BITS AND PIECES
| A girl came up the other day and said she
wanted to sing with our band. The bandleader asked about her repertoire
and she replied that she had a lot of great band arrangements at home.
Well this is our arranger, said the bandleader, pointing at me. The girl ignored me. As she went on talking I moved around, positioning myself at various points of her vision. It was clear that she could not see me. As Sylvester the Cat would have said, I had become indivisible. This intrigued me, because up to then I had only been invisible in butchers shops and any other venue where you can only get attention by pushing and shoving.
She reappeared the following week. Did you bring your music? I asked. She didnt hear me because invisible men can only speak in old black and white movies.
The question was repeated by the bandleader.
Ive brought nowt, she replied, establishing her place of origin as slightly north of Watford. I suggested that she sing one of my scores. She ignored me.
Why not sing one of our scores? said the bandleader.
What a good idea! Why didnt I think of that.
We decided to play Autumn Leaves as it was in Cher key, she was sure of that. When we started she came in on the first line with a high, supernatural scream that caused all the local birds to migrate. A second later she was down grovelling in the subsonic, sounding like Louis Armstrong at the other end of a long drainpipe. So she went on, alternating between the two, until the end.
When it was all over she swung on me, shouting that it was all my fault for putting the number in the wrong key. I had suddenly become visible. Well thank Goodness for that. But her problem had nowt to do with me, and I told her so, but by then I had become invisible again, and she didnt hear me.
Ted Heath used to like his soloists to play the same solo every time. As he recorded most of his music he reckoned that the listener would associate the recorded solo with the tune. He wasnt far wrong about that. Stan Getz played Early Autumn with Woody Herman many times but he never played that beautiful solo from the record again. He didnt see any reason why he should, but he never came up with anything to touch it. As it was the high spot of the recording the number didnt sound the same without it.
Back in the big band era we used to do jazz jamborees in the Royal Albert Hall. One day, while I was working with Geraldo, we turned up for rehearsal to find that we were sharing the stage with the Ted Heath band. Ted had done a broadcast the previous day and one of his trumpet players had dropped an enormous clam during a solo. To our immense satisfaction we discovered that the band was going to play this same number on the concert.
We bottled up our delight and waited. When the trumpet player stood up for his solo Geraldos entire brass section stood up and played it with him, with the mistake.
People are always coming up and talking to me. Often they profess to have played with this band and that. As I played with most of the bands they talk about I know when they are putting it on a bit. One man told me he was a trumpet player and he used to work alongside Ron Simmonds. This made me very anxious because I didnt recognise him, but I didnt want to put my foot in it.
I have the same problem with women. When they come up close, stare in my eyes and murmur, Do you remember me. I start looking for the back door.
Anyway, this guy knew me so well, he almost knew me better than I did. As we chatted away he poured out a whole series of events, including recent telephone calls and holidays together. Luckily he seemed to like me, but I was beginning to wonder whether I led a double life. Soon a clear picture began to emerge. I was sure we had never met before, but he did go on and on. Maybe he thought I was the most wonderful person on the face of this earth, but I didnt push it.
When we parted he asked my name.
It isnt important, I said.
But I gave my noticeand then Tommy Dorsey came running over to me, like a ferocious lion; if you know much about Tommy youll know he had a terrible temperhe would hit you in two seconds. He was twice my size, and he came over; he said: Did I hear that you just quit my band? I said: Well, Mr. Dorsey I tried to explain it to him. He said: Nobody quitsyoure fired! I said: Well, if youre firing me, youve got to pay my way home. He said: No, noyou quit. You pay your own way home! Terry Gibbs
The finale was a drum soloand he had maybe two million dollars' worth of drums up there. He started playing and during the course of his solo a cat came out in a loincloth, with a torch; he started dancing, and the drummer was playing the tomtoms, or whatever he was doing. Obviously he had asbestos in position, because this cat set fire around the set of drums. Now, I don't know what that does for a drum solo, but it scared the hell out of meI thought the joint was on fire! I'd no idea what was going on. But when you have to resort to that, you're saying in essence to the audience: "I don't really play that well, but look how brave I am." Buddy Rich
All men are born free, or so we are told, but from kindergarten onwards we are apt to find ourselves in some kind of uniform, be it the blazer, battledress, bowler, badge, beads or the final box. I know exactly how easy it is. I remember scouring all the jewellers shops in London until I bought an oblongshaped ring as worn by Lester Young. And I looked a wow in my twoandthree-quarterinch brimmed Stetson and zoot suit. It was terribly important to let folk know that I was no icky square. Then I got my call-up papers. Kenny Graham
Thelonious Monk was playing at a session and was laying out for twentyfour bars. After about eighteen bars a fan turned to me and said: BoyMonks deep! Andre Previn
They just cant copy my sound. As soon as they think theyve got it, I change. Stan Getz
Jazz sounds like rats running on a tin roof. Ringo Starr
I used to put on Blindfold Tests some years ago when I worked as a journalist for the old pirate radio ship National Broadcasting Gesellschaft, or NBG for short, which was secretly moored just under London Bridge. I was pretty good at doing those shows, even if I say so myself. Some of the contestants really surpassed themselves.
The most memorable Blindfold Test of all fell late on one fateful New Years Eve. The highly esteemed trombone player who should have appeared didnt turn up, and the bosun and his mate were dispatched to fetch him from the Soho club in which he was appearing. When he finally arrived, supported on both sides, it was obvious that he was completely paralysed.
Hey! shouted the producer, delightedly. Lets call it the Blinddrunk Test! Get it? Hahahahahaha!
The trombonist must have had a very guilty conscience. As he was being led into the studio he seemed to hallucinate into believing that he was going into a death chamber, what with the big chair in the middle, and all the controls and cables. Holding on to the door jamb with all four limbs, like a cat going in to see the vet, he kept screaming I'M INNOCENT!"
Once seated he alternated between falling out of the chair and trying to climb into a small cupboard where the engineer kept his extra tapes and bits of wire. Attempts to strap him into the chair only produced further struggling and protests of innocence. He finally slumped down with his head on the producers table and we were able to proceed.
The first record was played. After only a few bars he raised his head, correctly named the soloist, and slumped down again. I was vividly reminded of a film I once saw of Poes The Black Cat. In the film Peter Lorre and Vincent Price compete in a wine-tasting event. Price, ever correct, sips, sniffs, ruminates, swishes wine around his palate delicately. Lorre, drunk and disgusting, swigs it down, calls for more; gets name of wine, year, location etc right every time.
Our drunk also continued to get everything right. We had to fetch him off the floor a couple of times and stop him grabbing the mike. He laughed a lot and waved his hand across his face continually as if wiping away cobwebs. He screamed at something he saw on the wall. I asked the engineer to remove the thick, curling microphone cable hanging there.
Suddenly, a classical record was played by mistake, surprising us all. Who slipped that in? I hissed furiously at the producer. While we were arguing about that the trombone player raised his head and said: Johannes Brahms, Concerto No. 2 in Bb, op. 83, soloist Swjatoslaw Richter, spluttering dreadfully all over the bosun, who was standing too near, as he uttered the complicated Russian name. As far as I could see he appeared to be fast asleep, except for when he was accurately identifying the records. It was an incredible performance.
It was only when he correctly named a soloist on a record which had not yet been played that I became suspicious. I realised then that my copy of the script with all the record information was lying on the table just where he was resting his head, and had been forgotten in the excitement.
I accused him at once of cheating. At that, he drew himself up with dignity, told us that he would not stay there and be insulted, climbed out of the studio window and staggered off. We watched him in silence as he fought his way through the rose beds, the cactus plants and, finally, the thick privet hedge which surrounded the studio garden. We watched the spot where he had disappeared for a very long time.
Here - hold on! I thought you said that you were on board a ship.
That is correct.
Whats all this fighting through rose bushes then? Cant have rose bushes on a ship.
Would you prefer that I have him falling over the side and drowning? A tragic end to the story?
I see what you mean.
Scientists are trying to compose music with the aid of a creative computer. The computer draws on musical structures stored in its memory and builds on them in an evolutionary way.
According to Dr Michael Creenhough, of the University of Wales College of Cardiff, the computer may one day be able to take over expensive commissioning of musical pieces. (Newspaper report)
There he sits, The Genius. Dont disturb him, hes thinking. Hes been sitting there thinking for the past two hours, with me sitting opposite waiting for some sign of life. All I asked him to do was compose a short theme, with variations, that I could use as background music for my new film. The film has been edited already and, as usual, they want the music yesterday. I need just a few notes, thats all, just to get started. My own mind is a blank, always has been, everyone says, har-har-har. But his, hes a genius isnt he? Everyone says that, too.
Maybe hes eccentric. They often are, with their long hair, broken-and-repaired-with-adhesive-tape spectacles, odd shoes and socks, shirt hanging out, forgotten flybuttons.
I pick up a pencil and start tapping on the table. Im not nervous, no sir, not me. The pencil snaps in two suddenly and the pieces fall to the floor. Stooping to retrieve them I see that the damn cleaning woman forgot to put the plug back in after using the vacuum cleaner. I stick it in the socket. A red light winks on in the centre of his forehead, the genius.
Ah! Now were getting somewhere! A piece of paper emerges from a slot, accompanied by tinkling sounds. Its horrible, but its music. I stare at the piece of paper in dismay. He has written me the first four bars of Chopsticks.
I press the UNDO button, and he whirs threateningly. He doesnt like his compositions to be sneered at. I cringe back and duck and weave a bit. You never know with these things. Sometimes an arm shoots out with a boxing glove on the end. I read about that somewhere.
I press buttons NEW and ADVANCED. He whirs again, loudly. I hurriedly press PLEASE and step back sharply. Mustnt forget that. Last time I did that, forgot to say please I mean, he went on strike for three days and I had to reformat the hard disk afterwards. A piece of paper emerges. It contains six notes. Oh no! Not God Save the Queen again, please.
I hit the MOST ADVANCED button and go to make tea. These things are like chess computers. The more they have to think about, the longer they take. While Im waiting for the kettle to boil something strikes me and I hurry back into the room. I desperately activate the pull-down menu and search it but the PLEASE button has been deactivated. The computer is still working, anyway. Maybe it forgot.
I drink tea.
There is a fly buzzing around the room; the monotone it produces interests me for a moment, but its been done before in the One Note Samba and the verse to Night and Day.
A police car races by going aaa-eee-aaa-eee, but thats been done before, too, think of Creole Love Call.
The chair squeaks.
I briefly consider banging a few bottles around, just to see what comes out. Cant find any glass ones, and plastic just goes thud, thud, thud, thud, These Shoes Were Made For Walkin. Nothing original left. Whatever you think of someone else got there first. Who said there are a billion permutations from those twelve notes? Wish I had a dollar for every one. I even tried pulling bits of paper with notes written on them out of a hat, like in Bingo. All I got was Honkey Tonk Train Blues, and that had a wrong note in it.
Why cant I get inspiration? Beethoven managed to write a whole symphony on just four notes, and three of them were the same. I dont believe the story that he heard his cleaning woman hit them as she dusted the piano. Why not? He was stone bloody deaf, thats why not.
My wife walks in. Shes going to speak, or sing, or whatever, but I snarl at her and she leaves, probably for good.
The cat appears before me. Im sitting on his chair and we both know it, but if he utters one peep Im going to mug him. We stare each other out for a bit and I lose.
I get up and go back into what I laughingly call my study and sit and contemplate the silent machine. The red light winks at me cheekily.
Two hours later: Something seems to be going on inside the computer. Lots of scrambling and clicking, with little bursts of noise that sound remarkably like someone chuckling. This will be it, a good one. It will have to be. Im well into the deadline and running late. Everyone knows that, given time, a monkey at the keyboard will eventually produce Beethovens Moonlight Serenade. This computer: the Composing Random Applications Programme, or C.R.A.P. for short, is programmed to do the work of one million monkeys a second.
More chuckling. This has got to be it.
Suddenly, the most beautiful sound emerges from the twin speakers. I am transfixed, transported with delight. No tinkling here, this is a stereophonic sensation. Just listen to it! Its the complete movie score, harmonised, orchestrated and perfectly performed - exactly what I need. I take back everything I said. Even I wasnt aware that the computer was capable of such perfection. The music flows over me on and on and I bathe in it, wallow in it.
I step over to the slot and eagerly await the printed score. A tiny scrap of paper emerges, then the whole computer goes dead. I try to ease the paper out, but it rips off between my fingers. Printed on it is a single word: TILT.
Somewhere, deep down inside the computer, I hear more chuckling. I slap the machine, hard. An arm shoots out with a boxing glove on the end and knocks me right over to the other side of the room. As I rush into the bathroom to staunch the bleeding the computer starts playing Chopsticks again.
Copyright ©2000 Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved.