I found this story in my old friend Gene DiNovi’s interesting memoir “I Can Hear the Music,” which you can read online at wattpad.com. When Gene was getting started in the music business, he went on the road with a small band accompanying Anita O’Day in several Midwestern jazz clubs. In St. Paul, their trombone player was indisposed, so they hired a local guy. He had been with the Hal McIntyre band, had a good tone and could read well, but he was a lead player without any jazz skills.
On the first night, the band’s opening number was an arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Groovin’ High” by their drummer, Tiny Kahn. Don Fagerquist, their trumpet player, told the new trombonist that the tune was based on “Whispering,” and so, when the guy took his solo, he just played three identical choruses of the melody of “Whispering.” When he finished, Tiny Kahn leaned over his drums and said to Gene, “What ideas!”
Steve Herberman told me about a time when Wes Montgomery was scheduled to play at the Monterey Jazz Festival in California. Wes arrived without an amplifier, so Jim Hall volunteered to pick one up for him at a local shop. The only thing Jim could find that was available for rental was a very large old tube amp. When Wes saw the size of it, he said, “Man, I ain’t going to play THAT much guitar!”
And, speaking of large amplifiers, Jon Wheatley reports that when John LaPorta was teaching at the Berklee College of Music, he was standing in the corridor near the ensemble rooms one day when a couple of students came by pushing a huge amplifier on wheels. As they trundled past him, LaPorta said sharply, “Turn it down!”
Here are two stories about Sonny Russo from a post on Facebook by River Bergstrom:
First: “Sonny Russo was such a sweet guy. I remember he would make his bed in the hotel every morning before we would leave. I’ve never known anyone else that did that!”
Second: River remembers a trio of singers who would hire Buddy Morrow and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra to back them up. “So we’re going over their charts, and they’re horrible, just awful,” remembers River. “Buddy stops the band, and they’re talking, and I feel something poking me in the back. I turn around, and it’s Sonny, poking me with his trombone slide. He grins and says to me, ‘These are the kind of charts your body rejects!’”
While on the road with a tour of “West Side Story,” Kirby Tassos was playing some tunes on his saxophone in his hotel room. He heard a knock on his door, and assumed that someone was going to complain about the noise. He opened the door, saw it was the very large, imposing actor who played Riff in the show, and quickly said, “I’m sorry… I’ll try to keep it down.” The actor replied, “No, keep playing. It sounds wonderful. I just wanted to ask if you would play more Gershwin.”
Howie Smith sent me a story told by Jonathan Zwartz, an excellent Australian bassist, as part of an interview that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. One weekend, about 10 years ago, Jonathan had just finished his monthly gig at the Clovelly Bowling Club when robbers burst in waving guns. Unfortunately for the robbers, the money from the weekend’s take had already gone into a time-locked safe. The band was lying on the floor with guns pointed at them when the drummer Hamish Stewart said, “What is it you want?” One of the robbers yelled, “We want your f*** ing money.” Hamish said, “There is no money. We’re jazz musicians.” Even the robbers smiled!
Pianist Donald Sosin has been all over the world accompanying silent films. He told me about his mentor, William Perry, who was once playing for a silent film at the Museum of Modern Art. On the screen was a ship on the ocean, so Perry was playing some “calm seas” type of music when he began to have trouble with the damper pedal. He looked down to see what was going on, and when he looked back up at the film, the ocean was there, but the ship had vanished from the scene. Later, an audience member told him the ship had been blown up — but Perry had just carried on with the “calm seas” music!
In the days when Donald still played cocktail gigs, he was asked to play a party at the University Club in Manhattan. They gave him a studio upright piano, and as he played the usual Gershwin, Rogers and Hart, Sondheim, etc., people began leaving their empty wine glasses on top of the piano. Donald just kept playing. A guy came along and said in all seriousness, “Is this the bar?” Don looked back at him and replied, equally seriously, “No, it’s a piano.”