The Great Big Bands
Ljubljana was great. We ate during the afternoon in a huge outdoor restaurant. It was the kind of place you see hosting peasant weddings in documentary films. We were entertained by native dancers in traditional costume, only this was no professional dance troupethese were ordinary people from the land. We were especially interested in the dance because the rhythms used in folk dancing there are completely different to those used by ourselves, being based more on 5/4 and other exotic time signatures. We clapped along with the rest of them. It was a wonderful experience.
Most European countries have heartwarming family-type gatherings of this nature, big openair restaurants with music and dancing, wonderful food and huge tankards of beer and wine. You can find similar festivities in every town in Germany. Only in grey dank miserable Britain is there nothing like this.
We played the festival and listened to the great George Coleman afterwards.
Next day we drove back to Frankfurt in blinding rain. I was driving by general request. Everyone else in the car slept.
In the darkness a trailer truck swerved suddenly out in front of me just as I was alongside. I jammed on the brakes. In my minds eye, even in that split second, I could see the headlines. Four jazzmen die in blazing inferno. God, what a waste!
Any other car would have spun around a few times, hurtled crazily through the air upside down, and landed on the roof in the opposite lane in a tremendous fireball, killing or maiming everyone inside.
The BMW shuddered delicately and pulled up within a few yards in a dead straight line.
What was that? said Art, waking up.
I nearly killed everybody, I said.
Oh, yeah. Right, he said, lapsing back into sleep.
I got out with Frank at Frankfurt/Main airport and waited with him for his plane back to LA. We talked about the great bands and musicians of his home town, most of whom were only legendary as far as I was concerned. I liked Frank, he was a lot of fun to be with.
He came back a couple of years later and played with Peters band in a Jazz Gala in Wiesbaden, and the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Hague, and we had long talks with each other again. He was a very happy guy, filled with an explosive exuberance which showed in his trombone playing. Frank loved playing, loved life, and spoke warmly of his wife and family.
He seemed to have plenty of plans for the future, one of them being the renovation of his old Cadillac, which was already a classic model.
Shortly after he got back to Los Angeles after the Dutch trip Frank shot his two young sons, and then killed himself with a bullet in the head. We read about it in the New York Herald Tribune. No one knows why he did it. Ive heard since that one of his sons survived the attack.
Those Jazz Galas were really something special. The first one took place in January 1976 and caused a sensation in the music world. Not only was Peters great band the centrepiece of the idea, but the stars invited to play with the band were legendary.
Compering the show was Toots Thielemans. He played some numbers with the band on harmonica, notably the Quincy Jones classic Brown Ballad.
During the evening he got Peter to stand behind him and strum the guitar from around his body, while he fingered the frets. This caused great merriment because Peters stomach wouldnt allow him to quite reach his arm around, and the two of them got into a wrestling match.
Johnny Griffin was added to the sax section, Slide Hampton and Albert Mangelsdorff to the trombones, and Grady Tate came in on drums. On bass we had Niels Henning Orsted Pederson, who had been the bass player when I joined the band.
The guests were Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan and Nat Adderley, but as far as I was concerned it was the trumpet section that really bristled with talent.
Rick was there again, and Derek Watkins, Ack van Rooyen, and Art Farmer. There we had a choice of three first trumpet players, but, with the distribution of parts I somehow got to play more than my share, and I played first trumpet on most of the things that came out on the record. I was already known as the workhorse in the band, anyway.
I had a lot of fun talking to Gerry Mulligan, who was now living in Italy. He had written a lot of the arrangements for the Kenton band that wed played with Geraldo, and I was finally able to ask him how and why hed done certain things that had never ceased to amaze me. He was pleased that someone had taken so much interest in his work, and we got along fine.
It was on this tour that Rick, Derek and I went and visited the Reeperbahn in Hamburg. Derek knew of a great beer hall hed found while playing up there with James Last. It was right next door to the police station, so we felt safe enough.
Inside the main attraction was a gorgeous blonde trumpet player, who led the band. She looked so delicious in her dirndl, with her bosoms almost bursting out of her lownecked blouse every time she took a breath, that we managed to forgive the dreadful noise she was making on the trumpet. With all the girls in the band, plus every one of the waitresses dressed in exactly the same traditional costume it was a real tit show in there, and everyone loved that.
We drank lots of beer and made lots of noise ourselves.
On the next table about forty people were making even more noise, shouting and banging and telling jokes. Every few minutes a great roar would go up as someone pulled a dirty punch line.
Listen to them, Derek, I said. Typical Germans. Disgusting. You cant take em anywhere.
He listened for a moment.
The band got livelier and livelier, and we got noisier and noisier. Suddenly we were all dancing on the long wooden tables, arms linked. I had mine linked with those of an enormous waitress, who was also dressed in Bavarian costume, her massive bosom bobbing around inside her white blouse crazily with every knees up.
Slipping and sloshing around in the spilled beer, trying not to impale myself on one of the smashed quart tankards laying around all over the place, I took time out to take a look at the others. Between us we constituted a part of one of the finest trumpet sections in the world. I fervently hoped that no one would recognise us.
I left the other two in the middle of what looked like becoming a deadly argument about world heavyweight boxers, England versus USA, and staggered back to the hotel.
Downstairs was a jazz club and I pushed my way in through two lots of heavy curtains to get in to where the action was. On the way in I noticed our pianist Wolfgang Dauner standing motionless in the gap between the two sets of curtains. Inside the club Grady Tate was just finishing telling everyone about the guy hed seen standing in between the curtains on his way in. I told him that it was our piano player.
We all went back to take a look. Wolfgang was just standing there, eyes closed and swaying slightly, with what Grady called his Flash Gordon knitted bonnet pulled low down over his eyes. He wore that to cover up his bald head in the dim light he looked like an escaped lunatic.
When I left the club to go to bed a couple of hours later he was still standing there. The double curtains had been too much for him to negotiate.
The last show of the tour was televised and recorded in Wiesbaden. The band was dressed very properly in tuxedos, it was going to be a concert to remember, and we knew it. The music had all been written by Peter, except for the one chart of Brown Ballad that Quincy Jones had written for Toots.
The enormous concert hall was packed; many TV and showbusiness celebrities were present, all dressed to kill. We were sitting on stage, ready to start, when Justus, our recording engineer, said that there was something wrong with my microphone. Peter held up the start of the show with a gag to the audience.
The next moment, a guy walked out to fix the mike. Wed never seen him before, but he was on loan to Justus for the show by the TV station in Frankfurt.
There we were, resplendent in our tuxedosand this guy walked out wearing dirty jeans and a Teeshirt with the word SHIT in enormous red letters right across his back.
There was a general sucking in of breath from the orchestra when he appeared. He came over and started fiddling about with the microphone. We were all wondering what to do about it when Otto stood up suddenly and started to edge the guy back off the stage, while pretending to fix his trombone. Justus came out quickly, and Peter told him to get the guy the hell out of there quick and set fire to the shirt.
We had Esther Phillips on with us as well, so there was quite a bit of jazz singing. This had prompted Grady to ask Peter if he could sing, too, so he got a title as well, called Moon Dance. Just before this last show Peter asked me to write Grady a couple of choruses in the last big number called Blues in My Shoes. He wanted to sing in that as well, so I quickly dashed off what I thought was a pretty hip bit of song writing.
When the time came for him to sing he started to shuffle on from the wings, fingersnappin and moving real slow. A whole chorus went by before he even got out to centre stage. Then he opened his mouth. Here it comes, I thought, my great text.
OH! BABEEH, BABEEH, BABEEHHHH! he moaned. YEAH! BABEEH,
BABEEH, OOOOOOHHHH HONEYCHILEYO MAH BABEEHHH!
AAAAAHHHHHH! YEAHYEAHYEAHUH! DON WAN YO NO MO, BABEEHH, COS AH GOT DEM BLOOOOOS IN MAH SHOOOOOS. And so on. Boy, he was in dead earnest.
Did you write that? said Peter. He was looking at me with tender admiration. The audience exploded when Grady shuffled back off again. I shrugged. Jolly good show, said Ack.
Slide Hampton played some really fierce trombone on the last title, with Nat Adderly messing around beside him, trying to keep up. We were playing an up tempo arrangement of Work Song, one of the numbers where I had the lead. There was a screamer on the last note, and I blasted it with a considerable amount of brute strength. On the recording it came out loud and clear. The camera just caught Nat straining away full face on the last chord, making out that he was playing the high note.
In the band room just before the show one night I started to tell Herb Geller about the Romanian band Id seen in the French town of Niederbronn Les Bains a few days earlier. It had been my wife'ss birthday, and wed stopped by in the casino restaurant for a drink before going on to Lembach to celebrate. The band entertained us with evergreens.
The tenor sax player, who fancied himself a bit, wandered around the tables serenading the customers, and ended up an enormously romantic version of Stardust right in my ear, with several hot licks on the last chord, finishing with a prolongued windy, throbbing vibrato sound with no audible tone to itthe sort of thing Ronnie Scott sometimes did as a joke.
I sent the band a beer, and they send back Coleman Hawkins to ask whether we had any requests. Linda was looking particularly lovely, so I asked at once, without thinking, for Sophisticated Lady.
He went back to the stand, and for the next few minutes I could hear muffled snatches of the tune here, and a few chords there as they fought it out between them. When they reached the middle eight they stopped dead. Then the band launched into a Viennese waltz, and the tenor player never came near our table again.
Herb thought that was pretty funny. Yeah, the middle eight is a bit tricky, he said, and started to play the tune, running it through at lightning speed. When he got to the middle eight he slowed right down and started playing a whole selection of bum notes, which naturally broke everyone up.
Here, let me try that, said Slide. Soon everyone was trying to play the middle bit, and the results were hilarious. I didnt even attempt it. Id played a gig with Alan Bradens band in Cheltenham once, when I was in the RAF, and completely messed up a head arrangement of Always, and thats an easy one compared to Sophisticated Lady. Nobody got it right anyway, and we went on to do the concert still laughing about it.
Some time later we played the week in London at Ronnie Scotts Club, and I took the guys to the Contented Sole restaurant, where you could eat good fish. The decor in there was prewar Cockney, with the waitresses all dressed up in the style of the roaring 20s, with straw boaters and fancy waistcoats. A man in a striped waistcoat and bowler hat played all the old tunes on an upright piano, so we sent him a beer.
Any requests, gents? he said, and before we could stop him, Dieter Reith, our pianist, said, Sure. How about Sophisticated Lady?
Right you are, said the man, and went back and treated us to one of the most beautiful renditions of that lovely melody that I have ever heard. The dreaded middle eight came and went, clear as a bell, and embellished, for good measure, with daring counterpoint and dashing harmonic elegance. Then, after a cunning modulation, the whole thing again in a new key. Even on that honkytonk piano it was sensational. Our applause was deafening.
Sorry, said Dieter. That was a real dirty trick.
Not at all, said the man, Duke was in here once, and I played it for him, too. Gave me a bottle of champagne afterwards.
Go on, Dieter, we all said. When the bottle came we toasted the pianist.
Bloody good show, said everyone.
The next Jazz Gala, which we did in The Hague, had Clark Terry, Frank Rosolino and Gary Burton as stars. I couldnt do all the shows so Peter booked Lew Soloff to play lead. Lew was the man whod played such great trumpet on the Blood Sweat and Tears albums. In a world of highly temperamental musicians I dont believe that Ive ever played with anyone more eccentric.
When I turned up to play in the middle of the tour Peter told me to grab as many of the leads off Lew that I decently could, because he tended to play a lot of high notes that weren't written in the parts. Peter didn't like people doing that. He took a lot of trouble writing his scores and quite rightly didn't want any variations in his lead trumpet parts.
Standing up beside Lew, and sharing the same music stand, I could hardly see the music for the mouthpieces he had stacked up right across the stand.
He seemed to need a different mouthpiece every few minutes, depending on the range of the part, or the sound required. Changing the mouthpieces so often started to get on my nerves, especially as he would often grab one at the last second just before we had to play.
Finally, while turning one of the parts, I knocked the whole lot of them on to the floor. He knelt to pick them up, clucking away in annoyance, and muttering something about sabotage while the rest of us carried on playing. He kept bobbing up with a mouthpiece glued to his eyeball, trying to read the number stamped on it by the light on the music stand.
Ack leaned over and said that Doctor Jazz was on his way over right now to confiscate all of Lews mouthpieces anyway. Lew didnt think it was funny. Peter looked over at me and nodded for me to knock them over again.
My wife was with me on the tour, and Peter asked her if she could talk Lew into wearing something more respectable on the TV concert. Normally Lew dressed like a Central Park jogger. She promised to look through his wardrobe.
When he appeared for the television show he was wearing a pair of reddish black pants that seemed to have been cut from a thick Afghan carpet, and a weird Red Indian fringed leather waistcoat
My wife rolled her eyes. That was all shed been able to find in his wardrobe. It was too late for anyone to do anything about it now.
On the show the two of us pulled off some really sensational high trumpet unisons together. Every time we did that he insisted on shaking hands with me. One of the cameramen caught us doing it every time.
When he saw the playback Peter said to me What the hell were you two doing back there?
Cementing AngloAmerican relations, I said calmly. I am very rarely lost for words.
A typical conversation between Frank Rosolino and Lew would go something like this:
Oh, oooeee oooeee, (i.e., oui-oui)
Hey Lew, I read somewhere that you used to take thirty-six trumpets on tour with the Blood Sweat and Tears group.
All lies. Utterly ridiculous.
How many did you take then?
On the tour Clark Terry spent all of his spare time writing in a small neat hand in a leather-bound notebook.
What are you doing there, Clark?
Im writing my memoirs.
Well dont forget to get him in there, pointing at Lew.
Oh, hes in already. Now it's your turn.
'Nothing bad, I hope.'
Clark played some marvellous trumpet on the shows, and sang his song Mumbles which he does without uttering real words. This always brought the house down.
Every time I did a job like that I used to think to myselfother people queue up and pay big money to hear players like these, in bands like this one. They follow the bands around, buy the records, make up their own bibliotheca, read all they can about them, dream of them, stick their pictures up on the wall, and here I am, listening to these guys every night, talking to them all day, and to me theyre just ordinary people, and Im getting paid for it.
One thing that bugs me nowadays is the fact that, although Ive been a camera buff all my life, making my own enlargements and developing colour films, and so on, it never occurred to me to take photographs of the people I worked with. I could have had an interesting album of memories today, something to look back on with pleasure.
All pro musicians must be in the same state of bewildermentwhere are the photos of yesteryear? I never once saw a musician with a camera, recording events for posterity. That was the kind of thing a fan would do, but not a working musician.
After the first Jazz Gala in Wiesbaden Stan Getz asked my wife to give him her programme for a minute. He wrote inside, over his picture, Thank you for being so beautiful.
She was very touched by this. She felt quite a bit sorry for Stan, who seemed to be a very sad person, and didnt mix much with the rest of the guys.
Not long after we returned to Saarbrücken he was booked to play in a small television show over at the Telefilm studios. Unknown to him Astrud Gilberto had also been booked.
As soon as Astruds husband saw Stan he rushed at him. Apparently Stan and Astrud had been friendly in a big way while they cut the famous Ipanema recordings, and now her husband was out for blood.
Right away the programme was cut in half; each of them refusing to appear with the other. As this had been the whole point of booking them together the show flopped before it even got under way.
Meanwhile, back in the hotel, Stan was pacing up and down screaming at Richard Krueger. There was a brigade of the National Guard stationed in Bonn to protect visiting US diplomats, and he wanted them brought over right away to stop that crazy idiot from killing him. Of course it was impossible, but he refused to leave the hotel until Astrud and her husband had gone.
I talked to Astrud in the canteen, and she said that the affair had been over about twenty years ago, when she was married to someone else, but her present husband still went mad with jealousy when he saw Stan.
Not long after Id started working at the Saarbrücken radio station I discovered why the band was so small. It had originally been an eight brass, five saxes band, but it had been so terrible that a lot of the members had been shoved into other, nonmusical, jobs in the station. The bandleader had been removed, and his job given to Pokorny, who had been on third trombone at the time.
This had all been achieved by quite a devious trick. An independent arranger had written a score which had been recorded by both the Saarbrücken band and the one in the radio station in Baden Baden. When the two were compared the Saarbrücken band came in a very bad second, and the result was used to justify the cuts in the band personnel. The management was still keen to make further cuts, so I tried a bit of gamesmanship on my own account.
I wrote a score of the beautiful Chick Corea tune Spain and the band recorded it, using overdubbing to make up the missing brass and reed instruments. I sent the other two trumpet players home and synchronised all the parts myselffour trumpets and a flügelhorn. Pokorny played all the trombone parts. The bass player dubbed in a tuba part. The result was excellent. I sent the same score to all the other big radio bands in Germanythere were five others, in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Baden Baden, Stuttgart, and Berlin.
Every year there was a sort of contest between the music departments of all these radio stations to see who had produced the best played, best engineered big band recording. This took place in the Bayerischer Rundfunk, in Munich, which now didnt have its own band. The boss of our music department, Werner Böhm, went along himself to the contest, which took a week, and was a very sociable affair, with a lot of drinking and rapping going on in the after hours.
He came back a week later in high spirits. Chatting to all the other station representatives before the contest he had idly asked what their contributions were to be, and discovered that every single station had sent along Spain as its best recording. This caused a great uproar which resolved in them all agreeing to put forward their second choice in the contest instead. As far as the contest was concerned Spain was quietly buried, but our man brought back copies of all the other recordings with him, and we had a chance to listen to them.
There was no doubt about itours was better, much better. This was explosive material, and we kept it in reserve in case the management tried to repeat their old trick. As it was, they managed to cut down the band anyway. Each time a man was pensioned off he wasnt replaced. Whatever they did, whatever tricks they tried, the band still sounded good, because the guys getting pensioned were the oldest, and the only ones left out of the old, sad combination.
As I walked down the Bahnhofstrasse, Saarbrückens main street, one day, I passed Lee Konitz going the other way. It didn't register until a couple of minutes later, but when I turned he was lost in the crowd.
I learned later that Lee had played that night in the Gieskanne Club (Watering Can Club). The last time wed met was in Dublin, in a place called the BarB Ranch thirty years earlier. Stan Kenton had been playing there, while Id been with Jack Parnell's band at the Theatre Royal. No wonder we hadnt recognised one another.
Meanwhile, Id made a suggestion to the programme director of the radio station. They wanted to put the band on ice, but I convinced him that we could carry on as a small group if some of the guys got pensioned off early. These were the real bad players. He agreed, and we started using a five piece front line, with trumpet, valve trombone, and three saxes. This was the smallest group I had played with since joining the Sampson band thirtyfive years earlier. I wrote most of the arrangements, in the style of the old Dave Pell Octet, and the group sounded marvellous.
Our only problem was with the bass player, Christian Becker, who, at 40, was the youngest guy there. He came from Dresden, and was enormously fat. He got that way by drinking beer morning, noon and night. His wife told me that he had been in the big Dresden bomber raid, and had an irrepressible urge ever after to try and quench the fires by pouring beer, nonstop, down his throat. Well, Id never heard that reason before.
He used to sit behind me on stage during dances with six bottles of beer in the pockets of his tuxedo, three on each side. The weight sagged his jacket down to the length of an overcoat. As the evening progressed one could tell how many he had drunk by measuring the length of the jacket. He got through three crates of beer on a weekend72 bottles of Becker Beer, brewed locally.
All of a sudden his legs went from under him and he had to go to hospital for treatment. There he lay, beerless, for several weeks, with a sadistic nurse looking after him. She took an instant dislike to him, and made his life hell. When he came out he swore never to go back to the hospital again.
A few days later he was opening his garage door when his wife put the car in the wrong gear and drove their Mercedes right at him, pinning him against the wall, and breaking his leg. Back he went to the same hospital, and to the same nurse. When he came out this time he could hardly walk, and never recovered from the injury. Shortly afterwards he died. He had been an extremely good bassist, and a talented tuba player, often helping out in the symphony orchestra.
I doubt whether any British or American musician would believe the conditions we worked under in those German radio bands. As everything was being paid for by the state, we travelled everywhere first class, stayed in only the best hotels. In Berlin, for instance, Slide Hampton had insisted on single rooms for all, and so each musician always had a double room to himself. In any case, sharing a room with Slide wouldnt have been a whole lot of fun. He awoke at seven each morning, did a couple of hundred pressups, and various other strenuous bits of business before taking a shower and diving back into bed.
Slide chewed gum day and night. I know this because a couple of the guys tiptoed into his room one night and watched him chewing in his sleep. What he did with the gum when he played no one knows, but in tacet bars he could still be observed chewing away. Benny Bailey chewed most of the time, too, but he used to stick the gum behind his ear when he played.
In the Saarbrücken radio band we were only contracted for studio work. If we played an outside job for the station an extra day was added to our holidays. In this way we boosted the summer holidays from six weeks up to two and a half months, with three weeks at Christmas and Easter. We worked from Monday to Thursday, spending an average of two hours in the studio each day, much of that in fooling around with the electronics. If we played a dance in the castle we received a full four-course champagne dinner before starting. The restaurant was French, and renowned for its cuisine. I was so full after the meal that I could hardly play.
Every year a local industrialist threw a birthday party for his wife in the town hall. About three hundred guests turned up for it. The entire staff of a famous Munich restaurant came in a fleet of buses to do the catering. An immaculate majordomo directed the waiter traffic. Once more we ate before playing, and received VIP treatment.
Each musician in Germany receives roughly 12% of his yearly wages again at the end of the year in royalties for interpretation. When I wrote this our radio band had been laid off, with full salary, for the past seven years. All members were to receive full pay until reaching the age of 65, without ever setting foot in the studio.
We receive thirteen months pay each yearin Frankfurt, Cologne and Hamburg the musicians receive fourteen months pay. We get a generous instrument, mouthpiece, and clothing allowance each month. The pension scheme pays out 80% of the last full wage upon retirement. At one time I paid only 50% tax, as music was to be encouraged as a cultural art. This changed somewhat after the German reunification in 1989, although I still only pay 50% VAT, and get most of that back when I make my tax returns. Every summer, during the holidays, my instruments are whisked off to a local workshop, to be cleaned and polished, free of charge. We buy cheap petrol in the radio station, and can borrow large sums of money at extremely low interest. People fall over themselves to do things for us. It is a musicians Paradise, and it only happens in Germany.
Hey, man, said Peter, on the phone, Were playing in Saarbrücken tomorrow night, and were a man short. Want to come along? Pressure of work in the radio station had forced me to miss a tour Peters band was currently making with the German rock star Udo Lindenburg. This might be fun.
Theres an old pal of yours in the trumpet section, he added. I went along.
First of all I couldnt get into the place. Security guards, hard-eyed plainclothes men and police with tracker dogs and walkie-talkies had the Saarlandhalle sealed off like a nuclear power station.
Im a musician, I said.
You dont look like one, they replied.
But no real musician ever looks like one, dont you know? I reasoned.
They pushed back, and crowded around, fingering their gun butts.
Peter appeared in the doorway. Come on, he said, Dont hang about outside.
I fought my way through thousands of hysterical kids and joined him. We embraced: at leasthe embraced, because you cant get near enough to get your arms around Peter on account of his tummy.
Nice to see you, he said. Heres your old pal from London.
It was Ian Hamer, whom I hadnt seen since the last time Id played with Tubby Hayess band. Ians mother had run the band in the Grafton Rooms in Liverpool. I believe she even owned the place. Ian had tried for years to get into the business in London, without much success, so hed become a brilliant copyist. Then Tubby gave him a chance, and he developed into a very good trumpet player indeed. Hed brought his beautiful wife Veronica along with him, and we embraced as well.
Ian didnt look a day older, was lean, hard, fit, and handsome. I felt decrepit beside him. Peter and Ian were both wearing cowboy pants, boots, and leather vests.
What kind of a band uniform is this? I asked.
Dont you have jeans? said Peter. I thought I told you to bring along a pair of jeans.
I have jeans, I replied, but I use them for gardening.
All the rest of the regular band was there. I knew everyone, of course, but couldnt find any of the rhythm section. Were using their rhythm section, said Peter, but dont worry, because the drummer is marvellous, and you cant go wrong with him. Hes twenty-one, he added, as an afterthought.
Heres the book, said Ian, shoving it under my nose carelessly. You start here, jump to there, go back to here, cut, play this an octave higher the second time, go to jail, go directly to jail, do not pass GO, and do not collect. Thats only the first number. Dont worry, Ill keep you posted.
I must make one thing absolutely clear, said Peter. Theres to be no talking on the stand.
But how do you expect me to...?
It looks bad, he said, firmly.
We groped our way on to the stage in pitch darkness. Theres a stageweight here, whispered Ian, Mind you dont trip over it.
Shhh, said Peter, crossly.
I found myself standing high up at the back of a rostrum, dim shapes around me, total silence, the shadowy outline of a music stand before me. I gripped my trumpet anxiously, hoping that I had it the right way round.
Suddenly BAMM!WHAMM!KERSPLAMM! Ten thousand World War II searchlights blasted into my screaming eyeballs, each with 1,500,000,000 candlepower, and, simultaneously, the preliminary barrage at El Alamein opened up.
Play! screamed Ian.
I couldnt see anything for a good five minutes, and so I missed the first number, but Im sure nobody noticed. When the flashing violet mist before my eyes cleared a little I was transfixed. Great masses of fifteen foot high loudspeakers blocked my view; forests of microphones, miles of cable, enormous banks of floodlights, red, green, violet, yellow, painfully blitzing strobes. My ears were assailed, no, my body was attacked viciously by giant sonic waves, which threatened to crush my chest like a paper bag.
I could see Peter gesticulating at me from over on the other end of the section on bass trombone, cupping a hand to his ear, as if he couldnt hear me.
Ian reached over and snapped a switch on the microphone just in front of me.
Where are we? I asked.
Stop talking, Goddammit! screamed Peter.
Just in front of me a naked girl was playing drums, her long golden hair tumbling down almost to her waist. The others in the rhythm section were dressed in greasy, black, sinister leather. The man on keyboards was playing fender, clavinet, organ, and five sets of synthesizers. He played them simultaneously, and had nine sets of arms. I could see someone leaping about down front playing guitar and singing.
Suddenly, painfully, everything stopped.
For a second there was unbelievable silence, then, to a man, ten thousand hysterical teenage thugs (the ones Id met outside) began to howl. Get off, quick, hissed Peter.
Mind the stage weight, said Ian.
Shhh! said everybody.
Behind the backdrop I could see a score of slide projectors, intricately coupled, throwing a kaleidoscope of scenes in montage on to a screen high above the stage. A zebra pushed past, followed by a dwarf wearing a sheriffs outfit. Ian introduced me. This is Ron. Hes okay, he added.
All the lights went out. Quick, said Peter, weve got fifteen seconds to get back on. Dont talk.
The same thing happened all over again. The din was unimaginable. On my left I could see the tenor player Heinz von Hermann jammed up against his microphone playing a flute obbligato. He rolled his eyes at me hopelessly.
As we went off this time I could hear Peter muttering something about the flute being too loud. Mind the stage weight, said Ian. I stepped over the stage weight and tripped over a girl crouching in the wings wearing a pink body stocking.
Hello, Im Jutta, she said. I think Ive broken my arm, I said.
Dont go off, said Peter, I want you to watch this number from the side. Its a gasser. He pointed to the chick on drums. Thats the guy I was telling you about. Great, eh? Only twenty-one.
We were standing in front of a mammoth loudspeaker going at full blast. I moved to the side and found that I was standing in front of another.
There was a man sitting at a huge console just there, critically watching meters and carefully adjusting filters and tone controls. I tapped him on the shoulder and pointed at the loudspeaker. He nodded his thanks and turned it up a bit.
How much power have you got here, for Christs Sake? I screamed into his ear.
You dont need to shout, he said. 4,000,000 watt.
But its enough to kill you, I said.
He nodded grimly. Thats right.
Peter had pulled me to where I had a clear view of the stage. The dwarf had just shot the zebra and was going into a High Noon routine with the singer, in a Dracula costume, who plugged him first. As they dragged him off all the lights started flickering fast and a robot from outer space, dressed in a metal suit like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz came on stiffly and did a slow dance, while Jutta and three or four other slinky little bitches writhed all around him.
The noise continued unabated. There seemed to be no discernible gap between pieces, and no apparent change of tune or tempo, but the thousands of hooligans crammed into the place seemed to know each number intimately, and greeted the onset of each fresh one with great joy.
Although the huge hall was adequately equipped with sturdy chairs, bolted down for the occasion, everyone was standing, anyway. Hands raised high above their heads, they clapped ceaselessly, tirelessly, in some strange ritual known only to themselves.
Every now and then, a guy built on the lines of Oddjob tossed a girl on to the stage amid roars of delight. As I watched, another girl, built like King Kong threw him on to the stage.
There was a violent explosion and thick green smoke poured over everything. Out of the swirling fumes came Dr. Death in a long black leather coat.
Great entertainment, eh? said Peter. This is where the money is.
I turned to Jim Towsey, the baritone player. How can you stand the noise? I asked.
He shook his head apologetically, indicating great wads of cotton in his ears.
Cant hear you, old boy, he said.
As the concert drew to a close I began to have great fears. These thugs would demand encores, probably several. If they didnt get them, even the army outside wouldnt be able to protect us. If they did get them wed be there all night.
Dont worry, said Ian. As we played the last chord and the house lights went up, the loudspeakers roared forth for the last time. Like magic the hall emptied, the ones in front getting trampled in the desperate panic to get out of the place.
I smiled. Of course, it was the only way. An old scratchy recording of the Blue Danube right on at four million watts. The band marched off, going oompah, oompah to the music.
Never mind, Ron, said Peter, embracing me. Next time I call you itll be for a nice half-empty jazz concert.
I was still living in Saarbrücken for most of this period, although the radio band was no longer working. We were getting paid as usual, and this would carry on until I reached the age of 65, when Id get my pension. Meanwhile, in order to make sure that my position would remain fixed in the music department, I had been officially recontracted as First Concert Pianist in the symphony orchestra. This simply meant that when I retired they could book a real pianist permanently. I didnt have to play, of course, and they couldnt ask me to play trumpet any more.
I knew that the regular members of the symphony orchestra had to work like slaves, rehearsing and practicing all day every day to keep up to scratch. I made a habit of sauntering by the canteen during the lunch break so they could see me. This bugged everyone like mad, because they knew I was getting solo money, and doing nothing for it.
I had been asked earlier on whether Id consider the job on principal trumpet in the symphony orchestra. The conductor asked me to play the trumpet solo from Petruschka as a test piece.
I had no such intention, but I played my own version of the piece one day to the rest of the guys in the dance band in our studio for a laugh. I put the solo up an octave and did lots of Dizzy Gillespie type valve effects in the tricky bits. The noise was fearful and it broke everyone up.
When I finished I noticed the conductor of the symphony orchestra standing just inside the studio door. He shook his finger at me playfully.
They never asked me again.
Copyright © 2001, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved