A Minstrel in Spain
Chapter Eighteen

Winding it up in Berlin

In Leningrad we visited the Hermitage and the Summer Palace. The ban­dleader, Paul Kuhn, who had made the trip wearing a thin summer rain­coat, refused to leave the bus. But this was history, we pleaded. He couldn’t answer for chattering teeth.

It was the same in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, and the sensa­tional Cathedral of St. Stanislas, with a full-sized fishing vessel hang­ing from the ceiling before the altar. I wandered around in there, fascinated by everything I saw. Paul remained in the bus, discussing the pleasures of Majorca with the Russian bus driver, who spoke German, and who had about as much chance of ever visiting Majorca as he had of being shot to the moon.

Our last night of the tour, back in Moscow, was heightened with a visit to the Bolshoi Theatre. We were to see La Traviata.

One of the tenor players, Rolf Römer, was just about to become a father, but couldn’t get through on the phone to his wife because of all the political chicanery surrounding calls to West Berlin.

By now he was at nerve’s end. As soon as the opera started and the audience was hushed he stood suddenly and began to moan in a loud voice.

‘Ooooooooooh - Ooooooooooh - Oooooooooh,’ he went. ‘Ooooooooh - Oooooooh - Oooooooh.’

Two of the guys helped him out and took him back to the hotel, where he slumped to the floor just outside the door of his room. When they tried to carry him into his bedroom they were surrounded by agents (see Åke and the vac­uum cleaner, above). Only two persons were al­lowed in a bedroom at one time.

‘But this man is ill,’ they protested.

‘How do you know he is ill, you have seen a doctor, perhaps?’

‘We can see that he is ill. Now, one of us alone cannot lift him. Please help us.’

They refused. He was too heavy to drag. Everyone stood around look­ing at him on the floor there.

Suddenly, Rolf stood up and walked, stiff-legged, like the Frankenstein mon­ster, into the bedroom. At the door he paused, turned, and looked at the men gathered outside.

‘Oooooooooh,’ he said.

I had missed all of this because as soon as the overture began I realised that I could hear nothing. It was too quiet for my devastated ears.

I left and tried to find a taxi. Outside it was snowing. Gangs of old ladies swept the streets under the dim lanterns. There were no taxis.

That isn’t quite true. There were taxis, but as they only have the word TAXI painted on the side of the car, one invariably sees it too late. This led to my finally sig­nalling every car that passed until one stopped.

‘Taxi?’ I said, knowing full well that he wasn’t.

He opened the rear door and I hopped in.

‘Hotel Rossiya,’ I said, hopefully. We set off on a tour of Moscow that lasted for half an hour, finally running through a sparsely popu­lated district with thick woods on each side of the road. I pan­icked, thinking that I was being kidnapped.

‘Hotel Rossiya?’ I asked, timidly. The young man appeared not to have heard me. We hurtled on, screaming around corners, like they did in the film Gorky Park.

We drew up finally in front of a building I had never seen before.

‘Hotel Rossiya,’ said the driver, and put the light on.

I offered him a rouble note. He shook his head. I offered another.

Leaning over the seat, he took the roll of notes from my nerveless fin­gers, pushed me out, slammed the door and was gone.

I entered the hotel. This was the South Side entrance. Two hours later, after fif­teen circular tours of the hotel I found my room on the North Side. Each time I had followed the numbers around the corridor I came to the room number before mine and a blank wall barring further progress. Retracing my steps going the other way I came to the room num­ber after mine and another blank wall.

I only discovered what was wrong by revisiting the foyer on the South Side and studying a hotel map on the wall there. The architects had decided, for no apparent rea­son, to drop the floor down a few feet at my room number. One could only reach it by a secret staircase over on the West Side. I brushed off a man who offered to take me to the Canadian Embassy and got into the elevator once more.

There were about ten people in the lift. As the doors opened at the second floor several of us attempted to leave the car. A Korean, exactly the same shape and size as Oddjob, from Goldfinger, entered the lift. His shoulders fit exactly into the square door­way. He came in slowly and re­lentlessly, compressing us back into the car like a giant piston. No one dared complain. As it was impossible for him to turn we rode the lift with him staring impassively at us. He got out backwards on the tenth. The vacuum created by his retreating form sucked us all out with him.

I collapsed on the bed exhausted, and switched the television on. It was show­ing the English film ‘Pickwick Papers’ with Russian dialogue. As I looked in amaze­ment at the dear old gaitered figure of Mr. Pickwick I began to cry. I had never been so home­sick in my life before.

Next morning we were told that we would not be allowed to take any Rus­sian money out of the country, neither would we be allowed to exchange it for western currency.

Milo and I went around to a place he knew about, where he paid four hundred marks for a small tin of caviar. On the way there a young man ac­costed me, offering me money for my fur coat. I was too nervous to even look at him. I wasn’t going to do anything that might give the bastards a chance to keep me there.

At the airport I put all my remaining cash into the ashtray. Let one of the poor cleaning women start believing in fairies.

It was his insatiable passion for women that finally led to Åke’s overthrow. His wife Jerry was long gone from the scene. He had man­aged to charm a rich Czechoslovakian girl named Maggie into taking him into her house. They lived together as man and wife. She owned a factory that manufactured television ca­bles, the thick red electric ones you al­ways see trailing out of the side of studio TV cameras, and she also had a small film company on the side.

Maggie bought a new house for them, a couple of new cars. He gave up the radio job. ‘I’m rich,’ he said to me. ‘I don’t have to worry about money now for the rest of my life.’ He would visit the studio now and then to show off his new trenchcoat, some new Gucci shoes she’d given him, or his new Volvo.

On one of the visits he spotted a girl sitting alone at one of the tables in the canteen and went over to talk to her. In sharp contrast to his Czech girl-friend, who was a raving beauty, and highly intelligent, this girl was dumpy and stupid looking, with a face and figure like the nurse in “One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest”. They started to hit it off to­gether, meeting regularly at her apartment. He used to phone and ask me to say that he’d been at my place when he had a date with this stupid broad.

I told him he was crazy to mess about like that—he’d lose every­thing. But he was confident of his hold over Maggie who was quite clearly deeply in love with him.

I never had to lie for him, because Maggie trusted him im­plicitly. He got so confident with the whole thing that he actually brought this broad with him to a jazz festival. Maggie turned up as well and caught him more or less in flagrantis.

Within the blink of an eyelid she had tossed him out of the house.

The next thing I heard, he’d driven his car into a river up in Swe­den and drowned. Police reports said that there were signs of him attempt­ing to open the window to es­cape at the last moment. He had been in hospital up there taking some cure or other, and had left without notice and driven his car away. He’d probably been medicated up to the eyebrows when the accident hap­pened, and the shock of the impact may have brought him round a bit, too late to save himself. This all happened after I’d left Berlin, and was working in Saar­brücken. I only heard about it later.

The really weird thing about that was that some years before all this happened, I had written a full-length novel where the hero of the piece, also from Scan­danavia, died in exactly the same way. At the time I’d thought it a novel way of finishing him off in the book, not having read anything like it be­fore.

Åke and I were close in so many ways that, even to this day, I have dreams where I meet and talk to him. In the dreams I am always standing to one side in what seems to be a huge dimly lit tunnel. Thousands of people are walking past me, going slowly from right to left. I suddenly see him and call him over. He doesn’t seem to know that he is dead. It happens so often that I wonder sometimes whether he really is alive somewhere, and in hiding from some woman or other.

Sometimes our band was amalgamated with the Berlin Radio Symphony Or­ches­tra and we made really mammoth productions in the television cen­tre. I used to get to write the arrangements sometimes for people like Astrud Gilberto, and Caterina Valente. Writing for an orchestra that size was the best way of making money I knew, except for playing with the Manhattan Transfer, where I once got paid seven thousand marks for doing nothing.

Hurrying into the control room of the studio on one such occasion I bumped into Harry Secombe, who was hurrying out.

‘Hello Neddy,’ I purred, in my polished Grytpype-Thynne voice.

‘‘Ello,’ello’ he bellowed, ripping off one of his famous raspber­ries. ‘What are you doing ‘ere then?’

I explained. We shook hands. He was here to sing. I found that hard to be­lieve, having only worked with him previously on the Goon Show productions in the Camden Theatre. I didn’t know he’d become a highly respected oper­atic tenor.

All through the concert we waited on tenterhooks for him to ex­plode into Goonery. But he never did. He couldn’t, not without the other idiots.

On the same show Eve Boswell turned up, and suddenly confronted me in the middle of the stage, in front of the gaping orchestra.

We embraced. I hadn’t seen Eve since the South Africa tour.

‘Pick me up,’ she murmured into my ear.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Pick me up.’

I hugged her even tighter and lifted her from the ground. The or­chestra was now definitely interested and a couple of horn players began serenading us with bits out of the intro of Till Eulenspiegel.

‘I said zip me up, not pick me up,’ she hissed.

‘Sorry, I’ve gone deaf.’

‘You’re telling me.’

She turned and I zipped her dress up at the back.

‘Where’s Trevor, then? This is his job.’

She told me, sadly, that Trevor had died some years previously. He’d been a good husband, and an even better manager.

We both still fondly remembered the time he punched up the spot­light operator in the theatre in Durban for repeatedly moving the circle of light away from her during her act.

My friend, the actress Eva Eras was married to an Italian diplomat in the UN; during the war he had been Italian Ambassador to Germany.

Now he preferred to live in Rome, while Eva liked it better in Berlin. As the wife of a diplomat she was used to being hostess to enor­mous embassy receptions and ban­quets. Subsequently, without her maids, Eva was not even ca­pable of preparing her own breakfast, and had to eat every single meal in a nearby restaurant. She managed to make coffee for visi­tors, but that, too, was touch and go. She was an utterly delightful person to be with.

Apart from being a most remarkable person—she had shielded sev­eral Jewish members of the diplomatic household staff in her house throughout the war, right un­der the noses of the nazis—Eva was also a most talented actress. So much so that she spent most of the later years of her life synchronising the dialogue of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn into German, in each and every film they ever made. The German cinema-going public frowns on cinema subtitles. Every single film shown in Germany must thus firstly be translated and synchronised into the German language.

Therefore, to this day, every time one hears the voice of any of those three ac­tresses in one of their films, shown in a German cinema, or on German television, it is the voice of Eva Eras. For me, all these years later, hearing her speak thus still fills me with love and admira­tion, mixed with not a little nostalgia for those days in Berlin, and for Eva, the unseen superstar.

There was an artist living nearby whom I knew well called Hans. He lived to­gether with a girl called Uschi, with the permission of the girl’s husband, who lived downstairs, and spent all his spare time getting stoned. At holiday time, all three went off together somewhere, with the hus­band paying for everything. This seemed to suit all three of them down to the ground.

Hans’s specialty was etchings, and his work eventually became im­mensely popular in the United States. He gave me an etching of a scene in Venice, which hangs on my wall before me as I write this. When I knew him he was very poor. He threw a birthday bottle party in his attic studio for Eva Eras, of which the high­light of the evening was a porno slide show that he'd borrowed from somebody.

We were all guffawing at some of the truly outrageous positions the models were getting up to. I stole a glance at Eva. She was, after all, a real lady, and getting on for 70. She seemed to be asleep.

In one particularly acrobatic menage a trios Uschi suddenly exclaimed, ‘How can people do that? It’s disgusting.’

Eva’s voice came back out of the darkness at once, in her best Bette Davis style. ‘My dear, das ist das Kostbarste! (that is the most tasty!)’

Lotte was another of Eva's friends. She was an extremely elegant eighty year old widow. Lotte had been a passenger on the Andrea Doria when the luxury liner was struck by the freighter Stockholm in thick fog just outside the port of New York.

She had been rescued without even getting her feet wet. The real tragedy came when her son heard news of the sinking. Driving to Hamburg, in order to take the next ship to be beside his mother, he was involved in a horrific automobile accident, which killed him.

I first met Lotte when we all met for coffee one day. She was com­plain­ing about a bird she had just bought. It was a big black Ouja bird or some name like that. In the shop it had been as good as gold. Once in her apartment, with the cloth pulled off it started to scream as if it was being murdered.

People began to hammer on the door, Finally the janitor came up and said the bird would have to go. She begged him to look after it until the shops opened next day. He took the bird, grudgingly, and stuck it in his room down in the basement. From that moment on the damn bird never so much as uttered a squeak, but very quickly learned to swear in German. The guy was delighted, and bought it off her at a huge dis­count.

As I came in she was telling how she had, only the previous day, beaten off a flasher in the Grünewald forest. Walking along, taking a constitutional with an equally ancient woman friend, they had been ac­costed by a man who had whipped open his raincoat in the approved man­ner, and displayed himself to their (at their age) experienced and highly critical gaze.

Lotte had rummaged in her handbag for her little spray gun. Finding it, she walked over to the man, and carefully and expertly sprayed his pride and joy with two ounces of highly concentrated mace. She added that the re­sult had exceeded her wildest expecta­tions. The flasher, according to her highly coloured description, leapt into the air, as if fired from a can­non, and then disappeared howling into the trees.

During the conversation she looked regularly at her watch. It was obvious that she had an appointment. When pressed she blushed pro­fusely, and admitted to having a rendezvous in the cafe at Hotel Kempinski in the Kurfürstendamm.

We pressed for details, delighted to hear that she had a male friend. She did in­deed, but he turned out to be a young man of perhaps twenty years of age.

We were at once suspicious, but she said that the young man was harmless. He also visited the Kempinski, generally at the same time as she, and they had become friends. In fact, blushing even more, he had only yesterday told her that he loved her, and wanted to marry her.

Uschi sprang up at once and grabbed her handbag. We went with Lotte to the Kempinski, but entered first and took a table for ourselves.

A few minutes later Lotte came in and sat alone at a table. A young man who we had seen keeping his eye on the door stood up at once and joined her at her table, giving her a small bunch of flowers, and a kiss on the cheek. It was obvious that Lotte was en­joying this sort of atten­tion, especially at her age, very much. The young man sat down and began talking earnestly to her, taking her hand and stroking it gently as he did so.

After a while we got up and went over to them. We’d already pre­pared Lotte in advance. When we arrived at the table she introduced Uschi to the young man as being her daughter. He was crestfallen. I was watch­ing his face closely. It was just as we had suspected. He was after Lotte’s money, and, eventually, once he’d talked her into mar­riage, whatever else she possessed.

In case he hadn’t quite grasped what was happening, Uschi politely asked him to step into the cloakroom for a moment. Through the glass window we could see her pushing up against him aggressively, the way she did when she was trying to prove a point. I couldn’t see her hands, but she made a sudden movement and all of a sudden the man opened his mouth in shock and rose about a foot in the air. He writhed about up there for several seconds, red-faced and gasping, then collapsed out of sight. That was the last anyone saw of him.

Ray Conniff came to Berlin, with a chorus of Yugoslavian girl singers, they be­ing cheaper than the German variety. Along with him he brought John Best and the clarinet player Skeets Herfurt. Skeets still played in the Billy May band back home, and with Bob Crosby, who came out of retirement each Christmas to play some local gigs.

Johnny Best had been the featured trumpet soloist with the wartime Glenn Miller band. It is his solo that made such a hit on the record of In the Mood. Like most players in ret­rospect, he doesn’t consider that solo to be one of his best, and cringes every time he hears it. His name appears on the trumpet parts: Solo as played by Johnny Best, and most bandleaders insist on an exact replica of the solo. In the Mood is probably one of the single most played big band recordings of all time. Of course Johnny, together with the rest of the band, and the arranger, only got paid scale for the recording.

He seemed happy enough, and they both filled me in with current events in Los Angeles.

The day after Johnny and Skeets went home I found myself sitting in the can­teen opposite what looked like a sheriff from an old cowboy film, in full regalia, including an enormous white Stetson. It turned out to be Bobby Burgess, who had brought his son over from the States to get some specialist eye treatment, and also to avoid being sent to get killed in Vietnam.

Bobby had led that wonderful trombone section in the Kenton band of the 1950’s. Today, forty years later, the recordings of the Bill Russo arrange­ments on Sketches on Standards and Portraits on Standards can hold up against anything being currently produced, yet Bill, when I met him, dismissed the stuff as being commercial. He could hardly remember the arrangements. Bill even asked me to try and get hold of a recording of his Theme and Variations, from another Kenton record, because he’d forgotten how it went.

Bob Burgess eventually took a job in Erwin Lehn’s band in Stuttgart, where Ack and Rolf Ericsson were playing, but I worked with him many times over the fol­lowing years. He is a great guy, very calm and with a lot of humour. Wally Heider told me that Bobby was known as ‘Butter’ Burgess back home, probably because butter won’t melt in his mouth. He certainly is a peaceful guy.

He quickly settled down in Stuttgart and put on a lot of weight. When I took him to task on this he said, ‘The trouble is that ev­erything I like is either illegal, or makes me fat.’

His spoken German, to this day, has remained a source of delight to his con­tem­poraries, and Ack once sent me a list of howlers that Bob made daily in the lan­guage.

I had an address book at home with the names of every musician who had ever played in Los Angeles. When we met I used to fire questions at Bob.

‘How’s So-and-So these days?’

‘Old So-and-So? He’s doing fine, just fine. I saw him only a couple of weeks ago’

He said this calmly, whatever name I shot at him. We enjoyed the joke much more than our German listeners, because I often asked him about someone who, in fact, had died many years before. No one else in the band seemed to catch on, though, and they would nod appreciatively upon hearing all the fa­mous names.

As there was no Canadian consulate in West Berlin I had to register at the Military Mission. This was deep inside the Olympic Stadium, which the British Army used as its headquarters. With the Mission stamp inside my passport I could use the Naafi and PX facilities, buy English books, and go to the British cinema, all of which were right beside the radio station.

The Stadium itself was huge and awe-inspiring, loaded with ghosts of the past. The army put on a wonderful tattoo that year, featuring, after night had fallen, Tschaikowsky’s 1812 Over­ture. There was a huge set built over on one side of the arena, probably intended to represent Moscow. The lighting was superb, there were massed bands, cannons, bells, and all of the paraphernalia necessary for the performance of the overture.

At the start of the tattoo a helicopter flew slowly over the stadium carrying an enormous Union Jack. Suddenly the chains holding it fast came adrift, and the flag, with its iron supports, crashed down on to an empty part of the stadium. Everyone cheered ironically when it came down. We only found out the next day that a gate-crasher had sneaked into the stadium and had been sitting over there on his own. He was killed instantly when the iron bar fell on his head.

There were all kinds of entertainments, including the usual one where fifteen soldiers balance on one motor cycle and career all around the arena. A competition was held to see which group of men could tear a field gun apart the quickest, carry the parts over to the other end of the field, reassemble the gun, and fire it. At one point during the show all the lights went out and we were invited to strike a match, or thumb our lighters. The result, about ten thousand tiny lights, flickering in the darkness, was curiously touching, and the Berliners really loved that bit.

Then, while the lights were still out, a single spotlight picked out the figure of a small boy in uniform. All he did was march over the arena from one side to the other, playing a little rattle of the side-drum, Diddle-um-tum-Diddle-Diddle-um-TUM-TUM, Diddle-um-tum-Diddle-Diddle-um-TUM-TUM. This brought every­one to his feet clapping and cheering, a very emotional reaction to such a simple display. I’d had no idea that the army could be so artistic.

I always cry when I hear the 1812 Overture, and this night I had good reason to. The massed bands were glorious—there must have been at least three hundred musi­cians gathered before us, and the playing was superb. When the fanfares began about halfway through, the cannons roared, the bells tolled, and the tableau exploded into smoke and flame. And all through the amazing din, the bands played on. I have never seen or heard anything so thrilling in my life. It was incredible, probably the best show I will ever see, and don’t forget that during my entire career I was constantly working in enormous productions like this.

My experiences in the Olympic Stadium had not always been so pleasant. Shortly after I arrived in Berlin I was booked by a man named Luba Dorio for what I imagined to be a recording session in the stadium. He was apparently a very well-known, and greatly loved, post-war Berlin bandleader. I turned up at the appointed time of twelve o’clock noon, to find a band set-up of one trumpet and three saxes in the Olympic cafe. I couldn’t see any microphones yet, but I imagined that the engineers would be somewhere around, and that whatever it was we were about to record would be over in an hour or so.

We started to play at once, people came in to drink coffee, and we then played, without a break, until midnight. Now, I’ve always been the kind of player that goes in with a bang, plays with maximum intensity for an hour, and then has a break—with an overall playing expectation of two to three hours at the most. I’m afraid that I didn’t exactly smother myself with glory that day, because I was utterly exhausted by three in the afternoon, but I also let the bandleader know, not without a touch of bitterness, that I had been conned into the job.

In England, if a man booking a band for a dance says that there will be two bands on the job, the musicians expect, and rightly so, that each band will play for perhaps an hour, and then go off for an hour while the other band performs. In Germany I discovered, also to my cost, that more often than not each band will play one or two numbers only before the other band takes over, leaving the two bands side by side on stage for the whole of the four or five hours. It was a waste of time trying to change this practice, so I subsequently refused every offer of a gig advertising two bands.

Robert Farnon visited Berlin to make a record with Chet Baker, who had just been re­leased from a Spanish jail. The police were waiting at the airport, and hustled Chet away out of Germany before he even got into the studio.

Anyone who has never lived in Berlin would be forgiven for thinking that this town, once the capital of the Third Reich, would be a grim place, full of wartime relics, ruins and memories, especially in those days. In fact, nine-tenths of Berlin consists of beautiful forests and lakes, with many romantic castles and palaces. One never tires of roaming around this town.

The grim relics are there too, though. As two or three of the most important recording studios were situated right alongside the Berlin wall, by the Potsdamer Platz, I had to drive through vast areas of burned and bombed out streets to reach them. The Ariola studio, itself only a shell, with only one big room intact, was opposite the famous Haus Vaterland, once the very centre of entertainment in Berlin. The Phonogram stu­dio was in the old Hotel Esplanade, a huge empty, dusty ruin full of the ghosts of pre-war embassy balls and recep­tions.

Just before he left Berlin for London Nat Peck had asked me if I could give him any useful contacts. Having married an English girl he was now eligible for membership of the Musicians’ Union, and could work in England. I gave him Laddy Busby’s phone number. Soon I received an angry letter from Laddy. He had befriended Nat, found him an apartment nearby, and introduced him to David Katz, and several other of the London contractors. The next thing he knew, Nat was booking all the trombone sections for these people, and Laddy wasn’t amongst them. Already suffering because he wasn’t a Freemason, Laddy was now being penalised for not being Jewish.

Quincy Jones came over with the bassist Ray Brown and we played a concert with him in the University. I don’t think all the music was his. It was pretty good stuff, mostly Gershwin music, but I only recognised Killer Joe as being one of his ar­range­ments. The band played pretty good. Only Professor Hans Rettenbacher, our Aus­trian bassist messed up all the time.

Åke came over to me with Quincy on the second day of rehearsals and asked what we could do about Rettenbacher, who was clowning around on the bass as if he were in his second childhood. Maybe he thought he was being hip. Åke told me pri­vately that Quincy had actually been crying the night before about how the bass was ruining his show.

‘Use Ray,’ I said, but Ray wouldn’t do it. He was the best bass player in the world, but he wouldn’t play with us. He must have had some reason, and Quincy didn’t press him. Finally Åke and I went over to Rettenbacher and said we’d break his legs if he didn’t play properly. He was a little skinny guy, and we were a lot bigger than him so that seemed to do the trick.

Les Humphries was an Englishman who ran a very successful group called the Les Humphries Singers. He’d picked up a motley collection of different coloured layabouts from the streets of Hamburg, choosing them only for their looks, all of which were highly eccentric. The first time I met Les I’d been booked in an 11 am emergency call to the Teldec studios over in Lichterfelde. I arrived to find a large orchestra, strings, horns, the lot, just sitting there, or standing around outside smoking. The producer greeted me with open arms.

‘Thank God! These guys couldn’t play nursery rhymes.’

He was referring to the trumpet section, and, when I saw it, I wasn’t surprised. The contractor, who was a sometime trumpeter, had booked all of his amateur pals, and was playing the first trumpet himself. A quick look at the parts revealed the problem, because they were all high quality American-type charts that these guys couldn’t even read, let alone play.

‘Can you book me another section? Right now?’ I told him that it would be impossible at such short notice. He sent the others home then, and I synchronised the four trumpet parts on my own, which turned out much better than he would have ever believed, having never heard this done before. These were the pilot recordings for Les, very important, and through them he got his record contract. His group was a tremendous success in Germany, and hit the high spots on the charts until collapsing some ten years later. His wife left him, and Les disappeared. He should have been a multi-millionaire by then, but I doubt it.

When he discovered that I was a fellow Canadian the producer gave me the contracting job for all of the subsequent Humphries recordings, telling me to charge the record company a 10% fee. This caused Teldec to flip out completely, as the usual fee was only 5%. The other Berlin contractors didn’t like the arrangement either, but I booked the orchestra each time, did all the tax and paper work, and copped 10% of the wages of about forty musicians, which was more than my monthly wage at the radio station.

So now I was doing that, the jobs in the two radio stations, playing sessions, writing arrangements, texts, radio plays, writing my book, putting on my own jazz programme in RIAS, working for the Deutsche Welle, selling Benge trumpets, playing with Peter Herbolzheimer—and still finding time for my daily bike rides in the Grünewald. I was in my forties at the time, and didn’t notice any strain, didn’t, in fact, realise that I was doing all that until I thought about it years later, after I’d left Berlin. I guess you could say that it was my most productive era.

In January 1974 I played a three day job with Peter Herbolzheimer in Stuttgart, and Franz Fijal, the SFB band boss, paid the Swedish trumpet player, Rolf Eric­sson, who was still the only white man ever to have played in the Duke Ellington band, my whole month’s wages to deputise for me for the three days. Maybe Franz was trying to get me to leave. If he was, he certainly succeeded. I know that he hated me playing with Peter’s band, which was so good that it made every other band look silly.

Peter’s line-up in those days was—Myself, Ack van Rooyen, Palle Mickelborg and Art Farmer, trumpets, with Benny Bailey, Allan Botschinsky or Dusko Goykovic sometimes coming in as deps; Jiggs Whigham, Åke Persson, Rudi Fuesers, Peter Herbol­zheimer, trombones; Horst Mühlbradt and Dieter Reith, keyboards; Philip Catherine, guitar; Niels Henning Orsted Pederson, bass; and Tony Inzalaco, drums. There was only one alto saxophone, played by Herb Geller. When Herb left, Ferdinand Povell took over the alto chair, with Jim Towsey added on baritone. Later on Otto Bredl and Johnny Griffin became regular members. As a matter of fact—Peter could have had any one of the great American jazz musicians he wanted in the band. The money was there, and quite a lot of the players in the United States were hard pressed for jobs.

It was a sensational group of people, the best I ever worked with in my long career. Playing those arrangements of Peter’s, with those guys, made the whole idea of being in the music business mean something.

It was a great compliment to me that, when a badly handled dental operation caused me to leave his band later on, Peter began flying Chuck Findley over from Los Angeles to replace me on his record sessions. When Chuck couldn’t make it Peter used Derek Watkins, who was over in Germany a lot of the time playing with the James Last show band.

Allan Botschinsky, in spite of his name, was Danish. Milo Pavlovic had first met him when Allan came over to play some gigs with the Edelhagen band. Dusko Goykovic was also in the band, having just arrived back after a couple of years with Woody Herman. Allan has rather a large nose, and as soon as Dusko saw it he started capering about behind him while he was talking to Milo, pointing at his own nose, which is also a pretty noble, Roman-type beak, and mouthing, ‘The nose, the nose—get the nose.’ It was all Milo could do to keep a straight face, but he must have given something away because Allan spun around suddenly and caught Dusko in the middle of the act.

I used to go into the SFB studio to practice sometimes, especially to get my lip in before going away with Peter’s band. In the afternoons the studio was always empty, and I could stretch out a bit without annoying anyone else. Right in the middle of one of these practice sessions the door opened suddenly and an extremely white-faced security guard looked in.

‘My God!’ he said, ‘I thought the building was empty.’

‘What’s up?’

‘Quick! Get out! There’s a bomb alarm.’

I rushed out of the building behind him. As I emerged on to the front steps I saw the entire work-force of the radio station, from intendant down to canteen waitress, all gathered on the opposite side of the road, over by the radio tower. They cheered and applauded as I came out, still clutching my trumpet.

Not to be outdone I bowed gravely, then treated them to a few red-hot bars of Struttin’ with some Barbecue, which was greeted with even greater enthusiasm. Berlin was full of bomb scares in the days of the Baader-Meinhof gang, but they were mostly false alarms.

I decided to take the Saarbrücken job after all, left the Berlin radio band at once, without giving notice, and sued Franz for the ar­rangements he owed me. He paid up exactly one year later, but only after I threatened to take him to court..

For one month I’d made myself out of work. I went along to the labour ex­change and registered. I’d been paying insurance in there long enough, now they could give me some of it back.

I was shown into a small office. An extremely attractive girl sat behind the desk. As soon as I walked into the room she began wrinkling up her nose as if I’d trodden in some dog dirt.

I took the chair she indicated.

‘Anything wrong?’

‘What kind of aftershave is that you’re wearing?’

‘Old Spice.’

‘Hmm.’ Sniff, sniff. ‘I don’t like it.’

‘Does that mean I don’t get any money?’

‘Of course not. Now then! It says here that you are a musician, a trumpet player. Will you be willing to take other work? A more honest job, perhaps?’

I hid a smirk. ‘No.’

‘But surely there can be no future in such an occupation? How much do you earn, roughly?’

I told her. She threw her pen down, angrily.

‘Please, I have a lot of work to do. How much do you really earn?’

I showed her my income tax return for the previous year, which I’d brought along just in case.

She looked up at me in amazement.

‘But—this is more than the Bundeskanzler earns!’

‘That’s show business.’

‘We can’t pay you all that! Three thousand is the absolute maxi­mum.’

I took it and fled. She even opened the door for me. Maybe my af­ter­shave wasn’t bothering her any more.

Meanwhile I’d signed the contract to join the Saarbrücken radio band. The de­part­ment chief Dr. Hess had already asked Richard Krueger to work out the condi­tions. It was to be a permanent job with a life’s pen­sion attached.

My new wife, Linda, had urged me to take it. She had only just joined the SFB news depart­ment, also with a life’s pension, but she gave it up because of me. She convinced me that, however bad the new band was going to be, and it was terrible, I was getting older, and would be glad of the permanent na­ture of the contract.

I had met Linda through my part-time job at the Deutsche Welle, Studio Berlin, where I was chief editor for North America and the Far East. She was one of their red-hot secretaries, with a truly awesome typing speed. She also spoke Russian and Spanish fluently.

Linda had been born in Marienwerder, near Königsberg. Her father was a German army officer who had been killed near the end of the war. Just before the Russian army arrived her mother had taken her, with her grandmother, brother and sister in an attempt to cross the frozen Gulf of Danzig, on foot to safety.

They had been machine-gunned on the road, and when they arrived at the Gulf it was to discover that hundreds of people had perished there. They made their way back home, with difficulty, in raging snowstorms, to find their house now so fully occupied by fleeing refugees that there was no room for them.

A retreating army column then took pity on them and helped them catch the last Red Cross plane out of the area to Werder an der Havel, a former beauty spot in what was to become East Berlin.

Linda had taken a job in West Berlin as a secretary. One day the Communist secret police (Stasi) visited their house with a request for her to begin spying on her work colleagues. She left at once for the west, shortly before the building of the infamous Berlin Wall.

Her mother was then hounded by the Stasi until she managed to convince them that she was well rid of her errant daughter. Some time later her younger sister Heidi was caught trying to escape the east zone through Hungary and jailed for a year in Leipzig. She was then transferred, with a busload of criminals, to Wiesbaden and freed. The west, alas, had to take what they could get, and the east zone rid itself of many unwanted persons in this way The usual price asked by the east for such transfers was 10,000 DM per prisoner..

My lawyer in Berlin was one of the contact men for such transfers, arranging them with the east authorities through another lawyer in East Berlin. One day I opened the newspaper to discover that he had been involved in a huge scandal, and had disappeared with a large amount of the transfer money. As far as I am aware he has never been traced.

When Linda and I married, in Berlin-Zehlendorf, the entire SFB Big Band turned up to play the Wedding March at the ceremony. It was very touching, and I cried, of course. I always cry at weddings, especially my own.

We moved into a charming old house in Spandau in an area called Pichelsee. It was situated on the canal joining the Teglersee with the Wannsee, Berlin's two great lakes. Our garden ran right down to the canal and we had our own boat dock, but no boat. We had a wonderful view of all the water traffic, including the big passenger ships, all lit up at night, and often with riotous parties on board. After we moved out the house became converted into a yacht club.

In the garden was a swimming pool with about four inches of rainwater in it. One morning I awoke to find a swan trapped in there.

I phoned the fire brigade. Five minutes later two enormous fire trucks with extension ladders roared into the narrow street, followed by several official cars, blocking the street entirely. Fourteen firemen in full combat gear rushed into the garden, followed by as many of the neighbours that could crowd in there.

High comedy now ensued. One of the firemen, clad in thigh-length waders and big heavy gloves, descended into the pool and began creeping around with outstretched arms, trying to catch the swan. His companions lined the sides of the pool, shouting helpful advice and encouragement. Every time he managed to corner the swan, and it looked as if he might catch it, the swan spread its wings and rushed at him in a blind panic. This caused him to step back in alarm and fall over several times into the cold and dirty water until he got the hang of it, much to the delight of his comrades. Click the picture to enlarge.

I handed out one of the crates of beer I had in the cellar, considerably adding to the party atmosphere. Berliners have a wonderful sense of humour, anyway, and this was Keystone Kops stuff.

After about half an hour of being chased around the swan stood in a corner of the pool, utterly exhausted. Just as the fireman was about to clasp his arms around it, the swan gave one final mighty flap of its wings that landed it out of the pool, right at the feet of the official veterinary surgeon, who had been called in to the emergency. Swans were VIP people in this town, and rightly so. It now tamely allowed the vet to gather it up and carry it away to his car.

I shook hands with all of the delighted firemen. For them it had been a welcome change to most of their other, far more dangerous work.

Meanwhile, Linda's sister Heidi had been involved in a horrific auto accident in Wiesbaden, where she had broken both arms and legs and suffered severe concussion. The driver of a car, in which she had been travelling on the Autobahn, missed an exit road turning off the motorway, then tried to make it anyway, with the result that he ran smack into a bollard. The entire passenger seat went straight through the windscreen, with Heidi still strapped in it. The driver came out without a scratch.

The car insurance company managed to delay payment of damages to her, including a huge invalid's pension, for about eighteen years. One of the excuses they made was that she had already had all of her injuries before the accident.

We packed everything, took our pregnant Siamese cat, and drove to Saarbrücken. My car, the brand new red Volvo 144S, took us there at a maximum 100 kph, but we could reach that speed only downhill with a good wind behind us. I resolved to do the car in once I’d settled in the new job. I’d read about an American once who shot his motorbike. I’d had it up to there with the damn thing. Now even the automatic gear­box was playing up. Quite often you put it in drive and nothing happened for a while, then suddenly it would leap forward, nearly throwing you out the back window.

Upon arrival in Saarbrücken I sat down at once and wrote a letter to Volvo in Sweden, telling them that their ‘whispering power’ model was a load of crap. I received a charming letter of apology. Dear Sir, We are sorry to hear that you think our prod­uct is a load of crap, yours, etc.

Shortly after we left Berlin the SFB band ended for ever, and everyone in it was sacked. Several of the guys joined the Berlin Police Band. When they weren’t playing music they had to put on riot gear and go out head-bashing. I had been lucky.

Chapter Nineteen >>>

Copyright © 2001, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved