A Minstrel in Spain
Chapter Fourteen

Film Music

The Universal Film Studio (UFA) out in the wilds of Templehof had been, before the war, the major film maker in Germany. In spite of this it was not a large complex, and boasted a pitifully small sound recording studio. We rarely had anything to do there, but, while he was in Berlin, Fatty George somehow managed to get us booked for a film session. When I turned up Åke and Fatty were already there, with drummer Joe Harris, who had been on some of the Miles Davis early recordings, the Belgian pianist Robert de Reijke, and Heinz Kitschenberg on bass. Apart from the six of us the room was empty, no music stands, and no music. The engineer knew nothing, as usual. We milled around a bit, and after waiting a half hour Åke said he was going to the canteen.

Suddenly the door burst open and an extremely tall red-haired young man dressed in denim bib-overalls staggered in with an armful of collapsible music stands, the flimsy strip metal kind that fall over if you breathe heavily anywhere near them.

‘For God’s Sake give me a hand!’ he panted. He had a truckload of the things outside. We assisted him in the unloading. There were about fifty music stands in all. I couldn’t imagine where he could have found them all.

He introduced himself as David Llewellyn. None of us had ever seen the guy before, and, after today, none of us were ever to see or hear of him again.

He busied himself setting up a row of the stands, each one touching the other, until he had one continuous music stand stretching from one corner of the studio over to the other, and out of the opened door. We stood watching this with our mouths open. Even Åke, normally never at a loss for words, was dumbfounded.

‘Right! Let’s go,’ said David briskly. He had, by now, painstakingly unfolded a monster score right across the music stands from right to left, and was standing staring at the first page, sucking in his lips reflectively, and humming to himself.

‘Ah—is it ad lib for us, or what?’ said Fatty.

‘Oh! Sorry!’ He gave each of us a photocopy of the score, all fifty-seven pages of it. On the top it said M-1, like it does on all the best film scores. The paper looked as if millions of ants had marched with inky feet backwards and forwards across it. On the trumpet part, which I was obviously expected to extract and transpose from the score myself, I could not see any tacet bars, neither could I detect any recognisable musical phrase or sequence.

‘I’ll explain it as I go along,’ said David. ‘Start for now at bar 115.’

We played a few bars. I’d like to be able to report that we were agreeably surprised at the result, but it was just noise. There was nothing musical about it. In the engineer’s box I saw the producer stand up quickly and move over close to the glass with a look of amazed disbelief on his face.

‘This is the ship scene,’ announced David into his microphone. ‘Picture please.’ A few moments later the lights dimmed and we watched a man trying to toss pancakes in a ship’s galley during a violent storm, lurching and flying all over the room, breaking eggs and pouring fresh batter repeatedly into the pan each time he lost its contents somewhere on the walls or ceiling. I had to admit that the music did fit the scene, in a way. It certainly had all the violent overtones of a shipwreck.

I had an unending succession of sixteenth and thirty-second notes to play, with the most illogical and appalling leaps and jumps imaginable. After a while I complained to Fatty under my breath that at this speed I couldn’t manage the transposition one tone higher always necessary for Bb instruments, such as the trumpet and clarinet. He confided that he wasn’t bothering to do that anyway, under the circumstances, so I didn’t bother either, which put both of us at once into an entirely different key to the rest of the band. No one seemed to notice.

I mentioned our subterfuge to Åke, with a smirk, only to discover that he was not even attempting to play from bar 115, as the way the passage had been written was physically impossible to perform on the trombone. He was merely repeating another, easier bar he had found later on, marked 327.

‘Did you get that?’ asked David, after we had solemnly recorded the passage. The producer nodded glumly. During the playback David stood, head bowed, apparently overcome by the splendour of it all. He jerked his head up at one stage, and looked at me sharply. I just managed to hide a grin. ‘Was that a wrong note there?’ he demanded.

I showed him my part, pointing to a note at random. He corrected it fussily in red on everyone’s part, clucking his tongue at his carelessness, although the note would only have affected my part. In any case I hadn’t played anything like what was written there. Perhaps he was thinking of the historical value the score would have later on, once he was famous.

We continued in this fashion for an hour or so. It was all rubbish. I wondered how the guy had gotten the contract for the music. Jobs writing music for UFA were hard to come by, even for Germans.

‘Now then,’ said David, ‘This is important. I want you to play from bar 243 and make it sound exciting—it’s the big car chase. There will be no picture for this.’ He waved his arms at the producer, making the motions of washing a large invisible window. ‘Das ist mit Nicht Picture! Nicht Picture!’ he said into the mike, as if inventing a new language. The producer, who had his head in his hands, didn’t look up.

‘Here we go—I’LL stop you when we’ve done exactly one minute and seventeen seconds. Stop dead when I tell you.’

I didn’t like the look of bar 243, which might well have provided a perfect background to the battle between King Kong and the dinosaur, but never a car chase, so I slipped in one of my Dizzy Gillespie solos, the one from Manteca, which seemed to fit in there very well. Beside me Fatty was wailing and blasting away with abandon, while Åke, furiously pumping his slide until it became merely a blur to the eye, delivered a dazzling display of pyrotechnics on my left. I discovered later that he had already decided long ago that, whatever the music called for, he was just going to keep on repeating that one bar 327.

‘That’s a wrap,’ shouted David, almost before he’d halted us. He was ecstatic. I overheard him telling the producer in the interval that he intended using all of us on his next film.

‘What were you playing there?’ I asked Fatty in admiration, over a cold canteen beer.

‘The Entry of the Gladiators,’ he said, calmly. As we played, our mad conductor had shuffled sideways along his spread-out score, directing us with the magnificent sweeping gestures of a young Toscanini. During the course of the passage, the higher numbered bars had taken him right through the door and way out of sight into the corridor. Still he conducted away as if our performance, and thus somehow his life, depended upon it.

He spent the interval talking to the producer over on the far side of the canteen. The producer now had a profound look of resignation on his face. He seemed to be having a lot of trouble with his ball-point pen, which he repeatedly opened and closed spasmodically. He kept nodding a lot, even when David had stopped talking. Now and then he managed a small nervous cough.

Back in the studio David sat alone for some time, staring at the score, deeply concentrating. Fatty looked at his watch. It was getting late.

‘Shouldn’t we be getting on with it?’ he suggested gently.

‘What?’ David awoke with a start. ‘Oh! Yes! Ah—actually we’re waiting for someone.’ At that moment the studio door opened and a portly gentleman with white side whiskers crept apolo­getically into the room. I heard Fatty suck in his breath. The newcomer was none other than Pro­fessor Doktor Doktor Hartwig Schweingruber, principal oboist in the Berliner Philharmoni­ker (name changed to protect the record).

‘What the hell is he doing here?’ said Joe Harris, nevertheless giving him a ceremonial roll on the sidedrum in greeting. David watched Hartwig for a while as he busied himself unpacking his oboe, sucking the reeds, and going through the whole painful procedure oboe players have to go through when they are setting themselves up for the gig. Then he turned to us.

‘This is the most sensitive part of the film,’ he announced gravely. ‘The girl is going up in the lift to her lover’s apartment. They have quarrelled and she is filled with doubt at what may confront her up there. Her face registers hope, then despair, suddenly a ray of light shines through—perhaps things are not so bad, after all. But she soon plunges once more into the gloomy depths, only to smile ruefully through her tears as the lift door opens.’

‘Jesus,’ said Åke, ‘What bar number is that going to be?’

‘No music,’ said David sharply, ‘This is all ad lib. Watch my face closely for the moods, and for God’s Sake take it seriously. No swooping noises as she goes up in the lift.’

‘Shame,’ muttered Fatty.

‘What do I do?’ asked the oboist. David rummaged in his briefcase for a moment, and fetched out a short length of stainless steel chain. He had brought the saucer of his coffee cup out of the canteen with him. Now he stood by one of the microphones dropping the chain into the saucer repeatedly. ‘What does that sound like?’ he inquired.

‘It sounds like someone dropping a chain into a saucer,’ said the engineer.

‘Good,’ turning to the celebrated oboist. ‘I want you to stand here and drop the chain like this every time I point at you. Get right up close to the mike. Can we try it?’

The oboist stared at him in outrage for a moment, his face turning redder every second. He looked over at us finally, and we winked at him furiously until he got the drift of it.

‘Oh! Ah! Er—yes. I see. Now, how do I do that exactly?’ They spent some minutes practising dropping the chain into the saucer until the oboist got the hang of it, and was even beginning to introduce cunning variations into the art.

‘The fee has just gone up,’ whispered Fatty, ‘Way, way up.’ Now the oboe player was winking at us. He could see the joke all right.

Meanwhile David was introducing Robert to the little-known art of dragging a wet coffee spoon over the strings of the grand piano. This produced a mysterious shimmering Æolian sound not wholly unlike that of a wet coffee spoon being dragged across piano strings.

‘Now—both together,’ commanded David. The end result wasn’t half bad, but I couldn’t quite place it in the highly emotional environment he had previously described to us.

We watched him carefully during the recording, as he went through the whole gamut of emotions, sobbing, beaming, looking depressed, then animated, then depressed again. As he already bore, even in repose, a remarkable resemblance to the silent film star Buster Keaton, it took tremendous dedication to the task by all present not to collapse into helpless laughter, but we followed him, playing mood music for all our worth to suit the occasion. I have to admit that we did it rather well.

David was beside himself with rapture at our performance. ‘Wrap that!’ he shouted, without even bothering to hear the result. We had finished, so we shook hands all round, took the money, and got out quickly.

‘The way I see it,’ said Åke, once we were safely away, ‘Is like this—what we did just now is all that anyone ever needs to hear behind a film. It doesn’t have to be listenable music, just sound effects. We could clean up. Nobody needs to write music for stuff like that.’

I waited impatiently for the film’s release on to the circuits. It slipped out onto the market practically unheralded, and I almost missed it, only just managing to see it in a completely deserted cinema in Neuköln one rainy afternoon. On the soundtrack I could detect none of the music we had so painstakingly recorded: it had all been replaced by a rather tinny-sounding upright piano, like the ones used in the old days for silent pictures. In the credits there was no mention of a David Llewellyn, or, indeed, of any other musician.

I’d worked a lot with Shirley Bassey. I remember when she first burst upon an unsuspecting public. Her big song then was The Party’s Over. No­body had ever heard a singer scream the way she did at the end of that song.

Shirley had a pretty bad temper. I only saw one man get the better of her, and that was Dieter Finnern, the boss of television in Berlin’s SFB radio station.

Rehearsing in the Berlin TV studio, she suddenly threw an expensive micro­phone on the floor, screaming that she couldn’t hear herself singing.

Dieter told her to go to her room, he would fix it.

When she came back it was to stand in between two enormous loud­speakers, which dwarfed her considerably. From then on she sang in a crossblast that would have killed a horse. In the beginning, until they got it fixed, there was an appalling amount of spasmodic, shrieking feed­back that set your teeth on edge.

Dieter had the set decorator paint flowers and things on the speakers. It must have looked pretty weird to the viewers, with the two monstro eight foot high boxes and her jammed in between like that. Still, she could hear herself, and she’d asked for it.

Her next tantrum came in the tune I Who Have Nothing. There were two important timpani beats in there which she reckoned were not being played loud enough. The poor guy on the kettle drums, a Romanian refugee who normally only played little tinkling things like tambourines and maracas in the band, couldn’t get the dy­namic sound she wanted.

She threw down another mike, and complained bitterly, whereupon the sound engineer rushed out and shouted that he’d run out of mi­crophones if someone didn’t stop her.

Dieter told her to go to her room again.

When she came back she was handed a microphone which had been wrapped up in so much foam rubber and bright red insulation tape that it looked as if she was singing into a football. Even Shirley saw the joke then.

But Dieter hadn’t finished yet.

Next morning a professional timpanist arrived from Cologne. He was a Bel­gian named Claudio, and he was the most elegant-looking guy that any of us had ever seen. All the time he was with us the trombonist Åke Persson kept whispering to me, ‘Look at that cat. Where do you think he buys all the gear?’

Claudio was Mr. Clean.

He only had those two notes in the whole show to play. When we got to them that morning he just seemed to flick his wrists, and two of the most savage and threat­ening BOOM-BOOM’s one could imagine came out of the tymps.

The trouble was, Dieter had ordered the sound to be turned up to maximum volume on that bit, and the subsequent explosion from the two speakers almost blew Shirley’s ears right out of her head.

She staggered a little, then, not to be upstaged, turned to Claudio and said, ‘Just like that.’

Some months later Ronnie Stephenson booked Heinz von Hermann and me to do a tour with Shirley. Ronnie had played drums when I was with Dankworth, and was now working with Kurt Edelhagen in Cologne. He was a friend of Shirley's husband, Sergio.

I managed to play the tour by flying back to Berlin every morn­ing, playing in the radio station, and flying to whichever German town it would be in the evening for her concert. I began to be thoroughly sick of the smell of aviation fuel.

The other trumpet players in the band were Rick Kiefer, Shake Keene, and George Morrison, who was really a teacher in an American army school in Munich. Shake went on to become the Culture Minister of the Virgin Islands. When I told Ed­mundo Ros this at a party I gave for him in Spain later on, he said, ‘They de­serve each other.’ Shake had played in the band in his club for many years.

I had a solo at the end of one of Shirley’s numbers which had been put in there ad lib for her once by the American trumpet player Al Hirt. She had liked what he had played there so much that she insisted on having it every time.

While I played the solo she danced around the stage wearing a sort of huge feather boa. I had previously commented to Rick that she looked just like the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street in it. This caused him to shout ‘COOKIES!’ every time she wore it. She would spin around when she heard that, but everyone always looked so innocent that she never found out who was doing it.

The bandleader on this tour was Arthur Greenslade, my old pal from the Vic Lewis band. Brian Fahey, who had written all the arrangements for Shirley since she began, and who had conducted her orchestra for years, had finally had enough of her, and moved up to Scotland.

Brian had told me a terrifying story once that had later been ver­ified to me by an army journalist. He had been in one of the advance di­visions of the British Expedi­tionary Force and had been captured in France very early in the war.

The Germans had herded about fifty of them into a schoolhouse, and told them to choose lots because they were going to kill every man in the place. They were get­ting their revenge for some atrocities inflicted on their colleagues by mem­bers of the Durham Light Infantry some days earlier.

Brian thought he may as well get it over with, and volunteered to go out first. Ten of them were taken out back and lined up. There was a terrific bang, and he woke up later completely covered in dead bodies.

A Wehrmacht officer was bending over him, amazed to find someone still alive. He was the only one. The shots he’d received had been enough to knock him out, but not enough to finish him off.

The officer was apologising. He was appalled at what had taken place, and said that it had been done by a detachment of the Waffen SS. He went to great lengths to explain that the regular Germany army did not behave like that. (See MASSACRE for Brian's own account)

We had troubles with Shirley right from the start. We had what was proba­bly one of the best bands she’d ever had behind her. In the trombone section were Jiggs Whigham, Otto Bredl and Bobby Burgess, who’d been Kenton’s lead trom­bone for years. Herb Geller and Heinz von Hermann were in the saxes, and the band was swing­ing.

She couldn’t find fault with the playing, but she’d obviously had a flaming row with Sergio, and she was looking for victims.

There was one four bar passage where the whole band was supposed to stand up and play. A bit of showmanship. As it was only a re­hearsal, nobody bothered.

That did it.

She stormed off, demanding another band at once. Even God couldn’t have granted her that request at short notice. Arthur went and talked to her. She fumed at him that we weren’t treating the job seriously. He promised her that we’d stand up the next time. After an hour she came back, still sulking, and we continued the rehearsal. When we got to the bit where we were supposed to stand up, everybody stood, and remained standing right to the end of the piece.

When she’d finished singing she turned with that sickly, twisted, lipsticky smile of hers and said it was OK—we could sit down again.

Singers normally treat musicians with respect. We can make or break their performance if they aren’t careful.

In Jack Parnell’s television orchestra we once all walked out of the studio when the American film actress Shirley Jones threw a tantrum at us. The first violinist, Alec Fir­man, stood up and said to her, ‘Madam, you are dealing here with profes­sional musi­cians. We do not deserve, neither do we tolerate being spoken to like this.’

He turned courteously to the rest of us.


Out we went.

She had to apologise to us, and really mean it, before we came back. If she hadn’t we would have made her sing her entire act with a pi­ano only. It would have completely killed her performance. There was no such thing as a playback technique in those days.

On the tour with Shirley Bassey, Rick and George had a spot of trouble in the Hamburg Reeperbahn. They’d ordered beers in a pub, and George had taken the bar­tender to account because he only half-filled the glasses. He was also overcharg­ing them for the beer.

The argument went back and forward for a while, and the bartender began get­ting ugly.

‘Hey, you’re a Jew aren’t you?’ he said to George.

‘That’s right,’ said George, who has a beard and looks exactly like a rabbi.

He looked at Rick, then, and said in a loud voice, ‘WHERE ARE WE, RICK? OH! THAT’S RIGHT! GERMANY! OF COURSE! THEY DON’T LIKE JEWS IN GERMANY, WE KNOW ALL ABOUT THAT, AM I RIGHT, RICK? ’ All this at the top of his voice.

There was a general stunned silence in the bar, then a couple of guys tried to throw George out.

By this time Rick was already at the door, but, seeing his pal in trouble, he went back to help him.

George didn’t need any help. He was only a medium sized guy, not strongly built, but he was holding on to the counter like a cat at the vet’s, and they couldn’t get him out of the bar. Rick kept saying come on man, let’s get out of here, but George had paid for his beer and he was going to drink it.

As Rick tried to help him, George’s glasses fell to the floor. Rick had by then got his wrist bracelet entangled in the pullover of one of the guys trying to throw him out. The next moment they were all grovelling around on the floor trying to pick up the glasses and untangle the wool. Soon everyone was fed up with the whole thing, and they ended up getting free drinks and apologies all round.

‘You should have been there,’ said Rick. I made a mental note never to go out with either of them.

Berlin’s Sportpalast is situated, or used to be, in the district of Schöneberg, near the town hall Rathaus Schöneberg, made world famous by Jack Kennedy’s ringing words, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’, which gets misquoted every time I hear it.

The Sportpalast became the venue for very many haranguing war-time speeches by Adolf Hitler, and the famous ‘total war’ speech by Dr. Josef Goebbels. It is a huge, sprawling place, used mainly after the war for six-day bicycle races and visit­ing big bands. There is a famous Sportpalast Waltz which goes DADA-DADA-DADA-DUM! and everybody whistles feep-feep-feep-feep.

I was asked to cover a race there by the Deutsche Welle, and was asked, by Meier, to go in and out of the transmission with the Sportpalast Waltz, with whistling participation from the audience. The music, to my ears, was excruciating, and so I used the recording of Woody Herman’s Apple Honey, which was much more exciting, and set a mood of ten­sion, appropriate to the occasion. I told Meier that the waltz was a load of crap. Of course, he was blazing, but it was already over when he found out.

Now Benny Goodman was coming, and I went to see the band.

It was a British band, made up of a lot of the best London studio players. Frank Reidy, my old colleague from the Parnell television orches­tra had booked the musicians. He was an old friend of Goodman, who never­theless treated him like dirt most of the time. Apparently he would tele­phone Frank whenever he felt like it for a chat, regardless of the time difference between the US and England. This meant that Frank was regu­larly getting wakened by him at three or four in the morning. When he mentioned that to Benny when they met once, Benny got so mad that he hit Frank.

That Benny was a nasty piece of work was well known. Milt Bernhart, who played lead trombone for many years in the Kenton band, did some gigs with Benny in Las Vegas. He has put on record the absolutely disgraceful way Benny treated Wardell Gray, who had to hide in the kitchen during the interval in the places the band played because he was black. Benny just couldn’t seem to stand Wardell, although he’d had blacks in the band before with Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. Fi­nally, he stopped the band and fired Wardell in front of a totally bemused audi­ence, snatching the clari­net he’d previously loaned Wardell from his hand as he left the stand. (Read Milt's account of this.)

Now I was to meet him for the first time.

‘I’m very pleased to meet you,’ he said, giving me his V-toothed smile. Herb Geller told me that Benny had his teeth filed like this by a dentist, so as to get a better grip on the clarinet mouthpiece. ‘Frank has told me all about you.’

Actually, I’d just heard what Frank had told him. It had been more than com­plimentary and it was very kind of Frank to say it, but I remem­bered all the rubbish that had gone on with Åke and the Thad Jones band af­ter I said something like that about him, and I stole a look at the rest of the guys. But they were all pals of mine from the good old days in London.

The band was having a party after the concert, and Benny invited me to sit next to him. As the night went on I spoke about the thrill it had given me as a boy to be able to listen to his music. I could remember the line-ups of most of his bands, and we talked about them, and what had hap­pened to them.

As we spoke, I could see that all this talk about the old days was beginning to affect Benny so much that he finally stopped talking alto­gether and closed his eyes. Tears of nostalgia were rolling down his face. Benny didn’t like getting older, any more than I did.

I was called upon to play everything in the studios of Berlin. A normal ses­sion day would have me perhaps making a couple of titles with someone like Car­men Mc­Crea or Cilla Black in the morning, two more with Robert Stolz in the af­ternoon, and a Gershwin concert in the Philharmonie in the evening.

I was generally booked to play the solos in An American in Paris and Concerto in F on the Gershwin concerts. All the other trumpet play­ers in Berlin were scared to death of those two solos. The one in Concerto, especially, is a very slow pianissimo in a cup mute, completely exposed, with only a muted clarinet background. The solo contains many double-octave jumps. Fluffing one of them is good for an in­stant heart attack.

The symphony orchestra which booked me to play these concerts was unique, to me at least, in that it had a one-legged drummer.

During the rehearsal the second trumpet player informed me that the solo was so difficult that it was generally performed by two trum­peters, one for the high regis­ter, and the other for the low register. I informed him, a little stiffly, that I could man­age the part without any help.

On the night of the concert, the guest conductor, a Bulgarian, determined to milk all he could out of the passage, began my solo movement so slowly that we all thought he had gone to sleep. Immediately, the clarinets started to speed up, ignor­ing his beat.

I had to do the same, because playing the long passages at the Bulgarian’s tempo would have caused me to either pass out or die from lack of breath. 

Filling my lungs, off I went, my ears popping with the enormous pres­sure. There was a deathly hush in the auditorium as the knowing mem­bers of the orchestra licked their lips and waited for me to make a fool of myself.

The first eight long drawn-out bars seemed to take an eternity. I began to get light-headed from the back pressure of the cup mute, and the accumulated carbon diox­ide in my blood.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the second trumpet player raise his in­stru­ment, ready to take over if I should panic at the last moment. I nudged him with my knee to dissuade him. Misinterpreting my sig­nal as a cry for help, he at once joined in, playing the solo with me.

I raised my foot and tried to kick the trumpet out of his hand. It must have looked marvellous to the audience. But he was well into the solo now, eyes closed, weaving and bobbing with emotion, and about half a beat ahead of me. There was ab­solutely no way I could stop him. The Bulgarian, also with closed eyes, and swaying at the hips, was, by now, conducting at least four bars behind the rest of us.

Suddenly, the one-legged drummer took a hand in things. Leaning for­ward over the drums as far as he could, he tried to poke the second trum­pet player sharply in the back with one of his drum­sticks, overbalanced, and fell forwards off the drum stool with a fearful crash, bringing down several cymbals with him.

The audience was now treated to the gratifying spectacle of me playing the solo with one leg in the air, trying to reach the other guy’s trumpet with my foot, and the one-legged drummer thrashing around on the floor be­hind me, trying in vain to get up again.

The Bulgarian went into shock; the clarinets couldn’t play for laughing. Which left only me, sailing effortlessly over the complicated double-octave jumps with the ease of a thoroughbred steeplechaser. You can really perform wonders on the trumpet if your mind is on other things.

The applause was louder and longer than usual, and I had to take several bows. The orchestra manager congratulated me on a brilliant per­formance, and booked me at once for the next concert. ‘We must do this again, yes?’ No one seemed to have noticed the sods’ opera at the back there.

Oliver Nelson came again to lead the band in the Berlin Jazz Festival. He’d written a Berlin Suite for the occasion, which was also brought out on an LP by the radio station.

The night before the concert, Milo had a blazing row with the head of the TV company, Dieter Finnern, who was televising the festival. He got Dieter so mad that he thereupon managed to do the subsequent two hour live transmis­sion of the band, with­out once showing the trumpet section. As far as the television audience was concerned, there were no trumpets.

On the concert, Carmel played one of the most beauti­ful, long, slow, soulful trumpet solos one could imagine. Throughout the solo, Dieter kept the cameras trained on everything else on the stage, including the Czech baritone player who was boring in his ear and examining his finger with interest, unaware that he was in the shot, but never on Carmel.

Later on we recorded the suite as an LP in the SFB studios. The engineers there normally used a twin track machine, although there was a brand new eight track over in the corner. This in a day and age when Wally Heider was already working with thirty-six track machines in Los Angeles. I had long attempted to persuade the engineers to use the multi-track machine, without success. The extra mixing necessary would take them into overtime, and infringe on their human rights, or whatever.

Oliver managed to talk them into it, however, but he was subsequently so dismayed by the sad sound achieved by the recording engi­neers that he took the masters back to the States to try and enhance them, without much success. It was a pity, because Oliver’s scores on this occasion were vastly different from his usual works. There was a distinctly Ellingtonian flavour in a lot of his writing, in particular a marked use of the plain tritone, with the two notes involved played in unison by all members of the band, rather in the style used by Billy Strayhorn in Frou Frou.

In a remarkable interpretation of Ellington’s Creole Love Call Oliver had the saxophones in unison on the melody, with unison trombones playing a very high harmony line, which took them to the upper trombone C, way up in the centre of the treble clef. It was immensely thrilling and daring. (In later years the trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, who could play duets with himself by playing one note and growling the other, performed Creole Love Call in his concerts using that same harmonic line.) Oliver used a similar effect in a tune he had written called Hobo Flats, where the melody was played up high by unison trumpets, with other unison instruments one whole tone lower.

The two fast movements of the Berlin Suite had been written almost exclusively in counterpoint, featuring the trumpets. The passages went on so long, and were so difficult to play that I feared the five trumpets would be unable to perform them properly. In the event they came off rather well, with the nimble-fingered players dragging the not-so-nimble along with them, rather in the way the two Jimmys, Watson and Deuchar, had hustled me along so long ago in the Parnell band.

I praised Oliver for his daring. ‘If it sounds good, do it,’ he said. I learned a lot of things about arranging from Oliver. Conquering fear was one of them.

I had long been loud in my efforts to get a decent recorded trum­pet sound from these radio station engineers. They told me that they needed a special RCA microphone, not obtain­able in Germany.

I wrote at once to my pal Wally Heider, who now had the biggest recording studio in Los Angeles, asking him to send me some of the microphones.

Wally wrote back to say that he always used a Neumann micro­phone, made in Berlin, for his trumpet recordings, and asked me to send him four new ones. This bit of news was greeted by the German engineers with disbelief. When Wally vis­ited Berlin later on I tried to introduce him to our en­gineers. Instead of being hon­oured to meet such a recording genius, they all disappeared out of the back door when he turned up.

Åke and I went to Japan, doing a tour with Werner Müller’s band, which was the resi­dent band in RIAS, Berlin, originally the US State Department’s radio station in West Berlin. The initials stand for Radio in the American Sector, although the station was by then mostly run by Germans.

Neither of us was a regular in the band. I was depping for the first trumpet player who had been suddenly taken drunk shortly before the tour started.

As no international flights were allowed from West Berlin we had first flown to Copenhagen, where a grand tour of the city had been planned for us. We saw the Little Mermaid in the harbour, various castles and keeps, an enormous church which had been built out of small red bricks by two broth­ers, and a square, the name of which I cannot now remember, contain­ing a large statue of Winston Churchill. He is leaning forward slightly, staring at the ground. The locals say that he has dropped his cigar, and is looking for it.

To round off the day we were taken around the Carlsberg Brewery. At the end of the tour each of us was presented with a freshly filled bot­tle of the famous Carlsberg Lager. To compare that bottle of beer with the same product available in our pubs, is like comparing the whisky the Scotsmen keep for themselves with the stuff they sell to us heathens in the south.

When we continued on to Tokyo next day it had been with JAL. Immediately after take-off the air hostesses disappeared, to re­turn almost at once dressed in kimonos. We were handed hot towels and porcelain flasks of even hotter saki.

We were enchanted. I spent the long haul playing interminable games of chess over the Arctic wastes, and drinking the fine hot saki. My part­ner was the baritone saxophone player, Helmut Brandt, who would later almost, but not quite, push me into a volcano full of boiling sulphur.

Landing at dusk in Anchorage, we were set upon by American Girl Scouts, who did just about everything for us that they could possibly do that was contained in their Code of Honour. Some of them weren’t so young, either. Outside, I stood and looked at the distant mountains. I was nearer to my birthplace than I had been for thirty–two years.

Japan was enchanting. I fell in love with the place at once. In every town we vis­ited we were treated like royalty. I took to getting up early and wan­dering around the various towns, taking as many photos as I could. The children were gorgeous; the doll-like Geishas even more so.

Åke hated the place from the moment we stepped off the plane, and made no secret of it. After the long Polar flight we were tired, but the PR people expected us to get changed right away and do a TV publicity show before we’d even had a chance to freshen up. Ev­eryone grumbled, but we did it. While we were changing Åke shouted at me, ‘Oh man! I didn’t want to come here in the first place.’ He flung open one of the hotel windows and screamed ‘F— JAPAN!’ several times into the night.

Next morning we were awoken early. With hardly time for breakfast we were pushed into a bus and rushed to the Tokyo Television Centre, to appear on breakfast television.

The place was crammed with little men, all wearing suits. We had no need to rehearse the music, which we all knew back­wards. There was a short dialogue run-through, all in English. Werner read from a prompt written in chalk on a huge black­board.

When the run-through was over I went over and took a look at it.

Werner must have seen my face because he was beside me like a flash.

‘What’s the matter? No good?’

‘It’s hilarious. Look at that, “We beg the illustrious Japan gestgivers humbly to be eternly greatful. We are here.” Who wrote this load of crap, anyway?’

‘I did.’

‘You’ll be the laughing stock of the Far East.’ I quickly chalked him up some­thing more appropriate.

On the show, after the initial address by the Japanese compere, Werner had hardly opened his mouth to read his reply from the prompt board when Åke stood up in the middle of the trombone section and replied in, to our ears, fluent Japanese.

Everybody in the band was stunned. When he finished there was a sponta­neous burst of applause from everyone in the stu­dio—technicians, cameramen, make-up girls, the lot.

‘Domo arigato,’ said Åke, and sat down.

I found out later that he’d risen at six am and charmed a girl receptionist into writing him the little speech, which said how glad he was to be in Japan, and how he was looking forward to many happy days on the trip.

The first week of the tour was badly marred by the fact that Åke and I were sharing rooms together. While he was the one of the types who like to drink all night, I went to bed at a reasonable time. This caused some problems between us, because he had a habit of crashing into the room at all hours half drunk, switching on all the lights, and trying to engage me in conversation.

Things came to a head in Nagoya. When we finished the show, I had dinner, and then went up to the room. Åke was already in there with an outstandingly beautiful Japanese girl. When I went into the room she was in the bathroom, fully dressed, filling up the tub with hot water for him. He was laying flat out on the bed on his back, stark naked. 

‘Don’t let us disturb you,’ he said. As I climbed into bed he got up and stag­gered into the bathroom.

The next moment I felt the Japanese girl lay down on the bed be­side me. I got all kind of sensations at that, none of them good.

She was breathing heady perfumes into my face. ‘What can I do?’ she said des­perately. ‘Please help me. He’s so big. I’m afraid of him.’

‘So am I,’ I said, ‘Especially if he catches you on the bed with me. Why don’t you just leave?’

When he came back into the room she was gone.

‘Hey, where’s the chick?’ said Åke.

‘How the hell should I know? I thought she was with you.’

He stormed out of the room. I tried to get some sleep.

He rang up every fifteen minutes or so after that, to ask if the girl had come back. After the twentieth call I said that I would kill him if he rang me again.

‘Oh, you wouldn’t really do that, would you? Come on.’ He con­tinued to phone up throughout the night, sounding more and more drunk as the hours went by.

When he finally came to bed it was eight in the morning. The hotel was sit­uated on a busy main road. The noise of the traffic outside was stupendous. I opened all the windows wide.

He’d unloaded the contents of his pockets on to the bedside table. There was a wad of yen notes worth about five thousand marks there. I stuffed them into one of his pants pockets. On an impulse I kept back a thousand marks worth. The way he was carrying on he was going to lose or get robbed of the lot. I was going to look after it for him, and give it back to him in Germany.

There was a woman cleaning the corridor outside with a powerful industrial vacuum cleaner. I opened the door, and told her she was free to do our room, pay­ing particular attention to the area around his bed. I turned the radio on, full blast. Then I went for a walk.

That evening Werner told me that Åke had asked if he could share a room with somebody else in future. He said that I was too loud in the mornings.

While I was enjoying the wonderful scenery, walking around fabulous towns like Kyoto, where even the cemeteries are places of interest, Åke was concentrating on trying to get laid.

Chapter Fifteen >>

Copyright © 2001, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved