The Band Room

January 2019

Volume 119, No. 1January, 2019

Richard Chamberlain posted the following story on Facebook. In the 1970s, the fascist Franco government was still in power in Spain. A pro-democracy movement in Barcelona was gaining strength, and they invited Pete Seeger, America’s best known freedom singer, to perform there. Thousands of people were in the stadium. Rock bands had played all day, but the crowd had come for Seeger.

As Pete prepared to go on, government officials handed him a list of songs he was not allowed to sing. Pete studied it, saying it looked a lot like his set list. But they insisted he must not sing any of these songs.

Pete took the list and strolled onstage. He held it up and said, “I’ve been told that I’m not allowed to sing these songs.” He grinned and said, “So I’ll just play the chords. Maybe you know the words. They didn’t say anything about you singing them.”

He strummed his banjo to one song after another, and the people all sang the songs they knew and had been singing in secret circles for years.

I recently got this note from Bob Mintzer:

“We recently played a concert with the Yellowjackets in Ascona, a beautiful village in Switzerland. After the concert, we signed CD’s and talked with audience members. A gentleman came up to me and said ‘Remember me? I talked to you in 1978 in Zurich when you were here with Stone Alliance.’ I politely told him that I have a hard time remembering what I did yesterday, much less 40 years ago. We had a good laugh, and I realized that we meet many people over the years, and many of them cherish those meetings for life.

“Another story that you might like involves an Italian agent who the Yellowjackets worked with last summer. He had a fairly thick accent. At a dinner I asked him who he had been working with lately. He said he was booking ‘serious jazz nut.’ I said I wasn’t familiar with a ‘serious jazz nut.’ I finally realized he was saying he worked with Cyrus Chestnut.

“At the same dinner I asked the agent what clubs he liked in Los Angeles. He said he liked to go to the ‘bag-of-potatoes.’ It took me a minute to figure out that he liked going to the Baked Potato.”

In Louisiana, Larry Scala ordered a foam-lined guitar case from Amazon. When it arrived, he didn’t like it. He said he absently repacked it and delivered it to the UPS store. He returned home, had lunch, and noticed online that his refund had been issued. Then he discovered that he had left his guitar in the case! He made a frantic call to the store only to be told that his package had just left moments earlier and was on its way to the UPS distributing facility about six miles away.

Larry told me, “I did my best to explain to the nice woman what the problem was but I guess she didn’t understand Freakout.” He then dashed to the distributing facility and eventually got the guitar back. Larry said, “It only cost me $15 for a new piece of tape to reseal the box. I didn’t care about that, I was so relieved to have my ’39 Vega in my hands again. I’ve heard of a vitamin supplement that helps you with memory but the name escapes me.”

Kirby Tassos was playing a European tour of the Broadway show “42nd Street.” In Germany, the audiences would always stay after the show and vigorously applaud the band, begging for an encore. The band decided to do a short one, and the next night they played a bit of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Kirby said it went over like VE day in Paris. The audience went wild, but the actors in the show were outraged, considering the performance inappropriate. Some of them went to the German producer and demanded that they stop this immediately, but the producer responded, “No, they play Beethoven. You go away now!”

Dick Cary was a fine jazz pianist and alto horn player who wrote charts for Bobby Hackett’s band, among other things. His wife Jessie also played the piano, but her main instrument was the trombone.

Jean Packard, the onstage pianist for the production of “Cabaret” at the Imperial Theatre, told me that during casting, conductor Hal Hastings called Cary and asked if he knew any female musicians for the show. Dick said, “My wife is a pianist.” Hal said, “I’ve got one. I really need a trombone player.” Dick replied, “Have I got the gal for you!”

During the run of the show, when the stage band was on a dolly waiting to be rolled onstage, the actress playing Sally Bowles said, “You know, I’m a real asset to this club.” Jessie, sitting on top of the piano, replied, “I’m an ass-set to music.” They were rolled onstage laughing.