Pianist Marty Napoleon was a good friend, and provided me with quite a bit of work over the years with his trios and quartets. But it was his older brother Andy, a drummer, who I first met when I arrived in New York in 1950. I had discovered that Charlie’s Tavern, in the Roseland building on Seventh Avenue, was the musicians’ hangout at that time, and I spent a lot of time there, hoping to meet musicians and find work. Andy was a regular there, and he made me welcome and spent some time introducing me to the guys he thought I should know.
Andy had a great sense of humor, as did many of the denizens of Charlie’s Tavern. He told wonderful stories about his brothers Marty and Teddy and his uncle Phil, also a musician.
One Wednesday afternoon, after visiting the union floor, which was on Sixth Avenue at the time, I went over to Charlie’s to see who was around. It was a nice day, and a couple of dozen musicians were standing and chatting on the sidewalk in front of the Tavern. Suddenly a strident bell began to ring, and we saw that the metal doors on the sidewalk next to the building were beginning to open, and the basement freight elevator was beginning to rise.
We all stepped aside as it came up, and then we saw that Andy Napoleon was standing on it, holding a lead pencil like a baton, and conducting us, as if he were rising to the stage of the Paramount Theatre. He conducted with such dignified authority that he got a big laugh from all the musicians that were standing there.
In an interview for the Jersey Jazz newsletter, bassist Gene Perla told about a trip he made to Los Angeles one December. When he got there, he called a friend, who said, “What are you doing New Year’s Eve?” Gene said, “I just got here. I’m not doing anything.” The guy asked, “Do you want to play at Sinatra’s house?” Gene said, “Yeah, of course!”
Gene drove to Palm Springs that night with his electric bass and an old upright he had borrowed from Howard Rumsey. When he arrived at Sinatra’s house, the band was already playing. A figure darted out of the dark, and he saw that it was Sinatra, who didn’t say hello, he just said, “Give me the Fender and follow me,” and led Gene into the house.
Gene said, “He and his wife Barbra came up to the band right after midnight and they both shook our hands. She kissed each one of us. Frank was always totally in the camp of musicians.”
One night in the late 1950s I went down to Birdland to hear the Count Basie band. They were playing opposite Wild Bill Davis’s organ trio, and that night Davis brought in an arrangement he had written for the band on “April in Paris.” He passed out the parts and sat at his organ console and played along as the band sight-read the chart. At the end, he called out, “One more time!” and had the band play the last 16 bars again, as he doubled the parts on the organ. He did this twice more, to great applause from the audience. When Davis left the bandstand, Basie stepped up to the microphone and said, “Thanks a lot, Bill. Now I’ve got to go out and buy a damn organ!”
Basie never bought the organ, but he did keep the “One more time” routine, and “April in Paris,” soon recorded, became one of his biggest hits.
Concert violinist Kenneth Gordon tells me he loves to play “Banjo and Fiddle” by William Kroll as an encore on his recitals. The piece is always greeted with applause when he announces it, but that was not the case when he played in Japan. There, the audience responded with giggles and laughter. After this happened a couple of times, Gordon asked his interpreter about the response. She told him that the word “benjo” in Japanese means “toilet.”
At the Guitar Congress in Baltimore in 2004, Steve Herberman and Jim Hall were heading for the cafeteria line. They were followed by eight or nine other guitar players who had attended the morning session. When they got to the cashier, Jim waved toward the other guitarists and told her, “I’m paying for all these guys. I’m a rich guitar player.”
Sam Burtis sent me this message on Facebook: “A long time ago I was subbing on a rehearsal of Louis Bellson’s big band. I was a little late and they had already started so I rushed to put my horn together, sat down, found my place in the music and started to play. I hadn’t looked around much…too busy getting ready. After a tune or two I began to wonder what kind of amp the bass player was using. It sounded so GOOD! I finally got a chance to look back at the rhythm section…and there WAS no amp! Just Milt Hinton! I have never forgotten that moment.”