The Band Room

December '18

Volume 118, No. 12December, 2018

In my early years in New York City, I lived for a while in a basement apartment on West 10th Street with the singer Dave Lambert. He had broken up with his wife, who had found an apartment on 12th Street. There was a huge, ugly old upright piano in her front room that she wanted to get rid of. Dave and I asked around and couldn’t find a taker for the thing, so we decided to take it apart and gradually dispose of the parts in the trash cans outside.

We got all the wood removed and disposed of, and were faced with the huge cast iron plate that held the strings. We thought we could break it apart. We started hitting it with a five pound sledge hammer, but it wouldn’t break. It would just bounce up in the air when we hit it, and would fall back with a terrific crash, the strings making a wonderful howl.

Dave borrowed a bigger hammer, and, taking turns with it, we finally made a crack in the casting and then the whole thing came apart. Each piece weighed over ten pounds, and we had to put just one at a time in the bottom of a garbage can to keep the garbage men from rejecting the load. It took us a couple of weeks to get rid of the evidence.

Playing tenor at the Vanguard recently, Scott Robinson had on a gray jacket covered with Japanese calligraphy in different bright colors, while the rest of the band was mostly wearing dark blue blazers. Scott’s jacket was one of his wife’s handmade outfits, which he always wears when performing.

Scott stood up to play a solo and Gary Smulyan, seated next to him, was very enthusiastic about it. When Scott sat back down, Gary leaned over and said, “Must take a lot of air to blow that thing as loud as that jacket!”

Zez Confrey was well known for a couple of compositions for the piano that he wrote in the 1920s and which remained popular for years as piano showpieces. While growing up in Southern California, Jean Packard would hear her father, a radio technician, play Confrey’s “Kitten On the Keys” and “Dizzy Fingers” on their piano.

Jean learned the piano herself, and early in her professional career she played for two years at the 133 Club in New York City, where she became friends with Zez Confrey’s son Paul, and his girlfriend. When the couple married, Jean played for their wedding.

Once, when Jean’s father came to visit her, he met the Confreys and they all went to Jean’s apartment where her father, who was a magician and prestidigitator as well as a pianist, entertained them.

At a later time, when she was living in Washington DC, Jean did research for Paul at the Library of Congress. She says there were two drawers there filled with Zez Confrey compositions. He spent many years writing for jazz bands and composing popular music, and passed away in 1971.

Art Weiss had been hired to play with a Peter Duchin band in Hawaii for 10 days. As he had begun lessons with a new piano teacher, he was determined to keep up practicing momentum and looked around his hotel for a piano.

He found one in a showroom that was closed for renovation. Construction was underway daily, but the piano was in a remote corner and Art further deadened the sound with a heavy tarp.

Art said, “I practiced scales and arpeggios daily for several hours, convinced that the sound was too low to bother the workers. On my last day on the island, I announced facetiously, ‘Thanks to all of you for your patience. I promise when I play my Carnegie Hall Concert you’ll all be invited.’

A nearby worker responded: ‘You ain’t gonna play THAT crap, are ya?”’”

A friend of Rick Faulkner’s, an older pianist, told him about a solo piano gig he was playing in a bar. A gentleman with a British accent requested a couple of fairly obscure standards. At a break, the pianist went over and started a conversation with the man, saying, “I’m surprised that you’re familiar with those songs. Are you a musician?” The man answered, “Me and my mates had a band back in the UK.”

After he left, the waitress said, “You know who that was, right?”’ It was Paul McCartney.

Andy Weis posted on Facebook about a band that played in a club near where he lives, with a keyboard player and two attractive backup singers. They were performing to tracks on the sound system, lip synching. Andy said, “The keyboard wasn’t even plugged in! I wondered if I should have gone to acting school instead of Berklee.”