The Band Room
Volume 119, No. 6June, 2019
I inherited my musical ear from my mother, a pianist and soprano who loved light classical music. She started teaching me songs while I was just learning to walk, and she always encouraged my interest in music even though she wasn’t at all interested in jazz. She performed in hometown productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and she often sang on Seattle radio programs.
My dad would sing along in church or at public gatherings (everyone sang in those days), but he really didn’t have a musical ear. He once told me, “I only know two songs. One is ‘Home on the Range,’ and the other one isn’t.”
Herb Gardner sent me this one.
Back when the radio and TV networks found that they had less programs than they used to that needed their steady staff orchestras, they had a meeting with the musicians, explaining the new rules. They were told, “From now on you’re on call. Just come in to work when we ask you to, and come in on Wednesdays to pick up your checks.” From the back of the room an irate voice yelled, “What, EVERY Wednesday?!”
Bill Wurtzel and Bob Kindred were returning to New York on a bus from an out of town gig. Bill had taken off his hat and put it on the neck of his guitar case. When he got off the bus he searched his head but he couldn’t find his hat. Bob signaled from the bus window that Bill’s guitar was wearing it.
A few years ago Howie Smith was playing on a benefit concert with the Tone Road Ramblers at a community center for the arts in Urbana, Illinois. Although TRR isn’t a jazz group, all members of the ensemble are jazz musicians and the music is completely improvised.
As part of the event, members of the audience were encouraged to ask questions. One woman said, “I notice you all seem to play with your eyes closed. How do you know when it’s over?” Without a pause, Morgan Powell answered, “When she walks out the door.”
Howie also told me that trumpeter Ray Sasaki (also a member of TRR) years ago was hired to play with the circus when it was in town. After the performance one night, as he left carrying his trumpet case, someone came up to him to compliment him on his playing and asked, “Are you a professional musician or are you local?”
On an outdoor gig in Florida with Lionel Hampton back in the 80s, Scott Robinson remembered, “I was sweating away in the tuxedo Lionel always made us wear (even outdoors at Miami Beach in mid-afternoon!), playing along from handwritten tenor parts, when, suddenly, BRAP! I hit this note which just did not make any kind of sense at all. Not only the pitch, but the placement of it was just completely out in left field. I stopped and stared at it, bewildered… and then it spread its wings and flew away, in front of my eyes! I will never forget that! It looked like a perfect stand-alone eighth note, flag and all.”
In a Facebook post, organist Chris Fisher told about moving from New York to Maryland several years ago. He found a church job just over the border in Virginia. After his first service, a few of the trustees and deacons asked him if there was anything in the band’s setup that he would like to change. Chris had been annoyed that the large rotating Leslie speaker for the organ was mounted up in a side pulpit, away from the band. He told them, “First and foremost, we need to remove that Leslie from the pulpit.” He was confused by their offended reaction until he discovered that there had recently been a faction in the church that demanded the removal of the current pastor, whose first name was Leslie. It didn’t help when Chris tried to explain, “Leslie is the name of the speaker!”
In 1967, Jim Ford organized a trio in Potsdam to accompany Fran Bombardo. They played at the Crossroads Restaurant in Moira, New York, a short distance from the Canadian border. A display ad in the Syracuse Post-Standard listed them as “The Exciting Miss Fan Lombardo & Her Band.” Jim didn’t mind that they got the name of the band wrong, but he was afraid people would think that Fran was some sort of striptease artist.
Jean Packard sent me a story from her tenure as one of the Kit Kat Kittens in the onstage band with the Broadway show “Cabaret.” While Joel Grey sang “Wilkommen,” the Kittens and the rest of the cast came onstage singing with him. One night they heard a terrible voice behind them. A loud voice, singing off key. They tracked it down to the dance captain, Carlos Gorbea, and told him emphatically not to sing. He said, “I can’t help it! I feel so wonderful, I can’t help it!”