When I was in high school, I found an after-school job in the print shop of my home town’s weekly newspaper. It was there that I learned the printing trade, which included melting type metal and casting slugs for the linotype machine, setting type for business cards, envelopes and flyers, and hand feeding a small printing press. When I came to live in New York with hopes of becoming a professional musician, I paid for my furnished room and for weekly lessons with Lennie Tristano with a day gig at a print shop in the Bronx. My job was setting up and feeding a hand press. There were three other presses running in the same room, all very noisy machines, plus a giant paper cutter and a linotype all banging away. To add to the din, the manager and his assistant constantly yelled at each other and at the workers.
Tristano had given me some chords and phrases to memorize, and as I was rhythmically feeding sheets of paper into my press, I would sing my lessons to myself. After a couple of days of this, the manager came to me and said, “Stop that singing! It’s annoying the other workers!”
I didn’t keep that job for very long.
On the web, there is a video of Herbie Hancock telling about a night in 1993 when he was with the Miles Davis quintet. He said the band was having an especially good night when disaster struck: “In the middle of one of the songs, during Miles’s solo, I played this chord that was SO WRONG! I thought I had destroyed everything and reduced that great night to rubble.
“Miles took a breath and he played some notes and he made my chord right. I could not figure out how he did that! It sounded like magic!
“It took me years to figure out what happened. Here’s what happened… I judged what I had played. Miles didn’t. Miles just accepted it as something new that happened, and he did what any jazz musician should always try to do… try to make anything that happens into something of value.”
Early in her career, Jean Packard met Hoagy Carmichael’s sister Martha in Laguna Beach, California. After Martha was widowed, she moved to Palm Springs to live with Hoagy, and when Jean was there one day she paid them a visit.
Martha asked Jean to play a song for her, and then Jean asked Hoagy if he would play her favorite song, his “Baltimore Oriole,” which was used in the movie “To Have and Have Not.” Hoagy said it was his favorite, too, and began to play it.
Halfway through the song, Hoagy forgot one of the chords, and Jean told him what it was. He thanked her and finished the song, and they all went out to dinner. Jean counts that evening as one of her favorite memories.
Some years ago, on a gig at the Le Carrousel restaurant atop the Stamford Marriott, Bill Wurtzel looked down at his guitar for a few moments. When he looked up again, the couple that had been seated at the table in front of him was gone and there were four different diners there. Le Carrousel was a restaurant that slowly revolved to give panoramic views. (It was eventually replaced by offices.)
Wurtzel also recently sent me a photo of a piano he saw in a hotel in Israel. On it is a sign, in Hebrew and in English, that reads: THE PIANO IS DECORATIVE ONLY.
There is an internet site called GigSalad where musicians connect with clients for possible gigs. Amanda McCarthy posted on Facebook that she received a request through that site for a full band for a wedding. The gig was a hefty travel distance for Amanda. They wanted a five-hour performance, with full equipment. They provided a list of song requests. The compensation offered was meals and drinks.
Amanda said, “I can’t believe people are actually this dumb. I was tempted to book the gig and not show up.”
Rob Scheps posted the following on Facebook about the ups and downs of being a freelance musician. He wrote:
“The vicissitudes are extreme. Aside from my great recent gigs with the Gil Evans Band, Sheila Jordan, Tain and the Coretet, I’ve also turned pages in Delaware, taught 11-year-olds, arranged Bruno Mars tunes for a singer and played on a stage with a roof leaking water onto electric instruments. All recently.”
Scheps continued his post with another story: “Greg Gisbert, one of the greatest trumpeters alive (he’s played with Maria Schneider, Wynton Marsalis, Woody Herman and Buddy Rich) once told me about a gig at Casa Bonita in Denver with Tony Klatka, where he was wearing a giant sombrero. I said, ‘When was that, Gizz? High school?’ He replied, ‘No, man, last year!’”
And Scheps ended with this one: “My buddy Roger Rosenberg put it best: ‘One day you’re in Switzerland with Miles Davis; the next day you’re in New York playing behind a puppet.’”