The Band Room

September '17

Volume 117, No. 8September, 2017

When I was a boy, our family made a trip every summer from our home near Seattle to Othello, Washington, my birthplace and the home of my maternal grandparents. In the Seattle railroad station for the Milwaukee Road there was a line of shoe shine stands. The men who shined shoes there were very adept with their shine rags, snapping them rhythmically as they polished their customers’ shoes. They really could swing. When I got interested in jazz in my teens, I realized that those shoe shine rhythms were related to jazz drumming and tap dancing.

Later, while I was in the Army, I heard similar shoe shine rhythms at the railroad station in Baltimore, and realized that they were part of a culture.

I haven’t heard shoe shine rhythms for many years, but hope recently sprang into my heart for a moment when I saw a sign near my home in Rockland County that read: POLISH FESTIVAL. I imagined a huge outdoor venue with a stage on which hundreds of pairs of shoes were being rhythmically polished.

Online I found a video clip of a Harry Connick performance where he was playing a riff on the piano, and the audience members were happily clapping along. They started out clapping on one and three, but Harry just inserted a 5/4 measure and presto, they were all clapping on two and four!

Morty Geist told me that while he was studying at Juilliard back in the 1940s, he had a schoolmate friend who played lead alto with Sammy Kaye’s band at the Astor Roof. Kaye’s band was known for its saccharine saxophone sound. Morty’s friend told him that he had to go home every night and practice to straighten out his sound after trying to meet the requirements of Kaye’s style. Two months before graduation, his friend told him he had suddenly quit his job with Kaye. His resason: “Last night, Sammy said to me, ‘That’s the sound!’”

Dave Weiss, a woodwind doubler at “The Lion King,” was rehearsing a show at Carroll’s Studios. Realizing that some musicians hadn’t been to Carroll’s new location, near the Hudson River, Dave thought of a twist on the old “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” joke:

“How do you get to Carroll’s rehearsal studio?”

“Don’t practice!”

Tom Glusac told me about a wedding cocktail hour he once played in New Jersey. The keyboard player asked, “What kind of tunes do you want to play?” Tom said, “Standards,” and the keyboard player said, “O.K., ‘Theme from Aladdin.’” Tom gave him a blank look. “I thought you said standards.” Tom said yes, and gave him a few titles. “Oh,” said the keyboardist, “you mean Frank Sinatra standards. I don’t know many of those….”

Irwin Fisch was producing a recording date for some 20-something composers. After many hours of recording, one of them asked him why, when the red light went on in ProTools, Irwin said “rolling” into the talkback. Irwin considered trying explain the anachronism by telling them about tape, but thought better of it. He just told them he had meant to say “scrolling” – and that’s the word he has continued to use while working with youngsters.

I got a letter from George Masso recently with this story: “When I was on a European tour several years ago with the late Jake Hanna, we took a break at a jazz festival to go hear another band. There was a vibraphone player with great technique who made all the chord changes, but who never left any space at all. When we could speak, Jake leaned over to me and said, ‘He’s really got that circular breathing down!’”

And Paul Warburton posted another Jake Hanna story online:

“Jake and I were doing a concert with Chet Atkins and Johnny Smith back in the 1980s. Comes time for Chet’s solo, and he turns around to me and says, ‘Bass lay out.’ I lay out, but so does Jake. Chet yells, ‘No! Drums in!’ Jake yells, ‘No bass, no drums!’ I loved Jake.”

Herb Gardner sent me this note:

“Billy Erickson, a wonderfully rebellious baritone-horn-playing high school friend of mine told me this story about the pre-game ceremony he played at a college football game. His band and the opposing band were to put on individual shows and then join together to play the Star-Spangled Banner. Oddly, no one had checked to make sure they had it written in the same key, so they began, one in B flat and the other in A flat. Neither side would give in, so they performed a glorious version with major 9th chords and sharp 11ths and sharp 13ths. Wish I’d heard it.”

And in another note, Herb told me about a gig he played with Bo Winiker at the Massachusetts State House in Boston. He said, “I’ve been told to come in through the kitchen. I’ve been told to use the servants entrance or the delivery entrance or the back entrance, but this was a first. The directions read, ‘You may enter the State House through the Hooker entrance, which is to the right of the main gate.’ And here I didn’t even know they had one! (It’s actually named after a General Hooker.)”