The Band Room

July August '17

Volume 117, No. 7July, 2017

When I was a child, the only musical entertainment in our house other than my mother’s upright piano was an old Edison windup cylinder record player. We owned about a dozen cylinders, one of which was a 1917 World War One song by Emil Breitenfield called “The Last Long Mile.” The chorus went:

Oh, it’s not the pack that
you carry on your back
Or the Springfield on your shoulder,
Nor the five inch crust
of Clinton County dust
That makes you feel
your limbs are growing older,
And it’s not the hike
on the hard turnpike
That wipes away your smile,
Nor the socks of sister’s
That raise the blooming blisters,
It’s the last long mile!

I learned that song around 1930. Some 80 years later, I read Doug Ramsey’s excellent biography of Paul Desmond, in which I discovered that Paul’s birth name was Breitenfield, and that Emil, – the composer of that song – was his father. How I wish I had known that fact while Paul was still with us! He always appreciated good jokes and stories, and I can hear him laughing as I imagine singing him his father’s song.

Scott Robinson sent me this note:

“Kathy Ridl is a fine violist/composer/arranger who also does excellent graphics work, and helps me with the CD covers for ScienSonic Laboratories. Last night she was making up a photo collage of musicians playing at the Lab, and I was bothered by the bright yellow foam ear plug that stuck out of Pat O’Leary’s ear. I’m very much in favor of using earplugs, and wear them all the time myself, but this bright yellow thing sticking out of his head among the mostly brown colors was very distracting. Kathy tried to Photoshop it out, but couldn’t get it to look natural. So I found another shot of Pat, without the earplug, and asked if she could just take that ear, or part of it, and drop it into the other shot…to which Kathy replied,
‘I’m charging you extra for cartilage!’ (She did the job, though, and it came out great!)”

In Westchester County, Ron LoPinto gets together regularly with several trumpet players who like to exchange stories. One of them told of a Christmas concert at the Garden City Cathedral back in the late 90s where Jerry Marshall and Joe Greco were performing Handel’s Messiah with the Long Island Choral Society. Marshall was in the first chair, and they were all settled in comfortably, waiting for the downbeat, when Greco said to Marshall, “By the way, Bill Vacchiano is in the audience.” (For those who don’t know, Vacchiano was the supreme trumpeter and teacher of his day.) Reportedly, Marshall came out of his comfort zone quickly, and under that kind of pressure, did his best ever performance of that marvelous piece, later receiving kudos from Vacchiano.

Jason Ingram once got a call to play Sammy Davis Jr.’s show. Davis had just closed a two-week run at Harrah’s Tahoe and planned to surprise the audience and Bill Harrah by showing up the next day, unannounced, as the opening act, in honor of Harrah’s birthday. (Jason got the call because the trombonist who had just finished the two-week run wasn’t available to play the extra show.) Jason was on the bandstand a half hour before the show, looking nervously through Sammy’s four-inch-thick trombone book. George Roberts, the bass trombonist, tried to put him at ease by pointing out a few charts that he thought Sammy would perform. It was impossible to really prepare for the show because the conductor would just call out tunes as the rhythm section vamped. Roberts told Jason to relax and enjoy the experience. “These kind of opportunities don’t come by every day.” Jason took his advice and, as the audience went wild, he enjoyed what he says was a truly amazing show.

Years ago Kirby Tassos had a gig at a dinner theater that served wine. There was a refrigerator in the green room where the wine was stored in large cardboard boxes. At intermission Kirby would discreetly pour himself a glass, trying not to be seen by the producer or get busted for drinking on the job. One day, after a few trips to the green room that he thought had been undetected, the producer said, “Kirby, the next time you get up to get a glass of wine, would you get me one?”

Kirby also sent me another story about the great flutist Julius Baker: At one of his flute camps, Baker, age 80, played a Bach flute sonata and received thunderous applause. He replied, “Hey, you should have heard me when I was 75!”

Herb Gardner treasures the association he has had with many legendary older jazz musicians. But some people may have thought Herb was also one of the old guard. One lady came up to him and asked, “Didn’t you die?”