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Ron's Pages

The Great Big Bands


I took the job in the Saarbrücken radio station because Peter Herbolzheimer had arranged to make all of his recordings there. The station equipped one of the studios with all the latest in technology in preparation. Then the boss of the department responsible took a job in the Baden-Baden radio station, and the whole project moved there with him.

By then I had signed a life contract at Saarbrücken, thus securing a pension: something very few non-German musicians achieved. When I signed I was well over the permitted age for this, but they needed a first trumpet player quite badly, so that was overlooked.

I was pleased to discover that the town of Saarbrücken had changed for the better since my last visit with the Dankworth band. The town being quite small, it is a maze of one-way streets, which can be terrifying for an out-of-town driver.

Driving up the Bahnhofstrasse main drag in the old days one could quite easily encounter a tram thundering along right in the middle of the road in the wrong direction, with the driver tapping his head as you swerved desperately out of the way. Now the trams were gone. One pleasant aspect of the new town is the covered-in pavements around the shopping area, where it is possible to walk around, even in the worst of weathers, without getting wet. Couple that with easy parking, and, once again, only a short drive of ten minutes to the radio station, and the place suited me right down to the ground.

One of the really great things about the town was that it was only a stone's throw from France. Where I eventually bought my house there was a nearby footbridge over the Saar leading into the French town of Grosbliederstroff (formerly Gross Blittersdorf). The whole Saar area was devoted to coal mining, but that didn't prevent the French side of the river from having very many superb restaurants, where one could eat royally for a modest sum. The many border crossings either had no controls on them, or very friendly ones, and it was a common practice to drive over for the day to one of the wine-producing areas, sample the wine, and bring back a case or two, no questions asked.

One of the people we became friendly with later on had been a school friend of Walter Ulbricht, the East German leader. When Ulbricht came over on an incognito visit one day, my friend took him over one of the back borders to a restaurant in France. When his guest realised that he was in a foreign country without the necessary visa he was petrified. He would have been arrested, without a doubt. It would most probably have led to an international incident, with the French and West Germans reluctant to let him go again. Luckily, for him, no one there recognised him.

As I’d suspected, the band in Saarbrücken was terrible. It had been cut down from a regular eighteen piece band to eleven men. The bandleader was a very pleasant guy who played the valve trombone. His name was Eberhard Pokorny, and he was a very good trombone player, but not much of a business man. 

He was too nice a guy to argue about anything, so the people in the music department were walking all over him and the band was gradually going to pieces. Not only that, but the members, all German, resented the fact that I was playing with Peter’s band, with all of those marvellous American musicians. They felt that I would be comparing their performance unfavourably. I took great pains not to show anything like that, but it took years before I was really accepted into the band socially. By then I’d had a deadly dental operation that had paralysed my lower lip and was no longer playing with Peter anyway.

The radio station was really quite beautiful. Situated on top of a hill in the middle of a pretty forest it was clean and healthy. A castle topped the hill, which had been the headquarters of Saarbrücken’s French Commandant before the town reverted to German rule. Next to it were the modern radio buildings, arranged in a square around a very tall thin antenna, which had been erected in the centre of a huge lawn, with fountains and fish ponds all around it.

The car park was lower down, and you had to walk up hill to the station. It was healthy to walk, they said.

Every morning I would pass poor old Franz, the third trumpet player, stopped halfway up, wheezing away like an old locomotive

The two other trumpet players were heavy smokers and drinkers. These seemed to be their only hobbies, and they pursued them full time. The older one, Franz, now in the band for over thirty years, had made himself so comfortable in the job that he even took a portable television set on to the stage sometimes, during concerts or dances, so that he could watch a football match. He had the set underneath his music stand, and spent most of the evening watching the game instead of playing.

I didn’t mind that so much because the band usually sounded better when he didn’t play. Franz had another little trick which I only found out later on during the long carnival balls. On such occasions we used to get free drinks all evening. Halfway through the evening Franz, and sometimes Karl-Heinz, the other trumpet player, would wind up sitting at the side of the stage over the beer crate, and drinking away, conversing in low voices, while I played away on my own. I protested about that. If they did it again I was going to stop playing as well. It was Pokorny’s fault. As a relatively new bandleader he didn’t want to make himself unpopular with the lads, and was afraid to say anything.

One of the recording engineers, a heavy smoker, developed what the Germans call Raucherbein, or Smoker’s Leg, which eventually led to one of his legs being amputated. He died shortly after, but not before he’d returned to let us all take a good look at him, white-faced and stumbling on his crutches.

‘There you are,’ I said to Franz. ‘That’s what you get.’

‘Terrible,’ he said, lighting a cigarette, and coughing his guts out.

The other trumpet player, Karl-Heinz, died just after his sixtieth birthday, also from Raucherbein. Franz died not long after, at age 70; no one seems to know the cause, but he smoked and coughed right up to the day he died. I suppose that he must have enjoyed it.

The first time I walked into the studio I was awe-struck. It was light, airy, air-conditioned, uncluttered, friendly. The music stands, and for all I knew, the musicians, too, had been dusted and polished. Everything was squeaky-clean. There was no smoking. I had already been warned about the sprinklers. Light your pipe here, they said, and you’ll get a shower bath.

(Rolf Ericson and Bob Burgess were now working in the Stuttgart radio band run by Erwin Lehn. Ack van Rooyen was also there, and he told me that Rolf had been caught by the sprinklers there. Now he always stood halfway out of the studio doorway with his cigarette out in the corridor, blowing the smoke outside while he listened to the playbacks.)

Behind an enormous glass window sat the engineer surrounded by his minions. They, in turn, were surrounded by tons of exotic, sophisticated, expensive electronic junk. It was all there—harmonizers, synthesizers, sympathizers and tranquilizers—whatever you wanted, it was there somewhere.

Out in the studio, lumped together, disconnected from the world, stood several huge loudspeakers, each one costing roughly the same as a middle-class family car. They had all, over the years, been contemptuously discarded in the never-ending search for the perfect playback.

On the recordings we played very loud indeed. The playback, however, was so quiet that we could hardly hear anything.

‘Don’t you want to put it up a bit, then?’ said someone.

‘Help yourself,’ said the engineer, ‘It’s your ears that’ll get damaged, not mine.’ One of the musicians had lit a cigarette and he looked severely at him for some moments, before pointedly opening a window, letting in a blast of sub-zero air. When we turned the music up full-blast he walked out into the cutting-room, closing the sound-proof doors behind him.

Afterwards, we told him that we needed much less bass, more drums, another sound for the Fluegelhorns, less echo and please don’t keep shouting ‘NICHT ZUSAMMEN!’ every few seconds if we aren’t quite together, because this is a jazz band and we don’t have to have absolute perfection all of the time, even if this is the country where they make the Mercedes-Benz.

He smiled sympathetically, and gave us more bass, less drums, a worse sound for the Fluegelhorns, more echo, and shouted ‘NICHT ZUSAMMEN’ every few seconds.

Afterwards, I went upstairs with the bandleader to the music department to meet The King. He was the boss of everything, and everyone, and he would decide whether our tape was worthy of the high standards set by the radio station.

As we went through the door, bowing low, he snatched the tape from the bandleader and flung it contemptuously across the room. A slave in the corner fumbled it on to the tape machine and started it up.

For a moment I heard nothing, then a tiny squeaky sound entered the room. I pinned it down to a small portable radio on the king’s desk, and traced the wires coming out of the back over to the tape recorder.

By now, The King was talking loudly to his secretary about getting a new set of winter tyres. He broke off for a second to bark ‘Not enough bass!’ in our direction, and then proceeded to tell a dirty joke to the yes-men gathered around him. Through the sniggering I tried in vain to catch bits of the solo I had just had to play twenty-seven times, until the engineer was satisfied.

‘Don’t say anything,’ whispered the bandleader. ‘They only want to know what it sounds like in mono on a portable.’

‘Then why all that business downstairs?’ I asked, indignantly.

‘Look, don’t ask me, OK?’

Later on, one of the disc jockeys told me that they received so many hundreds of new pop records each week to consider for the programmes that they only had time to listen to a few bars of each one. They judged the merits of each record on these few bars (which is fair enough for a pop record).

When I asked him how they judged the tapes we were sending up to them he looked at me pityingly. While they were struggling a tape on to the machine, listening to a few bars, running it back and struggling another tape on again they could have gone through about ten EP’s couldn’t they? I had to be reasonable, right? Oh, absolutely, quite so, and pardon me for asking.

Later on, the bandleader took me down to the tape archive. It was a clean, air-conditioned, gloomy vault, filled with thousands of thin, red tape cartons.

‘Look at this!’ he said. ‘According to the union they’re supposed to chuck all these away after two or three years.’ He pulled out one or two at random.

‘These are some of the tapes we’ve been making for the last twenty years. The recording data is on the front, and it gets stamped every time they broadcast it.’

I turned one or two of the cartons over. They must have run out of ink nineteen years ago. None of them had been stamped.

There was a man named Helmut Fackler sitting beside the engineer on all our recordings who was supposed to oversee the productions technically. As he ran, on the side, an amateur mandoline band, he fancied himself enormously as a music critic, and constantly stopped the band during recordings with shouts of ‘Not together’, ‘Slowing down’, and, sometimes, ‘Absolute rubbish!’ His favourite sentence was, ‘The tuning is criminal’.. We managed to make some fine recordings, in spite of him. Dusko Goykovich came over from Munich and played in the band sometimes, and nicknamed the guy Motherfackler.

I bought a white eight cylinder Mercedes 350 SE automatic with dark blue velvet upholstery and an electric sunroof. It had been a company car for the director of a steel works in Essen and was in new condition. We at once attained the big snob upper-class society eminence which goes with such cars. Hotel managers ran up to open the doors and touched their forelocks when we rolled up in the Merc. On holiday in Spain it was polished every day as part of the hotel service.

As soon as Richard Krueger saw the car he began to laugh. Apparently there was a pecking order for cars in the radio station. The boss of the place, the Intendant, had a 280 SE Mercedes. Because of this the boss of the Telefilm TV section of the station could only buy an inferior car, so he had an Opel Commodore. I was ruining the protocol.

It was true. We had the only other luxury Mercedes in the place. I milked the situation for all it was worth, cruising around the car park looking for the boss’s car and parking beside it. This used to infuriate him. Finally he got himself an even more expensive Mercedes, the absolute top model, made for oil sheiks and princes. I couldn’t beat that. It was a company car, so what the hell, they could afford it.

I’d done the same thing to Johnny Dankworth back in London, upstaging his Ford Zodiac with my brand new Volvo 122S, which had been a real humdinger of a car. The guys in the band used to nudge one another when John saw me turn up in it. One day John arrived in a James Bond Aston Martin D.B.III, and put an end to that.

We went over to England to buy a dog down in Sussex and came away with a jet black Labrador puppy, about a foot long, who stole our hearts as soon as we clapped eyes on her.

Before we could take her home we had to visit the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to get an export licence.

This was down Kingston way, on the bypass. I got lost, so I stopped the car in a little space before one of the houses, intending to ask the lady owner, who was talking to someone at her gate, the way to the Min. of Ag.

‘You can’t park there!’ she shouted, waving her fists at me. ‘I’m sick and tired of the likes of you parking where you want to in your bloody fancy cars. Bugger off before I call the police.’

‘Ah, good day to you Madam,’ I said smoothly. ‘I wonder whether you can tell me the way to the Ministry of Agriculture?’

‘You’ll have to go and find it yourself,’ she cried, advancing on me like an angry rhino, ‘And get your bleeding car off my property.’

‘I do apologise,’ I said, ‘But we only just arrived from Germany, and didn’t realise that we were parking on your property, even if it does appear to be a part of the public road.’

‘Germany eh?’ she said, her eyes narrowing. ‘You want to go back there pretty sharply then, don’t you? We beat you bastards once and we’ll beat you again if you don’t move that bleedin’ car.’

By now she was leaning in my window, threateningly. She had a body odour that made my eyes water.

Like a fool I flashed my British passport.

‘That’s right,’ she sneered, They’re giving ‘em away now. First the wogs and niggers, and now the bleedin’ Jerries. We may as well have lost the war. Now f— off, before I lose my temper.’

The incident embarrassed me greatly, because I had always insisted to my wife that the famous British courtesy was to be encountered even in the lowliest places.

As we drove off my wife lowered her window and shouted ‘Silly bugger’ to the woman. She’d heard me say that to the cat when he tripped me up.

When I phoned John Keating that evening he was in a bit of a panic and asked me to come at once. When I arrived it was the old situation all over again. Ten copyists sat around his table while he scribbled furiously at some scores over on the couch. He had to write twelve titles for a Caterina Valente LP. The recording was booked to begin next morning and he only had two scores finished. I stayed all night to help him, and drove him to the studios in the morning. He sat in the car, still writing away as I lurched and fought my way through the London rush hour.

The guys at Decca wondered where the hell I had suddenly come from. I only had time for a quick word with Laddy Busby, then I had to pick up my wife and leave for the coast. There were quite a few classical musicians there, including three men  playing D trumpets. The scores had been massive, and were obviously an experiment for John. Still he was working in his old last minute rush.

Later on I played a TV show in Berlin with Petula Clark and Caterina Valente. I asked Caterina about the session with John Keating.

‘Oh! That was great, really wonderful,’ she said. ‘You know how John always does things at the last moment? Well he had about fifteen copyists sitting around, and he was even writing new scores while he was conducting.’

We named our new dog Mandy and she was great, but after a while I began to feel sorry for my wife. Whichever town I was playing in she had to drag the dog around everywhere with her. In fact, Mandy used to drag her around. Munich, Basel, Cologne — it was always the same. The dog exhausted her. When we ate, Mandy lay under the restaurant table, chewing beer mats, or, fastened to a chair, would drag the chair right across the restaurant and sit panting with joy in front of strangers at another table.

When my wife wore a long dress, Mandy would chew through the dress too if it got in the way of her beer mats. In the car she polished off a particularly tasty edition of the Michelin Food Guide to France before starting on the headrests.

We finally gave the dog to the tuba player in the symphony orchestra, a tall, thin, lonely American called Richard Nahaski. We watched her carefully for signs of trauma as they walked away together, but it was love at first sight. Mandy didn’t even turn her head to say good-bye.

Next thing we saw of her was in the cover picture of a local magazine showing Richard sitting under a tree playing the tuba, with Mandy laying beside him, blissfully chewing at one of his wooden clogs.

In spite of the fierce concentration, or maybe because of it, arrangers still make blunders in the writing of scores. The job is damn difficult anyway, and is further complicated by the fact that all instruments have to be written in their transposed keys, to save having to pay the copyists the otherwise necessary transposing money. Sometimes one gets tangled up in this after working without sleep for a few days and nights. 

The obvious errors get corrected during rehearsal, but now and then a blunder emerges that no one would have dared to write, but which sounds absolutely stunning. I made such a mistake in one of the scores I wrote for Peter Herbolzheimer, and wrote some alto flutes a tone apart where they should have been in unison. With any other instruments this would have sounded pretty bad at that point in the score.

‘Stop!’ shouted Peter when he heard it. The tape ran back and we listened to it again.

‘How did you get that sound?’ he demanded, getting ready to add it to his own repertoire. I shrugged.

‘Skill? Talent?’ I said. Everyone in the control room began hitting me on the head with newspapers, rolled-up music, drumsticks, saxophones.

The local airport had a very short runway, and dealt with only a couple of planes a day. If you wanted to fly anywhere the cost was prohibitive. I was booked to play one night in the new show Fancy Free in Hamburg. The flight, by way of Frankfurt, cost over five hundred marks. For this one night I was paid a thousand, but most of it was for the flight, hotel, and taxis. In the end I got gypped out of fifty marks.

Rolf Kuhn, the orchestra leader often called me afterwards to ask if I would play for him again in Hamburg.

‘I suppose you still want that fifty marks?’ he joked.

‘Right on.’

He never sent it, though, and, because of that I kept telling him to book someone else. Still he called.

Herbolzheimer called and asked me to go to Moscow with James Last.

‘Niet,’ I said. I hadn’t recovered from my last trip to Russia. I hated the music they were playing anyway. It was a band purely for earning money. Peter also asked me a couple of times to do the Bert Kaempfert job. He usually provided his brass section on Bert’s tours. The music was too sickly for me. The only good bits in that band were the wonderful fluegelhorn solos Ack van Rooyen  used to play in things like Strangers in the Night and all the other tunes Bert wrote that had made him a millionaire.

I didn’t need to make money like that. I was getting paid royally by the radio station, and had a lot of time off these days. The Deutsche Welle job had ceased for me, as I was no longer in Berlin, which the job was all about. I suppose that I could have carried on sending stuff to Cologne, but my heart wasn’t in it any more. It was all journalistic rigmarole anyway.

I’d gone to visit the main Deutsche Welle building in Cologne once, when Peter’s band was playing in the Subway jazz club. The chief editor gave me a small newspaper cutting, three or four lines of print.

‘Write something on this,’ he said. It was about Playboy boss Hugh Hefner’s visit to Cologne. I already knew all there was to know about Hef because I’d only just covered his arrival in Berlin a couple of days earlier. The world’s number one playboy had failed to impress me.

I couldn’t find a free desk, so I took a typewriter into the toilet, where it was quieter, and, sitting on the throne with the machine on my knees, I began to write a couple of pages, as if I’d just met the guy at the airport, and we were old pals and all kinds of lies like that. I guess Hef would have been really impressed if he'd known where I was sitting when I wrote that.

I went up to Hamburg to play with Peter’s band for one night with the American comedian Jerry Lewis. When I arrived home next day my wife said that I had to call his agent right away again. He told me that Jerry was going to Frankfurt and wanted me there in case the radio band there had troubles with his music. I went by train and booked in at the hotel where I usually stay. 

Jerry’s fears had been well founded. I just sat there in the trumpet section doing nothing, because it is considered impolite to enter a regular band and try and take over things. The regular first trumpet player was uptight with me already, just for being there. 

The first couple of tunes went by OK, with Jerry fooling around as usual. He used to stand at the back of the band in one number and pretend to play a huge pair of cymbals. At one point he had to throw them over the heads of the saxophone section, sitting in front of him.

‘When you hear the bang, duck,’ he said. He didn’t know that one of the sax players was French, and didn’t understand him. The cymbals subsequently only missed Dominique Chanson’s head by a whisker. Poor Dominique nearly lost an ear, and several years of his life as they sailed by.

In the next piece, which was in 6/8 time, the trumpets got into difficulties almost at once. I let them flounder on a bit. I know my gamesmanship, and only took over when the conductor began waving at me in desperation. The other trumpet player was as meek as a lamb after that, and I carried on playing his parts for the rest of the concert.

‘Jesus, man, you saved the show,’ said the agent afterwards, pressing large sums of money into my hands.

The praise was welcome. It led to my being called yet again a couple of days later. This time the show was in Düsseldorf.

When I got there a British band was playing the rehearsal. Several of my old pals were there, amongst them Vic Ash, Danny Moss, and Ronnie Ross.

Jerry Lewis came up and shook hands.

‘Thanks for coming,’ he said.

They didn’t need me. The band was good. The agent gave me eight hundred marks for my trouble and thanked me again.

I asked Vic how much they were getting for the tour.

‘Two thousand marks,’ he said proudly. ‘Great money, eh?’

‘A night?’ I asked, in disbelief.

‘A week. Seven concerts,’ said Vic.

No wonder they’d booked British. Peter’s band would have cost them three times the amount.

Part of my contract with the radio station stipulated that I could get away to play with Peter when I wanted, getting a deputy for the radio band when necessary. The rest of the band didn’t like this arrangement, but the boss reckoned that I always came back charged with energy afterwards, and liked the idea.

I flew to London for a week in Ronnie Scott’s club with Peter Herbolzheimer. The sessions were recorded, and came out later on an LP, Live at Ronnie Scott’s.

While I was in London Bob Burns invited me over to his house to stay the night. His wife had deserted him and his son had been living in the house while Bob toured Germany, playing the saxophone solo in the Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures from an Exhibition with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. His son went out one day without locking the door, and when Bob returned the entire house had been cleared by thieves. Only one or two of Bob’s treasured recordings, made with Bob Farnon, were left. He gave me one as a present, but I had to return to London, as there was nowhere for me to sleep. I left, forgetting the record. He never forgave me for that, and didn’t contact me again until I met him years later in the Benny Goodman band.

Musicians began turning up in the club to hear the Herbolzheimer band. Everyone loved the music. Duke Ellington's band was in town and came in to hear us. I was expecting a repeat of my experience with Cat Anderson on my last night with the Dankworth band, but this time Cat didn't bring his trumpet. 

Paul Gonsalves  came on stage to play a chorus in Blues in my Shoes, for some reason asking the rhythm section to go from C to Bb for his solo. Paul looked terrible, and died only a few weeks later, so maybe this was one of his last performances. Apart from a couple of years with Basie, one with Dizzy Gillespie, and a brief sojourn in Tommy Dorsey’s band, Paul had played with Ellington for most of his life.

Ack had to leave after the Friday night session, so Peter booked Kenny Wheeler for the Saturday night. Kenny came in and read the book at sight, as I had expected. As usual, Peter was amazed at the way British musicians took care of business. In later years Peter had Kenny in the band again, and wrote a feature for him called Wheeler’s Choice. The band made the playback first, and then Kenny went out alone into the studio and synchronised his solo. The whole band stood and listened in the control room.

When Kenny came back in after finishing his solo no one would look at him. The poor guy stood there, not knowing what to think, while everyone found something important to say to his neighbour. He began to look more and more depressed. Finally, not being able to stand it any more, he burst out, ‘Was it really that bad?’

At once we all turned and embraced him. It had been a magnificent solo.

Kenny had a totally unconventional method of playing jazz which embraced whole-tone and modal scales. I have never heard anyone else play jazz so well in that manner. It sounded wonderful, but no one else ever managed to fathom out exactly what he was doing. This made him very much in demand in later years in avant-garde combinations. He was a brilliant arranger, too, but one of the things I remember most vividly about him was his disappearing trick.

He was famous for this, and trombonist Tony Russell had made me aware of it as soon as I joined the Dankworth band. ‘Watch Kenny,’ he said.


‘Just watch him.’

It was true. You could be talking to him one minute, and the next he had simply vanished into thin air. He did it many times to me and I never caught him at it. It was pure magic.

After the last session at Ronnie’s that night I got him blocked into a corner, determined to have a chat about old times. I hadn’t seen Kenny for fifteen years, and I wanted to pick his brains. There was no possible way he could have gotten past me without using force.

It was no use. I was distracted by something behind me for a second. When I looked back Kenny had disappeared.

I went to Sweden to accompany the Manhatten Transfer with Peter’s band. When we arrived in Goteberg we were told that the tour was cancelled, because the father of one of the singers had died, and he’d gone back to the States.

We stayed the night and went to see One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

In the bar later I mentioned the curious fact that, in the film, all the patients in the nuthouse had been white, while most of the male nurses were black. This started off a psychological argument with grave racial overtones, with all the black guys in the band agreeing that it was only right, because all whites were crazy anyway. 

We were paid the seven thousand marks Manhattan Transfer tour money and I arrived home the next day. It was the most I’d ever earned for doing nothing. My wife was overjoyed to see me back so soon. As I’d sent a deputy to the radio station I took the rest of the week off.

Two days later the first alto sax player called around and begged me to come back and play. He said that when I wasn’t there the whole thing was chaos, with guys screaming at one another about phrasing and intonation. I kept them quiet because most of them were afraid of me. This bit of news astounded me.

Unfortunately it was true, and because of this, the band managed to get the bit allowing me to get away and send deputies crossed out of my contract. The clause was renewable yearly, and they just didn’t renew it.

It didn’t worry me too much because I’d just had a dental operation that had paralysed my lower lip, and I was fed up with touring around by then.

A specialist had tried to implant a back tooth in my lower jaw, something that he should never have attempted. During the operation he severed my Trigeminous nerve, and deadened the right half of my lower lip. I was no longer able to play high notes, my specialty, and had no lip endurance any more.

I sued the man successfully, but had to settle for a lower figure than I may have been able to get from his insurance company, because it was almost impossible to prove most of the bookings I had lost. Only Peter Herbolzheimer was able to provide definite evidence of lost dates and salaries. In court my wife stepped into the breech, making a short speech as a witness which delighted the judge, and absolutely dumbfounded the opposing lawyers. Her short speech probably won the case for me.

Some of the players in the radio band were really terrible. On one recording, of Ray Anthony’s Boogie, we made twenty-five complete takes. After a while the first trumpet part, which is quite high, got a bit strenuous. I protested, to no avail. We played it again, and, after receiving the information that we’d be doing it once more later on, the band took a break.

I got hold of Pokorny by the throat and forced him back into a dark corner of the studio.

‘What are you trying to do to me?’ I hissed, angrily. ‘Are you waiting for me to make a mistake, or something?’ I was blazing.

It turned out that Franz, the third trumpet player, wasn’t getting the twiddley bits right in the introduction.

‘Then why don’t you stop the band right away and tell him?’

‘If we did that it would make him more nervous, and he’d play even worse.’

‘He couldn’t play any worse. What about me? To hell with him.’

We agreed to shelve the number and played something else after the break.

After the session ended everyone packed up and left, leaving me alone in the studio with the engineers. Pokorny came back in to say that Franz was hanging around outside for some reason, most unusual for him. Normally he couldn’t get away from the place quickly enough. I told Pokorny to close the door and engage the man in conversation. He knew he’d been playing badly but had kept quiet about it. I had no sympathy for him.

As everyone in the band had his own microphone and tape channel, it was the easiest thing in the world for me to dub Franz’s third trumpet part on to the recording. It took exactly three minutes.

I told Pokorny later on that I was amazed at seeing a German show so much consideration for a colleague. Back home we would have thrown him out the window after the second take.

Some years later I was to repeat the operation on a larger scale on a record that the East Berlin actor Manfred Krug made, arranged and conducted by Peter Herbolzheimer in Ludwigsburg.

I’d played on the session with three trumpet players out of Erwin Lehn’s band from the Stuttgart radio station. I went on to Munich after the session for a dance contest in the Olympic Stadium, where I coincidentally met Al Porcino for the first time, playing in the opposite band. It was a ballroom-dancing championship, and someone had wrongly booked Al’s band, which was a sort of heavy metal rock group, to share the music with us.

After the first few numbers they were quickly thrown out of the place. I’d been a fan of Al’s for years, when he was playing great lead trumpet in all the best American bands. I wondered what the hell he was doing over in Germany, especially in that kind of rock group.

On the way home from Munich next day I called back in at Peter’s hotel in Ludwigsburg. When we walked in he was having breakfast with my old pal, the bassist Heinz Kitchenberg, who used to play with me in the SFB band.

Peter’s jaw dropped when he saw us.

‘I was just begging, praying that God would make you would walk through that door at that moment - and here you are!’ He was visibly shaken.

‘You’ve got to come back and dub all the underneath trumpet parts again. Those guys from Stuttgart were terrible.’

He took me back to the studio, where I sat all alone for the next three or four hours with earphones clamped on my head, re-recording all the lower trumpet parts that had been played, badly, by the three guys from the Erwin Lehn band. There were about twenty tunes on the album, so I dubbed on sixty new parts.

I did this on each number without hearing the first trumpet part. This would have put me off because I would have been waiting to hear the other part, and maybe playing myself a fraction behind it. I had only the drums in my earphones, to give me the time, and the recording went off perfectly. 

Manfred was already an established actor in the east, but had been ejected for anti-Communist overtones in his one-man shows in East Berlin. He told me that he used to sing Georgia on my Mind over there, which the Communists had allowed, believing all the time that he was singing about the USSR republic of Georgia.

When he came over to the west Manfred quickly became a household word with his TV series as a truck driver in Africa. Just before leaving for Africa to make the series he asked me to write an English text for each of the songs on his LP. I did that, and some of the songs were recorded in English by Lili Lindfors and several others. Manfred never made the English version of the record for lack of a sponsor. He’s now one of the best loved German television actors, but I don’t think he’s made any more singing records.

He was sitting in the Casino restaurant up in the castle in the Saarbrücken radio station one evening when I walked in to try and find him. He was there to collect some acting prize or other.

At Manfred’s table were the Intendant and his wife, plus the Minister President for Saarland, the real VIP fan club, all posing, and putting on airs. As soon as he saw me Manfred jumped up and embraced me warmly. Apologising to the big nobs he turned his back on them and led me to another table where we partied together until he was dragged away again to do his concert. Like Friederich Gulda, he had little time for society talk.

Johnny Keating called me one midnight. He was in a pub in Saarbrücken. I threw my clothes on and rushed over to the place.

It was the filthiest pub in the filthiest street in town, right next to the iron foundry that makes gas and oil pipelines for Russia. Johnny was sitting in there with his girl friend Thelma, his daughter Jill and Martin and Kevin, his two sons. The locals, who were as filthy as the pub itself, were eyeing them up in a pretty unfriendly fashion.

When I walked in the noise of our greeting brought carnival atmosphere into the place. I shouted for drinks all round, which shut the locals up, and we crammed into a cubicle and started to swap stories.

I hadn’t known it, but the whole family had become a rock group. Jill, whom I’d last seen as a two-year-old, played bass guitar, the boys played drums and keyboards, and Thelma sang. John worked the electronics.

They had been working on television in Tehran for a year or so, and had just managed to get out when the war with Iraq started. They had a Volkswagen bus which they’d got on to a ship to Norway, and had driven from there down to Zurich to play a few gigs. Pete Jacques, the leader of the radio band there was a pal of mine, and had given John my number. Now they were on the way back to London.

We chatted for an hour, and then I had to show them the back way to the Paris Autobahn, which would take them on to Calais. It was great seeing him again. We went right back to 1947 together.

There was an annual television competition in the Belgian seaside town of Knocke called the Golden Swan. The Saarländische Rundfunk had booked the Herbolzheimer band as its contribution.

Knocke is a nice place when the sun shines, with a very wide beach and a lot of sand dunes. The only trouble with that whole North Sea coast is the fierce wind, which more or less sandblasts your eyes whenever you step on to the beach.

There were dozens of other European countries represented there, but we won without any trouble. As far as I was concerned we just stood up there on the stage and gave a live jazz concert. It was great, of course, but I was surprised that a mere jazz show would win a prestigious prize like the Golden Swan.

It was only after we returned to Saarbrücken and Richard Krueger arranged for me to see the video of Knocke that I realised what had happened.

They had recorded the music and the band all right, but it was inter-cut with devastating scenes from the Vietnam war. The result was both shocking and brilliant.

Rick Kieffer and Art Farmer had been there, making up the trumpet section with Ack and me. We all went along to Blankenburg, further down the coast, where we’d been told there was a famous fish restaurant.

Rick said he didn’t like fish, so he ordered a huge dish of mayonnaise and a couple of raw garlic corms. We waited for our orders, pretending not to watch him.

He peeled the garlic carefully, separating the cloves, skinned them and proceeded to chop the garlic up finely. He concentrated on this, with the dedication of a master chef preparing a feast for royalty, while we kept talking, and watched him out of the corners of our eyes.

When he was satisfied that the garlic had been minced just about as fine as he could get it he poured it into the bowl of mayonnaise and stirred it carefully for a very long time. With a look of joyful anticipation on his face he reached for a piece of bread and leaned forward.

At that moment we swooped. The bowl was whipped away and we fell on it like pigs at the trough, dipping bread and slurping away with blissful moans. Within seconds the bowl was empty.

Rick never turned a hair. He turned, hailed the waiter and ordered the same again. When the stuff came he went through the whole painstaking routine again as if nothing had happened. A royal performance.

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Copyright © 2001, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved