In the late 1960’s, Channel 11 (WPIX) showed Abbott & Costello films on Sunday mornings. One Sunday they ran a movie from 1941 called “Hold That Ghost.” In that movie, Ted Lewis’s band was featured along with the Andrews Sisters. Lou Caputo watched the movie and told me that in the opening scene the camera panned across the sax section, and right in the middle of the screen was Charlie Ponte playing tenor. Lou said Charlie kept leaning over to the left to stay in the frame.
The next day Lou was in Ponte’s music shop and mentioned to Charlie, “I saw you with Abbott & Costello yesterday.” He said Charlie kind of grunted acknowledgement. While Lou was there three or four other guys came in and said pretty much the same thing. Charlie evidently didn’t want to be reminded of his days with Ted Lewis, and finally told everyone, “The next guy that comes in and mentions that damn movie gets thrown out!”
Ten seconds later Sonny Rollins walked in. Sonny, an old movie buff, said, “Hey, Charlie, was that you with Abbott & Costello yesterday?” Silence fell over the shop. Of course, Charlie wasn’t going to throw Newk out, so once again he just grunted a response.
Sonny realized what was going on and saw a chance to have a little fun with Charlie, so with a big smile he went on, “Hey, what year was that movie? How old were you when you were with Ted Lewis? Were you with the band long? Did you get to meet the Andrews Sisters?” Lou said that all the while Charlie turned red and redder.
Stella Bell, a dancer and choreographer, was married to trombone player Joe Turi from 1953 to 1958. They met at Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe, in the Paramount Hotel. She was dancing in the show, and Joe was in the band. The club folded after a long run, but Joe went on to play a few Broadway shows and was busy in the recording field. “It ruined our marriage,” Stella told me. “He was never home.”
Stella said, “I regularly drove Joe every Monday morning to Local 802 and sat in the car in front of the union hall. I had some funny accidental meetings, like the time Cab Calloway in a yellow top coat and hat was putting on a show up and down the sidewalk. He did gags and jive talk with musicians as they walked by. He was so distracted that he opened my car door and sat down with me before he realized he was in the wrong car!”
Stella said she was surprised when, while she was dance captain at the Diamond Horseshoe, Teddy Wilson became the rehearsal pianist. There was segregation at the club at that time. But when Frank Sinatra played there, he used Jimmy Crawford as his drummer. Stella said, “I told Jimmy that I had seen him in my family album in Beaumont, Texas where my drummer dad Frank Bell was a big fan of the Jimmie Lunceford Trio, and he had gone after his gig to see them. I love how musicians were always color blind!”
Stella also told me that the Diamond Horseshoe became more integrated when Sugar Ray Robinson hung up his boxing gloves to tap dance in the show there. Many famous African-American artists came to see him, and that opened the door.
Finally, Stella gave me a story about Bert Pederson, a great trumpet man with a bald head who came from Hollywood to New York City with Vaughn Monroe’s band to play a TV show. Vaughn told Bert that he had to wear a toupee, because Vaughn wanted the band to look young. Bert said there was no way he was going to pay for and wear a wig. So Vaughn bought a hairpiece off the rack, not fitted to Bert’s head at all. Stella told me she and her husband Joe Turi were watching the TV show. “When the camera shot Bert as he stood to take a solo, he slapped the rug on his head,” Stella said, “We fell on the floor laughing. It was on backwards like bangs! Bert never had to wear a rug from then on!”
Steve Herberman posted the following story on Facebook, via Steve Abshire:
Barney Kessel was on a recording date in the late 1950s with Shelley Manne, Hampton Hawes and Red Mitchell. Listening to a playback, Barney said, “Red, that bass tone is great.” Red thanked him. A bit later, Barney said, “Red, I really like the sound of your bass. I have a record date next month. Can we borrow your bass?”
I also found this story online:
Frank Portolese was playing a hotel job, and on a break he looked in the other ballroom to see if anyone he knew was playing there. There was. His friend Bobby Roberts was playing guitar in the band. As Frank walked in, someone was giving a toast, and said, “Please join me in raising your glasses.” Dutifully, Bobby took off his eyeglasses and raised them high above his head.