tour of Australia because he had developed a flying phobia in the Army.)

On the job, after the first set, Ron was putting the book back in order. He was the only one on the stand until Buddy quietly moved to the drum set without saying anything. Ron moved his bass to put the last chart in order, and one of the tuning pegs hit Buddy right in the forehead, as loud as a rim shot. Ron gasped, “Jesus Christ, I’m sorry!” Buddy turned to him with a grin and said, “At least you got the name right.”

Bassist Jeff Ganz was playing an Easter Sunday brunch in a swanky restaurant in Hoboken. Guitarist Sean Harkness was the bandleader, and John Redsecker was the drummer. When they took a break, Sean said: “Hey, fellas, let’s go get ourselves an adult beverage!” Jeff replied, “I don’t think they serve Ensure here.”

Bill Wurtzel was playing classical guitar at a funeral home in Ossining and noticed that they had a bowl of appropriate candy in the anteroom: Life Savers!