THE BAND ROOM
Volume 120, No. 8September, 2020
Orin O’Brien gave me this story: “There was an opening in the New York Philharmonic bass section in 1956, and my teacher, Fred Zimmerman, encouraged me to practice even more, and to apply for it. He also encouraged his former students, like Bob Gladstone, Julius Levine, and Alvin Brehm, to take the audition. I was working as an usher in Carnegie Hall while I was studying at Juilliard, and I had noticed that there were no women musicians in the NY Phil except for the second harp, occasionally. But Fred told me, ‘If you play well enough, they will have to take you.’ His confidence in me gave me the courage to apply, so I wrote a letter answering the advertisement in the International Musician, and got an answer back to ‘Mr. O’Brien,’ telling me my audition was 9:45 a.m. on a Saturday morning in October, at the second floor orchestra club room of Carnegie Hall. I did play. Fred told me that I played very well, and that the committee thought I was very good. Bob Gladstone won the job, and since he was a Zimmerman student too, we were very happy. Bob was in the New York Philharmonic for 10 years, and then went to Detroit where he served as principal bass for 34 years. Bob recommended me for the New York City Ballet Orchestra where he and Julius Levine had played for years, and by December of that year I was accepted into the NYC Ballet, where I played for 10 years, until I auditioned again for the NY Philharmonic and Bernstein hired me. There is a wonderful camaraderie amongst most bassists, I have found. We try to help each other out, partly because we KNOW how difficult it is to play well!”
Orin gave me another story, about her early years as a bassist: “I was seventeen years old, and it was my first summer at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara. My bass was borrowed from my high school, and I was so happy to be in a place where everyone wanted to play music 24 hours a day. After a rehearsal, a trombone player in the orchestra came up to me and asked, ‘Do you want to play a job on Saturday night? It’s a wedding in Lompoc, a couple of hours away, and we’ll give you a lift in our car. It’s a five piece band and our regular bass player can’t make it.’ I was thrilled to be asked by these experienced older players, and agreed on the spot. They picked me up around 5 p.m. on Saturday, and the four of us plus my bass squashed into their little Austin and made it to a barn in Lompoc (‘the seed capital of the world’ according to its P.R.). We entered a cigarette-smoke-filled arena with a small stage at one end, where there were three-foot-high cardboard music stands set up with music for approximately 75 Mambos. There was also an upright piano. Seated at it was a plump blonde woman, who looked at me, puzzled, as I took out my bow and asked her politely for an A. She stared at my bow, and asked, “what the HELL is THAT?!” I said it was a bow, and could I please have an A so I could tune. Her response was, ‘Honey, we don’t want the NOTES: we just want the RHYTHM!’ We played for four hours. I got large blisters on my first two pizzicato fingers, and earned sixteen dollars, which I sent to my mother in Los Angeles. I was proud to have played my first professional job.”
* * *
Gene Perla posted this story on Facebook. He got it from saxophonist John Clay, who said: “I was playing a week-long engagement at Fat Tuesdays in NYC with Zoot Sims, Jimmy Rowles and Michael Moore. On a break, we were all hanging out talking, when a man approached Zoot. He said that Frank Sinatra was shooting a movie down on the lower east side and Frank would like for Zoot to drop over and say hi. Zoot paused for a moment and then said, ‘Naaaa… tell him to come over here.’ We all about lost it. The next night there was a table directly to my left of the stage that was set up for about eight people with a bottle of champagne in the middle. In came Frank with his entourage, and they sat down and enjoyed the set. Zoot took the microphone and said, ‘I’d like to acknowledge a great musician, Mr. Frank Sinatra.’ I was told later that night that Zoot having introduced him as a great musician instead of as a great singer was greatly appreciated by Frank.”
* * *
One June day, Herb Gardner overheard two kids discussing their graduation ceremony. “…and when the graduating class walks in, the band plays this real slow march called ‘Papa Smurf’s Dance’.” Herb said Sir Edward Elgar had no idea he’d be so immortalized.