The Band Room

March '19

Volume 119, No. 3March, 2019

Bill Kirchner told me a story about his high school band director Sam D’Angelo, who was a musical mentor to Bill at Ursuline High School in Youngstown, Ohio, and who died last January. Bill was with him from 1967 to 1971, and says he owes him a lot. “I did my first big band jazz playing and wrote my first arrangements for him.”

When Bill’s mother was in her 70s, she took private piano lessons from Sam, who Bill says wisely taught her various tunes that she could play for fun. He wrote, “One day, Mom called me to tell me about the chords to Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Con Alma.’ I almost wet my pants, quietly laughing.”

At an Aqueduct Race Track gig that Herb Gardner was playing, the two-story escalator to the upper tier was packed with people. The sound system began to play the Star Spangled Banner. As he reached the top, one man stopped and snapped to attention with his hand over his heart and the escalator caused the next person to bump into him. And the next and the next. Each guy was really offended when the next one bumped into him. “Hey, it’s the national anthem, buddy!”

Andy Andrusia, down in Washington, D.C., sent me this one:

Some years ago, at a rehearsal for a local outdoor ballroom, piano man Sammy Marks found the upright piano to be out of tune and badly out of shape. He complained to the then local contractor Meyer Davis, demanding a replacement piano. Davis replied, “O.K.. Sammy, order a replacement, but we’ll split the expense.”

Sammy was quite a gagster, so at the end of the season he had a guy come in and saw the piano in half. Then he had one half lugged up to the Davis office with a big note attached that read, “Dear Meyer, here’s your half.”

Fred Weinberg was asked to write music and record it for two PBS shows. One show was about Holocaust survivors, and the other was a funny cartoon. At that time Fred was on vacation in France, and the only piano available at the resort town where he was staying was at a nearby fancy restaurant. The piano was in an area between the kitchen and the seating area. The maitre’d allowed him to use it during the time the waiters set the tables.

While he wrote music for the Holocaust survivor segment, melancholy and slow, many of the waiters stood listening, and told him how beautiful it was. And they slowly set up the tables.

The next day, while he was working on the lively music for the cartoon, the maitre’d told Fred, “If you played this song yesterday, my tables would have been set quickly. If you play like this tomorrow, you can come back.”

Kirby Tassos was playing a gig in Texas with drummer Jimmie Zitano, known as JZ. He told the band about a gig he played with Stan Getz. After the first set, Stan came up to him and said indignantly, “Hey, who do you think you are? Max Roach?” JZ responded, “Who do you think you are, Lester Young?” Kirby says that after that they became the best of friends.

Peter Zimmerman celebrated his 20th birthday in 1958 by attending a tribute to Wilbur Ware at the old Tin Palace on the Bowery. They were raising money for the ailing bassist. Dozens of New York’s finest jazz musicians showed up at the weekend-long benefit.

One night, the Hank Mobley-Dizzy Reece quintet was scheduled to appear. Hank called the club to say that he was stuck in traffic, so Dizzy and the rhythm section took the stage without him. Dizzy started blowing a bluesy solo.

Peter told me, “A few minutes later, Hank walked in, but rather than joining Dizzy, he sat down at a table with friends and caught up for a while. Eventually, Mobley ambled up on stage with his tenor and relieved Dizzy, who was blue in the face by then.”

Randy Saunders asked one of his drum students to play the sock on two and four. The kid, in all seriousness, took off his shoe and looked at Randy to see if he approved of his sock. Randy did his best to keep a straight face while he explained what he wanted.

Once when Spike Robinson visited Paris, Tom Storer went out trawling the jazz clubs with him. Tom said, “A small band was playing at the Meridien Hotel with a singer belting out standards. She sang ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ and as she ended the line: ‘I don’t know if we’re in a garden, or on a crowded avenue…’ Spike leaned over to me and rasped, ‘I don’t even know what key she’s in.’”