the Minstrel's Tale down along the Costa Blanca
The events portrayed in this series are not necessarily in chronological order
is cheap, and many
talents treat themselves cheaply.
My friend the pianist Max Harris died the other day, aged 85. Max had been a member of the British Heart Association for many years. I'd only seen him once in the last forty-five years. That was at the Tommy Sampson Reunion a couple of years back. He looked exactly the same as when I last saw him, with the same twinkle in his eye.
I first met Max when I joined Jack Parnell's small band back in 1953. Seems like yesterday. There were some real heavyweights in that band: Derek Humble, Laddie Busby, Bob Burns, Jimmy Watson, Joe Temperley, Jimmy Deuchar, Kenny Graham, Phil Seamenand Jack himself, of course. They were the giants of the profession and I was the skinny young newcomer. They all played magnificently; I felt a bit of a draught trying to keep up with them but they fired me with enthusiasm and helped me along famously. Max was the man who looked after me most of all. I went everywhere, to all the jobs, with him in his car. It was Max who taught me how to drive.
After I left the band I didn't see Max too often. He began writing so diligently for television and record productions that I hardly ever saw him play piano again in the studios. Max was responsible for the music for a great many of the shows we are seeing on television even today. When he died I expected there to be a huge tribute to him in the newspapers and music journals. Maybe there were, but I didn't see any. So this is my tribute to Max, a lovely man, and an exceptional musician. Tribute to Max
My wife's cousin Marco recently bought a house in Spain just around the corner from us. He came to see us the other day with his wife Maaike and their little daughter Noor. Noor is two-and-a-half and already speaks Dutch, English and Spanish. The only people who can understand her are her parents, but she understands me all right. "Do you like this?" She nods, Yes. "You don't want this do you?" She shakes her head, No. Instant rapport.
They named her Noor after Queen Noor of Jordan. They were racking their brains for a name when they heard that Noor means Light, i.e., as opposite to darkness. She is that. Lights up the room wherever she goes. Now she can walk, run and climb we have to keep an eye on her. Our house is a death-trap for tiny tots, with its steps and stairs all over the place. We thought it was hip at first, but I hope neither of us ever needs a wheelchair.
Noor had already fallen down the steps into our sunken fireplace/television corner on a previous visit. No damage but a big fright and a lot of noise. On this visit I was doing my usual stupid face routine with her and she was shrinking back and away in mock alarm until she fell off the couch backwards and hit her head on Conny's big ashtray. All my life I'd always thought that people only got big bumps on their heads when they banged them in cartoons or kids' comics, but Noor came up off the floor howling with a big lump sticking out of her forehead like she was growing a horn.
She was screaming and being sick all over the place right away. Marco called the doctor, who said that we had to observe her for the next hour or so to see whether she lapsed into a coma. So we all sat around observing her, and we were very, very anxious. After a while she slept. We kept watching. Was she in a coma? No, she twitched. She was dreaming. She was snoring. Big sigh of relief. I said how about putting a steak on the bump? Also what they do in cartoons. Maaike was holding a cold compress on it. It will turn blue tomorrow, she said. Mothers know best.
Conny said it was a good job she hadn't stopped smoking, like I keep telling her to, otherwise that ashtray wouldn't have been there on the floor, and Noor would have hit her head on the stone fireplace. Oh yeah, I knew there must be a reason. No one said that it was my fault, but of course it was. Suddenly she woke up, stretched, got up and started running around as if nothing had happened. Marco went out later on for a Chinese takeaway and I showed Maaike how to eat with chopsticks. The tenor sax player Red Price had a cousin who'd lived in Indonesia and she showed me how to do it years ago, when Red and I were in the Squadronaires together. Noor picked up one of the chopsticks when she saw us using them. We all laughed, can't eat with one chopstick, hahah, but she stabbed a piece of meat with it and ate it while we were still laughing.
That business about a coma reminded me of something my bandleader in the Saarland Radio station, the trombonist Eberhard Pokorny, once told me. He had a cousin who, for some reason I can no longer recall, lay in hospital for several weeks in a coma. According to the doctors she sat up suddenly one day, staring straight ahead, and recited a long and complicated passage from Goethe's Faust in a strange voice, not her own, before falling back on the bed, unconscious once more. One of the doctors, who had studied the classics, said she had been word perfect as far as he could make out. The trouble was, the girl had never shown any interest in the works of Goethe, or anyone else in the field of classic literature, and was not known to be particularly bright, if the truth were known. When she eventually recovered she had no knowledge of the incident. Dickens would have made something out of this. It would have been a good follow-up to his story about the man who, if we are to believe the report, spontaneously exploded through internal combustion.
I've always been a foreigner, wherever I go. In England I was the Canadian git who spoke funny. I couldn't understand the Cockney kids in London, even less so the ones in Coventry. They spoke one language at school and another at home. I suppose they didn't want to upset the rest of their families by talking posh. When I went to Germany to work I had a working knowledge only of the language from school, but on most of the Jazz Workshops I had to work with Danish, Swedish, Dutch and Austrian musicians. They all spoke perfect English in the band, but in the pub afterwards I was in trouble. I should at least have been able to understand the guys from Vienna, but they lapsed into dialect and I couldn't understand one word of it. Art Farmer, who played for years in the Vienna Radio big band, said he had the same problem. Luckily we had one another to talk to, and we were joined by Rolf Ericson, when he had no Swedish mates there. No one took pity on us.
Today, when Conny's family gathers, or the neighbours come around, speaking in tongues, I'm git man once more. I can't learn Dutch or Spanish. Can't learn anything, really. When I first went to Berlin I had so much trouble with the language that Ake Persson, the Swedish trombone player, said he couldn't understand how I'd ever learned English. Well I was deaf, wasn't I, even then. Doesn't help. There are other things and other ways. I wave my arms about. Body language. People understand that. Especially git people.
Copyright © 2004, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved