The Band Room
Volume 119, No. 4April, 2019
My old friend and songwriter Margo Guryan posted this memory on Facebook:
“I was once flying home from Boston, feeling sad. All my high school friends were busy marrying each other, and I felt there was nothing for me in New York. I was looking out the window hoping the guy seated next to me wouldn’t talk to me. He did. I didn’t understand what he said and asked him to repeat it. ‘I said you look like Ava Gardner.’ It was Red Skelton! I wasn’t sad any longer!
“At one point all the lights on the two-propeller plane went out, and Red blurted out ‘We are now entering the Twilight Zone!’ Everyone on the plane burst out laughing. Talk about turning a bad trip into a good one!
“My father was a big Red Skelton fan. When we got off the plane I told my dad to watch who got off the plane in back of me. When he saw Skelton, he said, ‘Oh my! His house in Bel Air just burned down! It’s been all over the radio!’”
Gene Perla had a gig at the West Bank Cafe at 42nd Street and 9th Ave. He stopped in front of the club, unloaded his double bass and amp, placed them just inside the front door, got back into his car, and drove a half a block away to a parking lot. At the end of the gig he did the reverse – or thought he did – and headed to another gig at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a 90-mile drive from Manhattan.
Gene told me, “When I got to Bethlehem and opened the hatchback, I experienced a feeling I had never felt before in my life or since. I had left my instruments inside the front door of the club back in NYC! Fortunately, I had my electric bass to do the gig with. After the gig, I drove back into New York to pick up my stuff.” Which, fortunately, was still there!
Jack Twomey sent me this email:
“A well-known New York City publishing family was celebrating their grandfather’s 95th birthday at a restaurant in the Daily News building. My quartet had the gig, with Warren Chiasson on vibes, Steve Gluzband on trumpet, and Mark Hagen on bass. The floors, walls and ceilings were tile, and the crowd was talking loudly, so the acoustics were bad. We were set up in a far corner, but as soon as we began playing soft cocktail music, we were told to play quieter.
“I barely touched the snare drum with my brushes, Warren used his softest mallets, Steve blew quietly through a mute as Mark plucked his strings gently. I was told it was still way too loud. They asked if the trumpeter could just drink and eat at the bar for the night? He’d still get paid.
“Then they came for Warren, and requested that he do the same thing. They said that nobody could hear themselves talk. Now we were down to a bass and some brushes. When I was asked to stop playing the brushes and join the other musicians at the bar, the group had become a single bass fiddle.
“Mark did his best taking requests. Finally he joined us eating and drinking, and the guys in the quartet asked me to be sure to call them if I got any more gigs!”
On a job in Italy, the band Bill Wurtzel was working with was picked up at the airport by a producer named Aldo. In conversation on the way to the hotel, one of the guys told Aldo, “Bill just worked with Mickey Rooney.” He replied, “Aldo like macaroni.”
When Jean Packard first moved from California to New York City, she and her husband, Bradley Cunningham, made friends with the composer Alec Wilder. Alec would visit the various venues where Jean was performing, and eventually asked her to record demos of six of his compositions. He said he would give her a pony (!) for doing it.
Jean told me she spent two weeks transposing the music and practicing it. The demos resulted in a couple of recordings of Alec’s songs by Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, and one of the songs was included in Frank Sinatra’s album “The September of my Years.” But she never got her pony!
When Jean joined the National Company of the Broadway show “Cabaret,” she was hired to play accordion and piano. Her accordion was back in California, where she had played it when they lived by the ocean in Laguna Beach. She sent for it and took it to the maker to have it spruced up. They told her that the inside was full of salt from the ocean air, and it couldn’t be repaired. She had to buy a new one.
I was walking down West 48th Street one day and ran into a bass player I hadn’t seen for a year or so. “What have you been up to?” I asked. He gave me a meaningful look and confided, “I just spent six months on the road with an all-Capricorn band!”