The Great Big Bands
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.
wrote at once to Wally Heider, asking him to send me some of the microphones.
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.
and I did a tour of Japan 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.
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.
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
the hotel a phone call for me had been registered. Someone had called
from Munich, Germany, and would repeat the call at six o’clock. It
turned out to be Max Greger. He’d got the hotel number from the RIAS
the seven thousand odd miles of telephone cable Max pleaded with me
to come back into his band. It had never been the same since I left,
he said. Not being able to replace Rick locally when he left, Max
had hired a young Belgian trumpet player who was reputed to be able
to play extremely high notes.
bandleaders were always hot after anyone who played high, even though
such people generally couldn’t do much else. They usually practiced
their high register to the exclusion of all the other, more important
assets of trumpet playing, such as style, phrasing, tone and technique.
was the case with the Belgian guy.
was almost in tears.
stands around in the studio blasting away at his screamers all the
time. When we get to do a recording he’s exhausted—he can’t play normally
any more.’ I knew the circumstances well.
said that if I came back on his band, then Ack van Rooyen and Benny
Bailey would come as well. It would be a great trumpet section—the
greatest. But one and a half years with Max had been more than enough
for me. I said I’d think about it, but not to count on me.
He rang off. By then he must have clocked up a couple of thousand dollars worth of telephone charges. He must have been really desperate.
attempts at writing big band arrangements had always been damned through
my lack of technique. Playing an instrument is one thing—writing scores
for a whole band is something else. I didn’t grasp the intricacies
of chordal relationships until I sat down one day and spent several
weary hours copying out all the seven modes of modal music in every
single one of the twelve different keys. I cut out the results and
pushed them together like scales on a slide rule. Gradually, the whole
thing began to make sense.
was greatly helped in my learning by the trombonist Slide Hampton,
who was already an established arranger back in the States. It was
Slide who later re-arranged some of the Gil Evans’s arrangements from
Sketches of Spain and Porgy and Bess for the Quincy Jones band, which
played at the Miles Davis homecoming celebration in Radio City Music
Hall in 1983. He has also written great charts for Maynard Ferguson’s
band. Now he was writing for our band, and I was borrowing and analysing
his voicings and chord progressions right from the start.
There is much to be said for copying phrases from good existing arrangements when you’re learning. If you get them down correctly and they sound bad, then the band is at fault, but every chord, modulation, phrase and sound that turns out successfully gets entered into a mental databank, to be drawn on in the future. In the beginning there is a whole lot of uncertainty about what you have written. More often than not, the arranger is to blame if a good band sounds terrible, yet he is rarely complimented on his good scores.
The general public, even some bandleaders, still use Glenn Miller’s In The Mood, and Moonlight Serenade as their musical criteria, yet modern dance music has progressed immensely since the Miller period, both harmonically and structurally. In any case, the Miller band was by no means the best band of its kind in those days—that distinction went, without a doubt, to the great Tommy Dorsey band. Miller just managed to catch the correct happy mood for wartime entertainment. Billy May, who had played in the Miller band, remarked later on that, had he lived, Miller would have most probably wound up with a Lawrence Welk type band.
Soon I was writing over a hundred scores a year, for all the bands in Germany. I found time to do that, plus playing in the studios, writing for the Deutsche Welle, song-writing, writing plays, books and articles, by sleeping only four hours every night.
able to write for a bigband and hear your scores played and recorded
at once does wonders for your confidence. We had an exceptional bunch
of musicians in that Berlin band. All the saxes played flutes, with
two or three alto flutes at hand; all the trumpets played Flugelhorn,
so I was able to split them up, using Milo and Carmel in unison, with
the rest of us on trumpets. We had an exceptionally good guitar player
(who played a left-handed guitar!) and vibes and percussion. I was
able to create any amount of tone colours
played and recorded at once does wonders for your confidence. We had an exceptional bunch of musicians in that Berlin band. All the saxes played flutes, with two or three alto flutes at hand; all the trumpets played Flugelhorn, so I was able to split them up, using Milo and Carmel in unison, with the rest of us on trumpets. We had an exceptionally good guitar player (who played a left-handed guitar!) and vibes and percussion. I was able to create any amount of tone colourswith that combination. And, of course, with Ake and Slide Hampton in the trombones that section was really something to listen to.
is, of course, a great jazz trombone player, one of the best. He had
his own band in Berlin for a while, and was asked to teach in the
Hochschule. When that didn’t come off he left town. Next time I saw
him was years later in one of the jazz galas we did with the Herbolzheimer
of the guys had gathered in the lounge of the hotel in Hamburg. There
were Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Nat Adderley, Grady Tate, Niels Henning
Ørsted Pederson, and a guy called Pee Wee Ellis, the conductor for
Esther Phillips, who was also in the show.
who else is here?’ said Nat.
I told him that Slide was upstairs in his room he grabbed the phone.
would like to speak with Mr. Locksley Wellington Hampton,’ he said,
in a prissy-assed voice.
you,’ shouted Slide, loud enough to carry right across the room.
‘That’s him,’ said Nat.
day I officially left the RIAS band I was playing with Don Ellis in
the morning at the Berlin Jazz Festival. Don was fronting what the
organisers liked to call the Berlin Dream Band, which was composed
of members from both Berlin big radio bands.
It was really wonderful music. Don was deep into Indian music, and had all sorts of weird time signatures in his charts. Some pieces were written in 11/8 time, which really made us sit up and take notice. The show-stopper was a piece in 17/4. To beat us in on that one he jigged around on the stage for a few seconds, then spun around and shouted, ‘TA-KA-TA-KA-TA-KA-KA, TA-KA-KA, TA-KA-TA-KA-TA-KA-KA.’ Sure beats Jersey Bounce, anyway.
Don played a trumpet with four valves that the Holton company had made especially for him. With the extra valve he could produce the quarter tones necessary in Indian music. We had to play a lot of these quarter tones with him, and achieved this in many cases by using fake fingering. Normally a trumpet middle C is played open. Playing it with the alternate fingering of depressed valves 2 and 3 produces a different sound, and a slightly different pitch. Most trumpet notes have alternate valve combinations. Fake fingering is often used to facilitate difficult fast passages
had a terrific technique on the instrument. I got into the habit of
wandering into the studio early in the morning when he was practising,
and some of the stuff he was doing frightened me. In his solos on
stage he used an echo machine—something Palle Mickelborg also used
later on in the Herbolzheimer band. The sounds were weird and wonderful.
By playing fast passages with a late echo he could get into trumpet
duets with himself. Just moving the horn to and from the loudspeaker
produced a wonderfully musical feedback that became an intergral part
of his performance. It was a thrilling experience to just sit there
and listen to him, and the audience lapped it all up eagerly.
spite of his talents Don told me that he was never booked on sessions
in Los Angeles because he hadn’t managed to break into the tightly
closed studio contract business. Most record and film sessions were
booked in that town by Shelley Mann, who had his own close circle
of players. Ernie Royal had already told me that a similar monopoly
was exercised in New York by the tenor saxophonist Al Cohn.
had Karin Krog come over from Norway to sing with the band. Behind
her we often had to make strange noises, rustle the music paper, or
blow soft breezes through the mouthpiece. It was unusual, but it fit
the music, and the mood, perfectly.
laugh,’ he warned us.
band was a great success, more so than when we later played in Berlin
with Kenton, and the band was booed for playing all his old Gerry
Mulligan and Pete Rugolo arrangements. Don Menza made a special trip
up from Munich to see the Ellis concert. Menza and Ellis were old
pals. He came up to me later on and hugged me. There were tears in
his eyes. ‘Great, great,’ was all he could manage to say.
we came off the stage after our concert I passed Miles Davis standing
in the wings. He was wearing a long brown leather coat which reached
almost to the floor; you could just see brown leather trousers underneath.
On his head he wore a big brown leather hat with a floppy brim. An
enormous pair of dark glasses completed the outfit. You could see
nothing of his face. In the dim light he looked like something scared
up for a horror film,
Christ’s Sake,’ I muttered to Ack, ‘He can’t be going on like that.’
But he did.
Miles got out on stage there was a howl of derision from the audience.
The howling went on right through his performance, because he played
with his back to them, pointing the horn down on to the floor. Whatever
you could hear through all the noise was mostly disappointing. This
was nothing like the Miles Davis we heard on the records.
had hardly got home after that concert when the phone went and Joachim
Behrendt, who was running the festival, asked me to come at once and
play with Lionel Hampton, because his trumpet player Wallace Davenport
had been taken ill.
the Philharmonie, Lionel Hampton was waiting for me. He was fronting
a six or seven piece band—trumpet, alto and tenor saxophones, and
a rhythm section. With the trumpet player missing he couldn’t go on.
had one hour for me to rehearse the music. The parts all came from
his big band library. That is to say—one trumpet took the place of
the regular eight brass. The two saxes took the place of five. With
a three piece front line playing charts all written for thirteen it
seemed doomed from the start.
was a catastrophe right from the word go. Nothing that I played fit
in with what everyone else was playing.
turned around to Joachim and cried ‘What have you done to me? The
guy can’t play.’
Lionel,’ I said. ‘I’m playing the trumpet parts exactly as they’re
written. It’s you guys who are playing them wrong.’ This was like
telling Juan Manuel Fangio he didn’t know how to drive.
looked at me for a moment.
well we might have altered one or two things here and there.’
altered the lot. There isn’t one single phrase on these parts that
you’re playing correctly.’
right,’ said the alto player. ‘We just sort of slipped into another
started to pack my horn away.
now! Wait up there a minute!’ said Lionel, panicking. ‘Can’t we do
anything about this? I can’t go on without a trumpet player.’
this was the great Lionel Hampton, idol of my youth, I said I would
help him. For the next hour we ran through the music, and I altered
every single bit of phrasing on the trumpet parts to correspond with
what the rest of them were playing. When it was time to go on, I had
place was packed. The audience loved Lionel, who capered around all
over the stage. He played vibes, piano, drums, sang, and led us marching
all over the concert hall playing ‘The Saints’ for a grand finale.
have to admit that I played pretty damn good that night. I played
as if I’d known the book for years. It was all pretty primitive stuff
anyway. He started holding on to some of those last chords, with me
locked in on a screamer, for minutes at a time. I had nothing to lose,
so I blasted my way to glory, right through the concert. I could see
the other guys all watching me in amazement out of the corners of
was beside himself with delight. He gave me an extra credit with the
audience, telling everyone what had happened. Even the guys in the
band were applauding me.
the bandroom after the second concert he said to me ‘Ronnie, you’re
going to go down in history for that, man. You played your ass off.
That was really marvellous. How much do I owe you?’
hundred dollars,’ I said, at once.
He took a step back. ‘Hey man! You weren’t that good! If I pay you two hundred dollars you’ll be getting more than I am.’
Not long after that I did a week or so with Henry Mancini and a big concert orchestra. After a few days I received a phone call from the Deutsche Welle, Studio Berlin, asking me to do an interview with him.
I knocked on his dressing room door before the show that evening and introduced myself as a reporter from the Deutsche Welle. He greeted me coldly. It was obvious from the first moment that he had no time for things like that. He didn't seem to recognise me, either, so I didn't prompt him.
His answers to my questions were short and unfriendly. Normally I would have gotten mad at such treatment, but I persevered. It was only at his reaction to a perfectly innocent question on film writing that I lost my cool.
I said, 'When you have a film project, do you work in an intuitive manner - sit down and write the first thing that comes into your head, or do you list all the sound combinations and orchestral possibilities and work out a scheme from that?'
I had already read that the first option was one used by Don Sebesky, the second almost exclusively by Hugo Montenegro.
Mancini looked at me angrily for about thirty seconds, and I was just about to repeat the question when he said, 'That's the most stupid question I have ever heard in my life. If you had any musical knowledge whatsoever you would never have asked it. This interview is now terminated.' He got up and opened the door.
About an hour later, while we were playing his Elephant Walk on a live television show he looked up from his score and caught sight of me in the trumpet section.
I'm pleased to be able to say that his jaw actually dropped. He stopped conducting for a moment, visibly shaken.
As I was packing up my horn afterwards I suddenly found him standing beside me.
'Surprise, surprise, eh?' I said, without looking up. I can be cruel, too. Then I relented. 'Well, perhaps it was a stupid question. But quite often first ideas are the best.'
'Come and have a drink,' he said. 'Then we can do the interview again.'
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.
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.
seemed happy enough, and they both filled me in with current events
in Los Angeles.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
One day, while I was casually looking around one of Berlin's music stores, the owner came over and showed me a trumpet mouthpiece he'd discovered in a pile of junk being cleared out. I shook my head. It was a clumsy looking thing, with an enormous cushion rim, and was nothing like anything I had ever seen before.
'Try it,' he said.
'I won't be able to play on that,' I said.
'Well take it anyway.' He shoved it into my top pocket.
A few days later we were recording some jazz number in the radio station when Paul Kuhn came over and said, 'It would be nice if you could take that bit there up an octave.'
Not only would that have put me up at the top of my range, but the bit he referred to also contained some of the most difficult notes on the trumpet to play in tune: the high G# and double C# being amongst them.
'I'll try it once,' I said, 'but don't take any bets on it.'
Then I thought of the mouthpiece the man had just given me. Maybe he was another Tom Wray, the Magic Mouthpiece Maker! I stuck it in the horn. It felt terrible against my lip and I had some trouble getting it into position.
When we started to play the number that mouthpiece was like a gift from heaven. Not only did it have a wonderful big fat sound, but it was as clear as a bell all over the range. When we came to the high passage I sailed through it effortlessly.
The rest of the guys in the band were amazed. I pretended it was nothing, but I had just discovered the greatly guarded secret of upper stratospheric trumpet playing. After all those years!
I played that mouthpiece for the next few weeks, getting better and better on it. Now I was getting triple G's and over. There seemed to be no limit to its range. And comfortable! Once I had it on my lip I could hardly feel it at all.
We used to pack up our instruments each day and put them in a small room next to the studio. Only the members of the band had access to the room. One day I took my case out of the room, opened it up, and the mouthpiece was gone.
Reiter, a stunningly beautiful actress from Yugolslavia, was very
popular in Germany at the time. She was married to Les Humphries,
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.
God! These bastards couldn’t play nursery rhymes.’
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. Dunja left him, and Les disappeared. He should have been a multi-millionaire by then, but I doubt it.
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
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.
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
line-up in those days was—Myself, Ack van Rooyen, Palle Mickelborg
and Art Farmer, trumpets, with Benny Bailey or Dusko Goykovich 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 came in, with Jim Towsey
on baritone. Later on Otto Bredl, Johnny Griffin and Alan Botschinsky
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.
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.
A couple of weeks before I left Berlin for Saarbrücken I had a mysterious phone call from a woman one evening. She told me to get along to the Ariola studios at once because Stan Kenton was there and he wanted to see me.
When I asked who it was she said she was a secretary at RIAS calling on his behalf. I immediately reckoned it must be a put-on by Milo and I phoned him. No one picked up the phone. To imagine that Kenton would suddenly be in a West Berlin studio without any of us knowing about it was ludicrous.
Next morning Roy Reynolds, Kenton's baritone player at the time, phoned and asked why I hadn't turned up. Everyone was waiting for me, apparently. I can't imagine why, but they had been there making a recording for RIAS and were leaving in a few minutes.
In Saarbrücken later on I also ignored a call telling me that Woody Herman was playing locally, when he really was. I missed hearing the fabulous Alan Vizzutti because of my lack of credulity. These incidents had the effect of making me believe every call of this nature I received in the future. Alas, most of them were just some of the guys kidding around.
long after I 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.
The SFB Berlinbig band in the late 1960s:
Milo Pavlovic, Ron Simmonds, Ack van Rooyen (later Carmel Jones), Horst Larisch, Ossi Dudek, trumpets; (Rolf Ericsson later replaced Simmonds. Benny Bailey also played in the band earlier on)
Ake Persson, Slide Hampton, George Rak, Charles Orieux, trombones; (Torolf Molgaard and Andre Paquinet later replaced Persson and Hampton)
Herb Geller (later Leo Wright), Siggi Froehlich, Heinz von Hermann, Rolf Roemer, Lothar Noack, saxes;
Eugen Cicero, piano; Ingo Kramer, guitar; Juergen Ehlers, bass, Joe Harris (later Dai Bowen or Ronnie Stephenson) drums; Adrian Cicero, vibes, percussion.
Paul Kuhn, leader, piano, vocals (Jerry van Rooyen led the band previous to Paul Kuhn joining)
Copyright © 2001, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved