Jazz Professional

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Continuing the Minstrel's Tale down along the Costa Blanca
The events portrayed in this series are not necessarily in chronological order

He is an excellent drummer, but I would
have preferred to have had him in my band
later in his career, which I'm sure will be a brilliant one.
Johnny Dankworth

Chapter Thirty

Farewell To Arms

May 23rd 2005

The concert at the Benidorm Palace yesterday was a great success. I know that for certain because I was stopped by at least a couple of dozen people in the car park afterwards, all telling me how wonderful it was and how they had thoroughly enjoyed it. I like that because it makes you feel as if everything was worth while after all.

Of course it was good. Very slick presentation, perfect stage craft by professionals. What else did you expect? There were the handsome Dennis Lotis and the beautiful Rosemary Squires, backed by the sleek and brilliant members of the big band, eight Englishmen, one Cuban, one Scot, five elegant Spaniards and one lovely lady on baritone sax. Over there on the left the great and indestructible Eric Delaney, surrounded by timps, drums, bells and gongs. And over on the end of the trumpet section one great big fat git who couldn't keep still because his feet had all swollen up and his legs were killing him and he was expecting one of them to give way at any moment and he'd lose his balance and crash down off the back of the rostrum and break his neck.

It was all that standing, and the fierce heat, you see. All those stage lights. Ever since Woody Herman did it way back in the 1950s the poor sods in all big band trumpet sections have had to stand up to play on all public appearances. No one has ever asked them if they want to. They just don't get chairs. In Peter Herbolzheimer's band we were all given those tall stools used by bass players in symphony orchestras and we could perch up on them when we had a few bars rest. Here we had very little space, polished linoleum to stand on and a lethal drop behind if you stepped back.

Anyway, I hadn't done much standing around of late. Sitting is my hobby, and laying down is also a favourite of mine. I get one gig a year with this band so I really should be practising standing instead of trying to get my lip back in.

This concert was called Farewell To Arms because it was celebrating the end of the war in Europe in 1945. Most, if not all, of us in the place had been around at the time, so we knew all the tunes that came on later in the programme: Run, Adolph, Run; We're Gonna Hang Out The Washing On The Siegfried Line and other little gems. The show ended with an air-raid warning, the pulsating throb of bomber engines out of synch, explosions, flashing lights and an all-clear, just like in the good old days but without the ceiling coming down on your head.

The show's title had a second meaning for me, too, because this was the first time I had ever played such a concert without having a conductor out front. Any performance with two vocalists and show music with many tempo changes, fermatas, and so on one needs a conductor and we didn't have one. It was a struggle to know when to come off on the last chords, for instance. I asked the bandleader, who was sitting on the end of the saxes on tenor, why he couldn't raise an arm to cut us off each time but he couldn't do that, could he, because that would mean we would lose his note. I mean - with sixteen men, good and true, blasting away on the final chord, and the Cuban trumpet player screaming out an octave or two higher - who was going to miss a couple of notes from the tenor? - but he was adamant about it. So we had the man beside him, also on tenor, at the end of each number lifting his instrument up high in the approved manner and whipping it down briskly to cut us off. Very commendable that was, but the hero of the hour was the bass guitar player, who very soon took to shuffling forward in the final bars and cutting us off with his instrument. Saved us from chaos quite a few times.

He was also very useful in tempo changes because they had put the drummer right over on the outskirts of the band and I doubt whether anyone could hear him at all. He seemed to be mostly playing with brushes. Normally a small band drummer, unused to playing in big bands, he performed admirably, of that I have no doubt, but with a volume and projection rather like that of the great Joe Morello, of whom Buddy Rich once said, He is a great drummer as long as you are listening to him in a small room, like a telephone booth.

It was Eric Delaney's birthday as well, so I got them to play Happy Birthday for him in the middle of the second half. Took him by surprise and I got to kiss his daughter Hannah afterwards for that.

Just before we started the show I'd asked Dennis Lotis to be sure to beat us in loud and clear on his songs. He now did so standing in front of the band, his back to the spotlight, face completely in shadow, giving us a-one, a-two, a-one, two, three, four in a confidential subtone that nobody could hear at the back, so the brass section missed out the first few bars of nearly all of his numbers.

Meanwhile I was having troubles of my own. Apart from my legs, that is. The opening number was the Buddy Rich piece Big Swing Face. I have no idea why this number was chosen for the opening because I had only just specially written the opening number for the show. This was supposed to start with the concert hall in pitch darkness and one solitary spotlight on Eric playing the side drum. The sound of marching feet and soldiers whistling The Colonel Bogey March would then lead up to full lighting and the whole band playing the well-known tune full out. A pretty good way to start a tribute to the end of hostilities. The number would finish up with the marching and whistling effect again and die away, with a grand wallop on the timps at the end to wake everybody up.

Nobody in the place would know Big Swing Face and it certainly had nothing whatsoever to do with the end of World War II, but whoever had arranged the programme had stuck it in first and that's what we played. Now I had done this arrangement for the band several years previously, but the part I had up on my music stand looked very strange to me. I'd only played a few bars when I realised that the part had nothing to do with what anyone else was playing so I stopped. To be true it was in the same key, so obviously for a B flat instrument. Maybe tenor - but it didn't match what the saxes were playing either. We hadn't rehearsed this one, so everyone was sight-reading the piece. I mimed my way to the end. Then, still churning with indignation, I came in four bars early on the Colonel Bogey March, which was now the second number.

Luckily no one could hear me because I was in a tin mute, or maybe it sounded like a ghostly echo of the beloved melody before everyone else began to play it. The trumpet player on my left, a charming gentleman who had taken it upon himself to be my minder during the rehearsal, as I could never hear what the bandleader was mumbling, tried to dissuade me from this, but failed. Anyway, there were no lighting effects on this one at all, and we lost a lot of special effects in the music as well because Eric had, for reasons unknown, previously asked the second drummer to leave his part out.

Then I mislaid a goodly portion of my music, don't know how that happened, maybe creeping senility. It was found by my minder, upside down, in one of the folders on my music stand, I believe it was the green one. Could have been sabotage.

In spite of my acrobatics the band was very good, Eric was sensational, as always, Dennis Lotis was Ron, Tommy Sampson and Rosemary in 2001magnificent, and Rosemary - what can one say about Rosemary! She looked good, sang like an angel, the two of them sang duets, they talked, laughed and made a marvellous pair.

We stood there at the end, listening to tumultuous applause. We should have been playing some Play Off music, but none had been prepared and at this moment in time we had no one to tell us what to play and when to start playing it. There should have been encores. The applause continued, people were cheering. The thought of encores didn't appear to have crossed anyone's mind. For the ending of a show like this you had to have encores, but we just stood there until the curtains closed. The cheering and clapping continued unabated, but they remained closed. Not quite the way to end a show but the people seemed to like us just the same.

If we had been on Broadway the headlines would have read: Farewell To Arms a Smash Hit!

Two days later
Milo Pavlovic has sent me a video cassette of a Berlin Jazz Festival where I played in a band with Don Ellis, back around 1967. Don was a sensation - everything and everyone connected with this television Don Ellispresentation was superb, all except the guy in charge of the production. He managed to televise a whole hour of this jazz event without ever showing the trumpet section. I was there with Ack van Rooyen, Harry Samp and Carmel Jones. The producer showed everyone else on the video. He lingered on the saxes lovingly, did breathtakingly artistic composition with the team of drummers, one of whom was, at times, Don himself.

He showed trombonist Ake Persson, lead alto Leo Wright - even had an interview with Leo, showed Billy Brooks in dazzling close-up on percussion. The only trumpet player one ever saw was Carmel Jones because he was playing in a trio out front with tenorist Dominique Chanson and the late, great Helmut Brandt on baritone. This was no accident, of that I am sure, because he also completely left out the trumpets on a later jazz festival, when we played with Oliver Nelson. But what had we done to this man? Well nothing that I'm aware of, but he was sure getting his own back for something.

On this same festival I played the next evening with Lionel Hampton. There were only six of us on the stage. When I saw that show later on television he had only shown Lionel. One whole hour - only shown Lionel. Things like that could give a man a complex.

Gershwin Concert
I recently watched a film on television of the Berliner Philharmoniker playing Gershwin in Berlin's Waldbühne. This is a wonderful amphitheatre in the woods in what used to be West Berlin, it holds 20,000 and was packed on this summer's day of June 2003. Seiji Ozawa conducted this fine orchestra with spirit and soul. He also appeared to be having a very good time, laughing and waving at the musicians, dancing on the podium at times.

They played An American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue and Strike up the Band. Beautiful music. The only thing wrong, to the ears of a jazz musician, and most likely no one else, was that they jazzed up the jazz bits. There are parts of An American in Paris that lend themselves to this — particularly the passages containing eighth-note phrases. Now I've played this piece, and others, many times in Berlin with the DAS Symphony Orchestra and on a European tour with the RIAS Concert Orchestra, directed by Professor Hans Carste. They wisely used jazz musicians in the brass section and we played those phrases straight. Nothing sounds more ridiculous than a 96-piece symphony orchestra trying to swing, whether Gershwin intended that or not. Played straight the passages swing all on their own. We received much acclamation on that RIAS tour, and one Viennese reporter even went so far as to say what a refreshing change it was to hear a jazz trumpeter play the solos in An American in Paris and Concerto in F.

Ozawa had brought the Marcus Roberts Trio along with him and they provided the right amount of really brilliant jazz to the beloved Gershwin scores. The playing, the atmosphere and that wonderful music brought tears to my eyes. I found myself standing, clapping and cheering with the rest of them at the end. Click here for a report in German. Click here for the weird translation. Leonard Bernstein, your new name is ready...

A Lovely Man
I cannot continue without adding something to the saga of Professor Hans Carste, mentioned above. He was a great man, a lovely man and a superb musician. I met him, alas, only a few years before his untimely death at age 61. He was to conduct the RIAS concert orchestra on a European tour, playing Gershwin. The celebrated American pianist Marjorie Mitchell would be there. Professor Carste had heard the brass section of the RIAS Berlin radio station big band and asked us to do the tour with him.

I'd had no idea of the physical torment he must have been in at the time. He looked, spoke and behaved absolutely normally. His conducting of the Gershwin scores was magnificent. We must have been doing things right because he never said a word to the brass section about how we should interpret this wonderful music. It was only during the tour that I was told a part of his history. About all those painful years in the Russian prison camp, his terrible wounds. After the end of hostilities it wasHans Carste another three years before he was finally released, with the handful of colleagues who had survived with him. Then came the long walk back from Russia to Germany. His friends helped him all the way. The violinist Kurt Muhlmann told me the story, about how they'd often had to carry Hans when he was too weak to go on. Kurt was now one of the first violins in the concert orchestra.

After the final concert of the tour Professor Carste approached me. This was the first time we had spoken to one another privately since the beginning of the tour. Taking both of my hands in his, he thanked me for my performance. When we parted he stuffed an envelope into one of my pockets.

"A token of my appreciation. Open it later," he said.

The envelope contained five hundred marks. As we were employed by the radio station we were playing the tour as part of our normal service. He had given me this out of his own pocket. At the time it was a great deal of money.

After this, every time I played in an orchestra that he was conducting, before we started the first rehearsal he would make his way through the ranks of musicians, all the way to the back where the trumpets were sitting, and shake my hand. This was an exact replica of what Geraldo had done, back in England all those years before, and mystified my orchestral colleagues in a no lesser degree.

One day in May...
...it was my wife Conny's birthday. Her nephew Eros and his wife Anina sent her this lovely birthday card from Johannesburg. Move your mouse over the picture to view the back of the card.


 

Click on the links to the underlined Seiji Ozawa and Professor Hans Carste above to visit their Web pages.

Photo of Don Ellis by Ron Simmonds
Photo of Ron, Tommy Sampson and Rosemary Squires by Helle Sampson

Scarab Paper - It's the dung thing! Scratch and sniff...

Copyright 2005, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved

Chapter Thirty-one>>>