The Band Room
Volume 118, No. 1January, 2018
I usually have my car radio set to one of the two jazz radio stations in the New York City area. The music seems ageless, but the disc jockeys seem to be getting younger and younger. I suppose some of them have never heard anyone pronounce the names of many of the jazz artists on the albums from which they choose their programming. That is understandable, but some of their mispronunciations really set my teeth on edge.
Osie Johnson, who was one of the city’s most recorded drummers during the 1960s (he died in 1966) pronounced his name “OH-see.” I heard a young man on WKCR announce him as Ozzie Johnson. And recently a young woman on WBGO said, after a piano trio number, that the leader was George Shearling. If this gets any worse, I may have to ask Phil Schaap, the New York jazz announcer emeritus, to record all the names in the Encyclopedia of Jazz for reference purposes.
At the funeral in November for my old friend Ted Sommer (see obituary), some of the stories he loved to tell were repeated by several of the speakers to illustrate his wonderful sense of humor. I remembered one that Ted told me back in 1989. It was a play on the old musicians’ joke about the band that went down with the Titanic. That band had been providing two-beat dance music for the passengers all night, and they kept playing as the ship sank. The bassist is said to have whispered to the drummer, “Screw ‘em, let’s go into four!”
Ted’s story was about a trip he made on the old S.S France. The ship had been reconditioned, and set out for a cruise of the Caribbean with Rita Moreno as the star entertainer. She had Ted and Irv Joseph with her as accompanists to augment the band on the ship.
After the show and a late buffet, Ted and his wife were in their stateroom watching TV. Suddenly the screen went blank, the lights went out, and they could hear that the engines had stopped and the watertight doors were sliding shut.
“What happened?” cried Ted’s wife. “What are we going to do?”
“I’ll show you!” said Ted, and he grabbed the phone, which was still working. He dialed Irv Joseph’s room.
“Teddy! What happened?” cried Irv.
“I don’t know, but screw ‘em, let’s go into four!”
Herb Gardner has sent me many stories over the years about funny things that happened on the New York City music scene. Now that he lives in Massachusetts, I don’t hear from him so often, but every now and then I get another gem from him.
One Thanksgiving morning found Herb at a store in Hancock, New Hampshire, buying a pan. “A little late to be buyin’ a turkey pan, ain’t it?” asked the old Yankee behind him. Herb explained, “I just found out this morning that the kids had used the old one to change the oil in their car.”
The old Yankee pondered this and then said, “Well, it would keep the bird from stickin’…”
That reminded me of a comment from the old Fred Allen radio show. One of the characters on Allen’s Alley was a Yankee named Titus Moody. Fred asked Titus, “What do you think of this new invention, television?” Titus replied, “I don’t hold with fu’niture that talks.”
On a break at Jimmy Nottingham’s Sir James Pub, the waitress said that someone was buying the band drinks, and asked what Bill Wurtzel was drinking. Bill said, “No thanks.” One of the other musicians quickly poked him and said, “You’re drinking scotch.”
Wurtzel said that when he was in Eric Emory’s big band, Emory wore a 45 Magnum pistol, and once brought an automatic rifle to rehearsal. Bill encouraged Artie Miller not to play any wrong notes. He also (quietly) renamed the leader Eric Armory.
Around the time that Wurtzel’s daughter Nina was born, there was a famous piano ad which read “Gee Dad, it’s a Wurlitzer. “ So, for a birth announcement, Bill penned “Gee Mom & Dad, it’s a Wurtzelher.”
And, while listening to his car radio, Wurtzel said he liked the sound of a guitarist playing with an organ group but he couldn’t identify who it was. Then the announcer said it was the Bill Doggett group with Bill Wurtzel on guitar.
John Simon told me that he took up the baritone horn in junior high school. He said that after a couple of months on the horn his tone suddenly got really lousy. The teacher struggled with him, telling him to put more wind into it, to blow harder.
Weeks later, exasperated, the teacher ran a hose through the horn and a ping pong ball came out. John’s guess is that it was the work of some school band prankster. The good part was, because he’d had to blow so hard for awhile, he developed a nice big tone. John says he recommends the Ping Pong Ball Tone Production Method.