The Band Room

September 2019

Volume 119, No. 8September, 2019

Bill Crow

The late John Amoroso was a fine trumpet player and a great entertainer, both on and off the bandstand. He had a lot of schtick with which he entertained his audiences and his bandmates. And he often called his friends to tell them the latest joke, or to exchange put-ons. Mark Fleischer told me that, after John moved to Florida, he used to call him to give him directions to non-existing jobs. John would start by saying “You take the Hutch to exit…” and they would agree to meet at a nonexistent place at a nonexistent time. Then they would both hang up and call each other months later for another set of “directions.”

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Turk Mauro told me about a wedding he played in 1973. As they were getting started, Turk overheard some hateful remarks between the families of the bride and groom, and told the rest of the band about the tension in the air. They didn’t pay much attention to Turk’s warning, but suddenly it broke into a free-for-all. Men and women were punching and kicking each other. Turk said, with his sax still hanging from its neck strap, he grabbed his case and ran for his car. As he drove out of the parking lot he saw the bride standing outside screaming, “The band’s leaving!” Surprisingly, the musicians all got paid.

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Drummer Lew Leabman’s girlfriend, Sharon Bailey, sent me this story: Lew was working with Jay Jerome, a club date band in Philadelphia, in the early 1970’s. Jay kept asking Lew to sing, and Lew kept telling him, “I don’t sing.” One night, Jay said, “Everybody sings. Pick a tune.” Lew knew the words to “More,” and since Jay kept insisting, he sang it. At the end of the tune, Jay turned around and said, “Don’t sing again.”

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Herb Gardner posted this one on Facebook: “While I was playing intermission piano on a job with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks I noticed one of the guests watching me intently. Finally he came up and said, ‘You look exactly like the guy who plays trombone with the Smith Street Society. You could be his twin brother!’ When I explained that I was the same guy and just played different instruments with different bands, he drew back, scowled and said, ‘Nah…you don’t look THAT much like him.’”

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Bill Wurtzel got this story from Lou Caputo. When Lou was studying with Frank Foster, he told him he wanted to learn “Shiny Stockings” in F. Frank asked why, because he had written it in A-flat. Lou said the Real Book had it in F, because Dexter Gordon had recorded it in that key. Frank said, “Maybe Dexter learned it from the Real Book!”

Wurtzel also forwarded two stories from Hide Tanaka: “In the 1980’s, after a late night gig at St. Nick’s Pub in Harlem, I was walking with my bass and amp to the subway station on a deserted street. A voice from behind said, ‘Hey, did you play music around here?’ I looked back and a big guy was standing there. He said, ‘You know, it’s not so safe around here. I can walk with you to the subway.’ His voice was very relaxing and I thought, ‘If he wants a few bucks, it’s fine. I’ll pay him and he’ll be my bodyguard for this walk.’ We talked about jazz while we are walking. At the subway entrance, he carried my amp down the stairs. I followed with my bass. At the token booth, I thanked him and offered him a few dollars. He said, ‘No, no, no, I just appreciate that a Japanese guy came to our neighborhood and played our music. Please come back again. Have a good night.’ Then he disappeared up the stairs!”

Here’s Hide’s second story: “When I was a street musician in 1980, we were playing near City Hall. We thought this area was supposed to be good, but no money was coming into our hat. One day, a beggar from down the street was really getting into our music. He said, ‘You guys sound really great. I love Bird and Trane. I can’t believe I’m able to listen to this music for free. In exchange, I can give you some good advice. You guys should move to my space over there. It’s a magical spot. I’m always there until 4 p.m. every day, but after that, it’s yours.’ We were skeptical at first, but we decided to try it. He was right! Just 50 feet made a ‘hatful’ of difference.”

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Kirby Tassos told me about a European tour of “West Side Story.” Their hotel in Frankfurt had 20-story towers. The trombone player and the pianist were serious rock climbers and had brought their equipment to Europe with them. In fact, they planned to go rock climbing the next day. After downing a lot of the local pilsner, they decided to rappel down the hotel as a warm-up. At two in the morning they put on their harnesses, set up a rope and an anchor, and began rappelling off a tower. Everyone was amused except the hotel staff, who had the whole group thrown out of the hotel. The German company manager hurried to the hotel manager’s office with a briefcase full of currency, and after some diplomatic words and many euros, all was forgiven!