"The life of a traveling band, even a highly successful band, wasn't for sissies. If (Harry James') Music Makers had been a jaunty but slightly depressed boy's club, the Dorsey organization was like a well-disciplined Army platoon. They even wore uniforms--- different suits depending on the venue. (College shows meant blue blazers, tan trousers, and brown and white saddle shoes.) Dorsey's musicians would play up to nine shows a day, then ride all night on their dilapidated former Greyhound bus, sometimes four hundred miles or more at a clip (at forty and fifty miles per hour, on two-lane blacktop), with infrequent rest stops, sleeping in their seats, the Old Man right up front, where he could keep an eye on everybody. "I can still see Tommy in the second seat on the right aisle with the hat on, riding through the night." Jo Stafford said.
Stafford recalled "lots and lots of laughs and good times together" on the Dorsey bus, but Sinatra's memories of those long rides are strikingly unpeopled: especially in later years, he would reminisce again and again about learning how to keep the crease in his suit while sitting in his seat, about falling asleep with his cheek pressed against the cold glass. "For maybe the first five months," he said, "I missed the James band. So I kept to myself, but then I've always been a loner--all my life."
He was naturally aloof, but he was also taking his cues from the man in charge. Tommy Dorsey was anything but hail-fellow-well-met: he was the model of a tough commander who kept his distance from his troops--except for occasional, fumbling attempts at intimacy....Ultimately, Sinatra took to cultivating Dorsey--though he insisted that it was a matter of compassion. "Tommy was a very lonely man," he said. "He was a strict disciplinarian with the band---we'd get fined if we were late--yet he craved company after the shows and never really got it...we all knew he was lonely, but we couldn't ask him to eat and drink with us because it looked too much like shining teacher's apple. "Anyway," Sinatra recalled, "One night two of us decided to hell with it, we'd ask him out to dinner. He came along and really appreciated it. After that he became almost like a father to me...I'd sit up playing cards with Tommy till maybe five-thirty every morning. He couldn't sleep ever: He had less sleep than any man I've ever known.... From the moment Sinatra joined the Dorsey organization he deliberately set about remaking himself in the bandleader's image: The process was both conscious and unconscious. Tommy Dorsey was the most powerful male figure Sinatra had ever encountered--everything the younger man wanted to be, the strong father he had never had. "But in a certain way, Dorsey was also the mother [Sinatra] did have. To begin with, Dorsey was more feared than loved, and fear was a key part of Sinatra's makeup. The bandleader had a hot temper, as did Sinatra, but it stemmed from a different source: Dorsey's anger was black-Irish and bloody-minded; Sinatra's was the rage of a child who is terrified he will be slapped down--or worse, ignored. Sinatra once said that the only two people he was ever afraid of were his mother and Tommy Dorsey--a flip comment but also a sincere and deeply significant one...In many ways, Frank would become both [his mother] Dolly and Dorsey, and the royal road to his fixation on the bandleader was his addiction to his mother." -James Kaplan Excerpted from the book "Frank The Voice", by James Kaplan; Doubleday, New York, 2010.
NEXT TIME TRY AN EGGROLL
"...Milt Hinton...reminded me...of one evening in 1938, after the Cotton Club had moved from Harlem down to Forty-eight Street and Broadway. Old Milt, who could clown some too, got into a jam with Chu Berry. 1937 was the year that Chu won the Downbeat and Metronome polls for tenor sax; he was quite a celebrity around New York. But more important for Milt, he was an ex-football player, weighing about 250 pounds. Picture him matched against Milt Hinton's 150 pounds. Apparently the guys had had a few drinks before the show and Milt was feeling no pain. The saxes were sitting down front in this show and Milt was up in the back behind Benny Payne. Milt had brought with him a pocketful of fried rice from a Chinese restaurant, and he reached into his pocket and pulled out a few grains and threw them down the bell of Chu's horn. Now, Chu had a short fuse. We were in the middle of a show, and when Milt did it a second time Chu turned around and whispered, "You do that again, Fump, and I'll slap the you-know-what out of you." The entertainment ended, and just as we were about to go into the dance numbers, Milt threw some more rice into Chu's horn. Now the club was packed, and people were coming out onto the dance floor, but that didn't stop Chu. He put his horn into the rack and jumped up and went after Milt. Boy, was he mad. Milt leaped up out of his chair and headed down the back stairs with Chu on his heels. Next thing I know they're hauling tail up Broadway. Fump running his little tail off and Chu lumbering like a freight train. Fump knew that if Chu ever caught him, he would clobber him. They ran up Broadway all the way to Fifty-second Street, but by that time they were both exhausted. Fump was too tired to run anymore and Chu was too tired to whip him. They both just stood there on the corner of Broadway and Fifty-second Street holding onto the lampost and puffing and blowing. Then Chu pointed a finger down at Fump and said, "Dammit, if you ever do that again I'll murder you." All this time, I didn't know what was going on, until Bill Robinson came into the Club and said he had seen them running up Broadway. "What those fools doing running up Broadway in the middle of the night, Cab?" Bill asked."
-Cab Calloway Excerpted from "Of Minnie The Moocher & Me", by Cab Calloway. Thomas Y. Crowell Co., N.Y. 1976
DAVE BRUBECK: VETERINARIAN WHO TOOK FIVE
“I was raised in a small community,[in northern California] and I lived about three miles from town…My dad had a cattle ranch, and I didn’t want to go to college, and everybody was willing to accept that except one high school teacher who said I should go to college. His main reason that I should go to college was because of the way I played the piano, not because of any interest in anything scholastically. I was just anti ever getting’ away from that small community…my mother insisted I go to college, and the family made a bargain that I would go to college [College of the Pacific in Stockton, California] and study to be a veterinarian.
Now the complication is that I discovered that I had to work very hard to keep up with the other students in science and zoology because I had come from a small high school that didn’t have good equipment and not the greatest teachers, and on top of it, I wasn’t naturally talented in that direction. So after a year of that, my adviser in the science department said, “Brubeck, you seem far more interested in what’s goin’ on across the lawn in the conservatory than what’s goin’ on here, and I’d advise you to go over there next year.” So I was able to convince my parents that I was a very poor premed student, passing, maybe C average, and I could do most of the homework for the musicians that lived in the boardinghouse, and they were doin’ most of my homework, the other science majors, getting’ me through.
So that’s what happened. I switched over to being a music major. I had nothing there but natural ability, and I graduated from the conservatory without knowing how to read music, which worked until my senior year. And the last semester I had to take piano because you had to learn every instrument, and my ruse so they never found out I couldn’t read would be always learning a new instrument, and you didn’t have to read much. So I learned cello and clarinet, a brass instrument, you had to learn one instrument of each family. But finally, you had to learn a keyboard instrument, and that’s where they found me out.
And the dean went up in arms and said I was a disgrace to the conservatory, and they wanted to not graduate me and kick me out, and then some of the other teachers went to bat and said, “He’s the most talented guy in school, and you’re crazy if you kick him out.” So the compromise was that I could graduate if I promised never to teach music. Which I promised, and I graduated, and that’s what got me through school.”
Excerpted from "Jazz Spoken Here: Conversations with Twenty-Two Musicans". By Wayne Enstice and Paul Rubin. Louisiana State University Press; Baton Rouge and London. 1992
BIX: COULD I HEAR THAT AGAIN?
“Bix Beiderbecke was among the first generation of musicians to learn the jazz craft with instruction from the phonograph. Born in 1903, Beiderbecke was a teenager when the first 78-rpm releases by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band reached his hometown in Davenport, Iowa. He spent hours recreating the solos by the band’s cornetist, Nick LaRocca, by pushing the turntable speed on the family’s spring-wound phonograph to the slowest level, to where he could pick up La Rocca’s improvisations on the piano note by note…Yet, throughout his youth, Beiderbecke resisted formal musical instruction….Without formal lessons, he did not adhere to conventional rules for cornet playing. He developed a unique embouchure and his own system for fingering the cornet’s valves, thus becoming one of a long line of self-taught musicians who subconsciously influenced musical phrasing with experimental techniques. Just as the self-taught, left-handed guitarist Jimi Hendrix used unusual fingering with his right hand to help shape the sound of rock guitar playing in the 1960’s, Beiderbecke’s unconventional approach to using the cornet’s valves contributed to his special style of musical expression”.
Excerpted from “Jelly Roll, Bix, and Hoagy: Gennett Studios and the Birth of Recorded Jazz”. Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis, 1994.
FATS WALLER: BROOKS BROTHER'S LESSONS
“At the age of six he was a regular visitor to an upstairs neighbor’s apartment which, unlike the Waller’s own overpopulated place (Fats was one of five survivors from a family of eleven) boasted an upright piano. His childish skill at picking out tunes induced his parents to acquire an instrument of their own, on which they fondly believed that either Tom or his sister, Naomi, would lay the foundations for a career as a concert pianist...One of the lesser lights among the Harlem pianists was Russell Brooks, whose younger brother, Wilson, had been one of Fat’s school cronies. In 1920, when Fats was sixteen, his mother died…Not long afterwards, still in a state of shock, Fats left home and it was to the Brooks household that he gravitated. They took him in and it was agreed with Edward Waller [Fat’s Dad] that it would be best for him to stay with them…The Brooks family owned a player piano, the forerunner of the phonograph and record player as a mechanical disseminator of music, and just as important to the young musical explorer. When a paper roll was inserted in the instrument and the automatic mechanism brought into play, rectangular holes cut in the paper in appropriate places to correspond to musical notes would activate the piano in such a way that the keys would be automatically depressed as if manipulated by ghostly hands. To Fats, the great boon of this apparatus was not only that it brought him close to the music of idols such as James P. Johnson, but that, by slowing down the machine at certain points and fitting his fingers into the depressed keys, he could learn the fingering of complex chords which his ear could not identify. (It would have been a few years earlier that Duke Ellington, back home in Washington, D.C., learned James P. Johnson’s ‘Carolina Shout’ by exactly the same method).
The Brooks family’s player-piano advanced Fats Waller’s career in a far more important, if indirect, way. Russell Brooks, who lived away from home, came by to see his mother one day and came upon Fats teaching himself ‘Carolina Shout’ from the piano roll. He was so impressed by the boy’s keenness that, the next time he saw James P. Johnson, he persuaded him to give Fats a hearing…James P. Johnson initiated Fats into the art and technique of compulsive swinging which lies at the heart of Harlem stride piano. The pupil made such rapid progress that Johnson soon took him to nightspots as his protégé, encouraging him to get up and play”.
Excerpted from “The Best of Jazz: Enter the Giants 1931-1944” By Humphrey Lyttelton
Taplinger Publishing Company, New York, N.Y., 1982.
“On the excursion boat called the “Steamer Sydney” was where I joined Fate Marable’s band. That’s when, during intermissions, he would help me out with my reading music. And me being a very apt young man, I learned a whole lots of reading music Real Quick. Fate Marable was a good Band Leader, and very strict on us, when it came to playing that music right. He is absolutely responsible for a lot of youngsters of success. Anybody whom ever worked under Fate’s directions can gladly verify this. And will admit he’s one of the Grandest and Finest Musicians in the Biz. The first time I left New Orleans I went to St. Louis, Mo. with Fate’s Band on the boat and to my surprise, we were the first Colored Band to play on the ‘Streckfus Steamers’, including our boat, the Steamer Sydney, the Steamer St. Paul, and the Steamer J.S.- those were the first boats in those days, and the people admired it wonderfully”.
Excerpted from “Louis Armstrong in His Own Words- Selected Writings”
By Louis Armstrong
OxfordUniversity Press, 1999, New York, N.Y.
"The band’s popularity got a shot in the arm when we signed with Columbia Records. It was still wartime, and companies could press only a limited number of records for an artist before moving on to another artist. So I made a deal. “Don’t worry about the guarantees,” I told Columbia. “Just give me as much publicity as your top two artists.” The top two Columbia artists then were Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore. Every time Columbia put an ad in a trade paper, I got one. That drove the other bandleaders crazy - Les Brown, Harry James. They couldn’t figure it out. Sinatra would be on one page, Dinah Shore on the other, and I would be on the next: “Columbia Records presents…” We became Number One in the country because of that as much as anything.”
- Woody Herman
Excerpted from “The Woodchopper’s Ball, The Autobiography of Woody Herman”
By Woody Herman and Stuart TroupLimelight Edition 118 East 30th Street N.Y., N.Y.1990.
“(In 1939) we had an engagement at the Playland Casino in Rye, up in Westchester County. While we were there a record date was scheduled in New York, which was about twenty-five miles way. Billy May was doing all the charts, and as usual was a late finisher. He completed the last number on the way to the city while riding in a station wagon. It was written on scraps of manuscript paper that were handed out to the band with instructions about which to play first and the subsequent order of the others. This was Billy May’s arrangement of "Cherokee" and it became the biggest hit of my career. We got the parts sorted out, rehearsed it in the studio, and recorded it in one take."
“We had a rather bizarre opening once at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago. Just as the curtain went up, the wiring that carried the electricity to all our music stands short-circuited. To get away from the shower of sparks that was erupting all over the stage, the whole band jumped off the band stand in total disarray. The curtain was quickly lowered and repairs made so that the show could go on. But it must have been very funny to the audience."
"Another onstage incident occurred out in Los Angeles. I had a group of hard-living guys, but many of them seemed to have weak stomachs. One of them threw up while we were waiting for the curtain to go up. This set off a chain reaction that had at least half of the band heaving all over the stand, and this was the scene that greeted the audience. The curtain was wrung down in a hurry, and the theater put on a short film while we cleaned up the mess. The stagehands refused to help, and I didn’t blame them. The theater was considerably less than pleased with this scene, and we received a verbal lashing from both its manager and our booker at MCA.”
-Charlie Barnet Excerpts from "Those Swinging Years: The Autobiography of Charlie Barnet" Decapo Press Edition, Cambridge, MA., 1992.
"...Big band swing music of that period [1935-1955] was the finest kind of popular music we have seen in centuries, rivaled perhaps only by the waltz music of the late nineteenth century. For one thing, it was carefully rehearsed with close attention to detail, and played expertly and at times brilliantly, by thoroughly trained musicians, many of whom were capable of playing in the best symphony orchestras.
For another, it was harmonically richer than any other popular music I can think of, and it became more so as it educated American taste, to the point where by the mid-1940s big band arrangers were using harmonies that could have been drawn from Mahler, Brahms and the twentieth-century modernists- and often were. For another, it employed a great deal of counterpoint- not as much as is found in a Bach fugue or the early New Orleans Dixieland- but far more than is customary in popular dance music.
Finally, it was built on the very subtle and complex rhythmic scheme of jazz, a system so delicate that nobody has yet found a way to notate it.
Swing music was not, I submit, as great a musical form as the European symphony of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But it was a sophisticated and skillfully played music which at moments reached towards the highest levels."
-James Lincoln Collier Excerpted from "Benny Goodman and the Swing Era" Oxford University Press, N.Y. 1989
Late one night in 1989, two years before Buck passed away, I had the pleasure of sitting next to him and talking about his career and some rare records I owned featuring him. He was quite interested in recalling them and spoke about a few of the sessions. We were seated at a large round table overlooking the night traffic below, with several other musicians, drinking at "J's", a jazz club in my neighborhood at 98th & Broadway. Buck was still dapper and cheery as ever, enjoying the nightlife. He was one of the best trumpeters, and brilliant arrangers jazz has known.
Lyrical Thought “Guys (Pianists) who don’t like to accompany are doing themselves a disservice. When I teach students, I tell them, ‘When you play for an instrumentalist, you’re accompanying’- they think it means only singers. I tell them that when I play for Al Cohn or Stan Getz, I’m accompanying. They can’t make you sound better, you can only make them sound better. They’re trying to do their best and you’re trying to add to it, to enhance their performance and make it a better end result out of the whole thing. “A lot of times guys who resent singers aren’t as good as the singers, believe me. Some piano players think it’s demeaning to accompany a singer. I don’t understand that at all. “A real good singer who understands the story of a song gives a lot better performance than a guy who’s just playing A-minor seventh to D seventh to G. These guys are, I think often unaware of how much is involved in the material they’re performing. When the guys are used to just playing and not knowing the story of the song, they tend to get a little jaded…When I’m into a ballad, I’m always on the lyric. It keeps the melody in mind. I like to improvise off the melody, not just off chords. How many times do you run up to the same chords? There’stwo-five-ones in songs, and then there are I Got Rhythm bridges, and Honeysuckle Rose bridges. Songs for the most part are made up of similar situations. If you’re going to go on that alone, you’re going to come up with the same ideas. So I retain the melody and, believe it or not, the lyrics. That affects my decisions in my improvising quite often. Because the inflection, the way you milk the note, will be from the lyric, rather than the note itself.” -Lou Levy Excerpted from “Friends along the way: a journey through jazz” by Gene Lees Yale University Press, 2003
You’re Out, Man! “I didn’t fire Dizzy because of his playing, I fired him because of his clowning. He would sit up there in the back row cutting up and throwing spitballs. One night, during a performance, I was hit with two spitballs. Normally Dizzy limited his kidding to the other guys in the band, but this time it seemed to me that he had overdone it. After the show, I was steaming. I walked into the musicians’ dressing room and confronted Dizzy. “You hit me with those spitballs, man. That don’t go in this band.” “What?” “You hit me with those spitballs and you’re fired.” “But I didn’t do nothin’,” he said. “You’re out, man.” I wouldn’t hear anything else. Dizzy was out. Fifteen years later, my friend Milt Hinton and I met in New York. We were having a drink and Milt said, “There’s something I’ve got to tell you, Cab. It wasn’t Dizzy that hit with you with those spitballs in ’41, it was me. But you were so angry I was afraid you’d fire me instead of Dizzy.” Well, by this time I’m around forty-eight years old and Milt is around forty-five and we’re pretty mellow gentlemen, you might say. I looked at him; he looked at me. And we both broke up laughing. Sorry Diz." -Cab Calloway Excerpted from "Of Minnie the Moocher & Me", by Cab Calloway. Thomas Y. Crowell Co. N.Y. 1976
For the record: Buddy Rich never wears thin.
Long and Short of It
"The best drummers are aware of the visual factor in their performances. They not only are aware of how they look; they attend to it with care and at least an instinctive sense of design. This is why the long drum solo can be so compelling in person, but is inclined to wear thin on record."
- John McDonough From the liner notes to the 2005 Mosaic Record 7-Disc album: Argo, Emarcy and Verve Small Group Buddy Rich Sessions.
Never No Lament
"In 1943 we were playing the Hurricane Club on Forty-ninth and Broadway in New York. We had a six-month contract, but it was at a sacrifice and represented no profit to me, except that we could broadcast seven nights a week. By now, "Never No Lament" had lyrics by Bob Russell, had become "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," and had been recorded, before the union ban on recording came into force that year, by the Ink Spots and Glen Gray.
RCA Victor was on its collective toes and had released the instrumental, "Never No Lament," under the new title. It was doing very well, too, but I didn't know how well.
Midway through the Hurricane engagement, I found myself a little short of cash, so I went up to the William Morris Agency- apparently cool, and not overly condescending- for the purpose of borrowing five hundred dollars. While I was exchanging greetings with some of the executives, an office boy passed and saw me.
"Oh, Mr. Ellington," he said, "I have some mail for you too."
"Is that so?" I said disinterestedly.
He handed me about a dozen envelopes, which I proceeded to peel through casually until I came to one with a transparent window from RCA Victor. I opened it and took a quick glance at the check inside. The figure $2,250 is what I thought I saw as I slid it back in the envelope. To myself I said, "Hey, if this is $2,250, I don't need to make this touch up here, but maybe my eyes deceived me and it's really $22.50." So I pulled the check out again and it said $22,500! By the time I got my head back in my collar I was at the elevator exit on the first floor rushing to get a taxi. Man, what a surprise! What a feeling! I could breathe without inhaling or exhaling for the next three months!"
- Duke Ellington
Excerpted from "Music is My Mistress" by Duke Ellington. Doubleday. New York, 1973.
Lionel Hampton's amazing talent on vibes and drums created one of the hardest swinging bands of all time.
Many people made the Big Band Era possible. The late George T. Simon was one of the chief scribes of the Swing Era as Editor of Metronome Magazine. George was a close friend of Glenn Miller, as well as Miller's first recording session drummer. He was also an heir to the Simon and Shuster book publishing house, and an uncle of Carly Simon. George was always interesting to talk with between sets when his band played at the Red Blazer in NYC. His books on the big bands; "The Big Band Era", "Glenn Miller and His Orchestra", and "Simon Says: The Sights And Sounds of the Swing Era", were among the first books ever written about the Band Era, and are indispensible guides. "Sights and Sounds of the Swing Era" was a large book, that compiled his original Metronome Magazine reviews for the years 1935-1955. As a drummer of 14, I received the book at Christmas. Over the years, I have had it autographed by the people who appear in it. Benny Goodman signed his photo in 1974. Max Roach in 1993. I played in a big band at the Red Blazer, and I often ran into George, when our performance schedules brought us there on the same evening. I wanted George to sign his book, so I brought it along with me one evening. That particular night as I was leaving a rehearsal at Carrol studios on W.41rst, carrying the large book under my arm, I ran into Lionel Hampton, who was also in the Carroll studios with his band for a rehearsal. He was on his way out the door on the way home. I showed him the Simon book and he happily signed away, asking after George. I proceeded to the Red Blazer, sat down with George himself, and pulled the book out of my bag, placing it on the table before him. He said "Jack, you made my day!" He was proud of that particular book, and I told him I had just seen Lionel and showed him that autograph, and also the Benny Goodman picture which B.G. had signed. When George passed away in 2001, there was a memorial for him at St. Peter's Church on Lexington Avenue, known for its decades of "Jazz Vespers" concerts. It was a great turnout for the man who had possibly known more people in the music business during the big band era than anyone.
Get Him Out Of Here!
"In 1948, my best friend up to that time, Lee Konitz, called me in Chicago to tell me that Benny Goodman was organizing a new band - it was to be a "modern jazz" band. Benny had heard the Miles Davis Nonet at Birdland and had been most impressed. Maybe he even got excited. He wanted to form a band abreast with the times. So he hired as many people as he could who had been part of Mile's group - Lee Konitz was one. Gerry Mulligan was another. He couldn't get Miles so he hired Fats Navarro. Lee told me there was room for me on the band. I rushed to NYC - by the time I got there a few days later, Lee and Fats were no longer there. In only a few days they had enough of Benny!Mulligan was still there. He had written some arrangements and was playing. He still hadn't arrived as a name player and writer, so this meant something to him. We knew each other though not well, but I was well aware of his ability and we talked about what was supposed to happen with this band. It appeared to be a chance for some new people to become known.
At my first rehearsal, I noted that we were playing the old library. After a week we still hadn't even touched the new music (by Mulligan, Tad Dameron, Gil Evans). I was getting anxious. We were taking a breather one day, when suddenly without warning Benny began to shout at the top of his voice "Get him out of here! Give him his music and get him out!" Benny was literally screaming and kicking at things, and it was such a shock to everybody, we all froze. Get who out of there?
It turned out to be Gerry Mulligan. And even though in later life Gerry got to be well known as someone who took very little nonsense from anybody, on this day Gerry stood there frozen like the rest of us. Benny then strode to the bandstand and started gathering his music and it was falling on the floor and horns were tipped over and it was a scene if ever I saw one.
Gerry left with as much music as could be retrieved - and he left without a word. I never found out what was behind it. I didn't dare ever ask Benny what happened. He probably would have thrown me out for asking. I saw Gerry from time to time, but passed on asking him since he probably would have rather forgotten the whole thing. Now I'm sorry I didn't ask him. I guessed that he had asked Benny for an advance, and as I later came to know B.G. this could have done it. Gerry Mulligan - as we all know- went on to become one of our greatest jazz stars. So it was not the end for him. Far from it. But I've often wondered how things might have gone with that Benny Goodman band had the leader really played the music he started out to present. It didn't work out that way. We never played anything by Mulligan, Evans, or Dameron. We went back to Fletcher Henderson after a week on the road. And for me that was the end of that."
-Milt Bernhart (U. of California, Irvine website, 1998)
Buddy Rich on Artie Shaw
"The Shaw band was a hell of an experience. I think Artie was a very dedicated guy. He taught me a lot about music, behavior on the stand, things in general. I liked what we did, the good tunes, the show music, even the pop tunes. The band always sounded good. Even the ballads had a pulse. The simplicity and naturalness of the scores were a big plus. There was always melody and a strong feeling of swing.
There was only one minor problem when it came to playing the music. Because it was natural, it took a great deal of concentration to keep it that way.
I had a marvelous time that whole year, and for one simple reason. I was young and didn't know better! Sitting in the bus in a snowstorm, putting newspapers in the windows to keep warm– was one of the realities. Freezing in the cold months, fighting off bugs and sweating your butt off in the summer, while traveling from town to town, are not the kinds of experiences that make for a feeling of nostalgia.
I must admit, though, the large, appreciative audiences made you forget a lot of the inconveniences. I remember many a night getting off the band bus, after coming God knows how far, in unbelievable weather. And there it was: another ballroom, club, or auditorium. But the people, who patiently waited for us, got the juices going in me. Because they were so devoted, enthusiastic, you wanted to be great for them. You wanted to live up to their expectations."
Excerpted from: "Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz. The Swing Years" by Burt Korall. Schirmer Books. New York, 1990.
And You Can Forget About The 401K, Too.
“Tommy Dorsey had gone for years without drinking. Now that the band had turned the corner and was swinging, he fell off the wagon- and the results were sometimes humorous…Bassist Sid Weiss agonized for days about whether or not to ask Tommy for a raise. Finally, while the band was playing the Astor Roof of the Astor Hotel in New York, Sid took the plunge and made his pitch to Tommy during an intermission backstage. Result: Tommy chased Sid the complete circumference of the ballroom three times threatening to kill him.”
Excerpted from: “‘Traps’ The Drum Wonder- The Life of Buddy Rich” by Mel Torme. Oxford University Press, New York, 1991.
Terry Gibbs: B.G. / First Man In Space
"One rumor about Benny (Goodman) was that he had a way of looking at musicians that got to be called "The Ray". This scared them because he would stare at you and you didn't know why. I'd heard about that ray, and one time while I was playing for him, I felt this icy stare on my back. Those were my young cocky days; so I stopped playing, turned around, and said, "What the hell are YOU looking at?" He looked at me, shook his head and said, "Oh, was I looking at you, Pops?" I actually think that he was so completely out there, that he was not staring at me or anyone else. His mind was always a million miles away...Benny was odd in many ways. He could memorize "The Flight of the Bumble Bee" overnight, pick up the clarinet the next day, and play it perfectly. He could memorize anything except your name. He called everybody in the world "Pops": Women, children, dogs, fire hydrants, you name it. Everybody was Pops. One time we were rehearsing up at his house in Connecticut and his wife Alice came in and said, "Benny, shall I bring the guys some cokes?" Benny said, "Not now, Pops." He couldn't even remember his own wife's name. Called her "Pops".
-Excerpted from "Good Vibes- A Life In Jazz" by Terry Gibbs. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Lanham, Maryland, and Oxford, 2003.
Flying Between Army Bases with Anita O'Day, 1942
"The Army provided a DC-3 for the (Krupa) band...The trip began like any other...Quite a few of us broke out some whiskey and started a poker game on the floor to break the monotony...As soon as we were aloft we hit a snow storm, but that didn't bother us...On the planes they always issued parachutes...A lot of us never put them on. Suddenly the door leading to the pilot's cabin opened...I saw from the look on his face that something was up. He didn't want to alarm us, but everyone should get into a parachute. You never saw a poker game break up so fast. I scooped up my money and stuffed the bills in my bra.
The captain explained the de-icers were malfunctioning, and ice was forming on the wings. If the buildup continued, we'd have to abandon the plane. In my anxiety to get ready, I managed to get my parachute upside down or backward. Everybody was yelling at me to get it corrected.
Just then (singer) Buddy Stewart emerged from the head, saw the confusion, and heard the captain saying that we'd lost contact with the field because our radio had gone dead. Buddy keeled over. Stiff. I mean he didn't even bend when he hit the floor. Gene (Krupa) who was normally a dark-complexioned fellow, had turned chalky white and was chug-a-lugging what was left in a bottle of whiskey. A couple of guys were praying.
The captain...returned with more bad news. We were losing altitude. I piped up to ask, "Is that good or bad?" Everybody howled except the captain.
"A perfectly sensible question," he said. "If we lose altitude slowly, the ice may melt enough to fall off."
Pushing my luck, I asked, "Are we over land or water?"
"Land, I think".
The guy across from me crossed himself. Gene finished his bottle, and poor Buddy Stewart looked as if he was going to pass out again. Then suddenly the plane broke out of the low-lying clouds. Not more than one or two hundred feet below us was San Francisco Bay. The pilot pulled up fast and the right wing went by something. Close. Too Close.
"What was that?", one of the guys asked. If I'd known, I couldn't have told him. I couldn't get any sound out. Finally the pilot got us on to the ground and I made it to the ladies latrine before getting airsick".
Excerpted from "High Times, Hard Times" By Anita O'Day with George Eells. Proscenium Publishers Inc; Limelight Edition. N.Y. 1997.
"I can't help it. I have to have it that way."
"One night in the winter of 1962, Harry James came into the band room below the stage in the Driftwood Lounge and announced to his musicians, "Buddy Rich, 'the world's greatest drummer,' called about joining the band. Free of the restrictions from his heart attack, Rich had made a strategic career decision: he fully realized his attempt to make it as a singer had failed; he could now play Count Basie's music with James for a salary that Basie simply couldn't afford to match. Buddy Rich's third and last tenure with the James band was the best for all concerned. Harry James reaped the benefit of Rich's playing. It made the band sound hotter, and his presence also helped the attendance on the road. As James told bandleader Ray Anthony, "Buddy takes the work out of playing."
Buddy Rich insisted on being paid $1,500 a week plus expenses so that he could drive his Jaguar to Las Vegas. He refused to open at the Flamingo with the band until his name was given featured billing on the hotel marquee. As he told Red Kelly and Jack Perciful, his cohorts in the rhythm section, "I can't help it. I have to have it that way." He told Harry, "I'll never leave this band again…I'm very happy to be back, and it's good to be like coming home."
Speaking for himself and Perciful, Red Kelly observed: "We were convinced that the first thing he was going to do was [have Harry] get rid of us. Buddy was on the band about two weeks, and Jack and I completely ignored him. One night he played something that was just fantastic. We got off the stand, and I said to him, 'That's the greatest thing I've ever seen in my life!' He grabbed me and gave me a big hug. He said, 'I didn't think you were ever going to speak to me.'"
Kelly added, "With every other drummer, Harry would control the tempo. He'd do a thing with his hands while we were playing. It was a signal for the drummer. He never did that with Buddy."
Jack Perciful offered: "I think the rhythm section jelled faster than any rhythm section in the world. Buddy played for the band; he never played for himself except when he took his solos. If anybody in the band was doing something, he would know where he was going, and he would enhance it."
During a particularly dreary one-nighter tour, Kelly asked Rich, "How do you do it?" Rich answered, "You set a certain standard for yourself and you never go below that, no matter what goes on around you." I found that to be rather inspirational," remarked the bassist."
Excerpted from "Trumpet Blues- The Life of Harry James" By Peter J. Levinson. Oxford University Press, 1999.
Three Kings of Swing Era Rhythm: Buddy Rich, Jo Jones, and Gene Krupa.
The embers of jazz memory are bright here.
www.bigbandsandbignames.comCriticRobert W. Dana's 40's, 50's & 60's night club music reviews written for the New York World Telegram and Sun.
Canadian trumpeter Maynard Ferguson appeared on the U.S. scene in 1948, with Boyd Rayburn's progressive band. He led small groups and big bands since the first Birdland Dream Band in 1956. A consumate showman, and stratospheric high-note blower, his most famous hit turned out to be the theme from "Rocky". I spoke with him after a show in our town, after which he sat patiently at a table signing autographs for a line that stretched down the hallway and around the corner. His last band was as brilliant as his first.