By Bill Crow
Do you remember double-talk? It was the clever use of nonsense words to confuse and amuse the listener. Professor Irwin Corey used it in his act, as did Danny Kaye, Sid Caesar and a number of other comedians. The most adept double-talker was a comedian named Al Kelly. He would say things like, “I just put the frammis into the freen, and the whole maggagga fell into the marfrell.” You would swear he was telling you something, but couldn’t be sure what it was.
My friend, drummer Jerry Fisher, was a skilled double-talker. When we were working with Jack French, who was the accompanist for several top vocalists, Jerry would drive the stage hands crazy by making complaints in double-talk. His complaints were completely meaningless, but the delivery was so impassioned that the stagehands would always wind up saying, “It’s not my fault!” and blaming someone else. Jack French was able to keep a very straight face, and was a perfect setup guy for Jerry.
Double-talk has become less popular lately with comedians, but it still exists in the world of pharmaceuticals. Every new medication carries a name that sounds straight out of double-talk. TV ads are full of praises for Fasenra, Biktarvy, Eliquis, Ozempic, Ubrelvy, Mavyret, Rinvoq, Ilumya, Otezla, Xarelto. Bottles of Finasteride, Glipizide, Silodosin, Stelara, Neuriva, Jardiance, Refendin, Humira line medicine cabinets. I wonder if the people who make up these names used to write for comedians.
Trumpeter Al Porcino always spoke with a slow, measured drawl, which gave his stories and pronouncements a special delivery. When he was with Stan Kenton’s band, Stan was discussing the music one night after a concert, saying something like: “We’re getting stale. We’re just doing the same old thing. We need to try something new, something we’ve never done before.” Porcino drawled, “How — about — swing, — Stan?”
When a streetwalker approached Al one day outside Jim and Andy’s Bar and said her usual line, “You wanna go out?” Al drawled, “I — AM — out!”
And here’s another Al Porcino story, this one courtesy Ross Konikoff on Facebook: Al was doing “Promises, Promises” (with Alan Rubin) and during one intermission, a woman leaned over the pit, and in a voice exactly like Al’s, asked, “Is – Al — down — there?” Someone ran to get Al in the locker room, saying, “Al, there’s a woman asking for you and she talks just like you!” Al went back into the pit and looked up, and yelled, “AUNT MARGARET!”
Red Rodney was at Birdland playing with Charlie Parker when I first moved to NYC in 1950. Several months later I was subbing in trumpet player Billy Heyer’s dance band in the Catskills, and Red turned up on a Sunday afternoon and did a two trumpet act with Billy that was designed to please the predominantly Jewish clientele. I couldn’t believe it was the same guy. I later got to know Red better, and played in his quintet a couple of times. He could really play, and he also knew how to entertain. You couldn’t believe half of the stories he told you, but the other half were true, and were just as amazing.
Todd Stoll posted this story on Facebook:
In about 1986 or so, Red Rodney was a guest soloist with our college band. He was hilarious and self-deprecating and generally in good spirits. At the first rehearsal he was on a stool next to me in the trumpet section and we were about to play a burning arrangement of Donna Lee. Red looked at me and said, “Ya know, my hip has really been bothering me, and ya know, I’ve been kind of sick, and well, man, my chops just aren’t up. I haven’t been practicing…” Just on and on and on. Mind you, the tune had already started. And then he turned and hit the solo break, and played the most incredible, aggressive, high-note on fire bop line I’ve ever heard. When this pure fire of a solo was over, he looked over at my astonished 22-year old face and said, “Guess I’m feeling better.”
Matt Munisteri posted on Facebook: One of my favorite stories about (the late) Peter Ecklund comes from when I was playing on a record of period jazz that he had done arrangements for and was producing. He was in the control room and I was in a booth and could just see him slightly. He pressed the talk-back button:
“You know, it really is remarkable…your chord voicings really sound exactly like Eddie Lang…”
“Yes, it’s uncanny. And your fills and your sound and approach. Did you learn how to do that just by listening to his records?”
“That’s really wonderful.” Then, with a sunny smile, “But please, DON’T DO THAT. It doesn’t work with what I’ve written for the horns.”
Jim Collier was in Moscow some years back on a writing job, and was hanging out with some Russian jazz guys — musicians, critics, etc. One of them said, “Jeem, you look like Zoot Seems.” Jim was surprised and said, “Really?” The guy then said, “All Americans look like Zoot Seems.”