Jazz Professional



Continuing the Minstrel's Tale down along the Costa Blanca
The events portrayed in this series are not necessarily in chronological order

Don't go away—I'll be white black.
James Moody

Chapter Twelve

The Best Things in Life

Saw Robbie Williams on the ZDF Theater channel last night. He was very good, very professional and entertaining, singing Sinatra songs, sometimes even, by means of technical wizardry, singing along with the master himself. The guy introducing him at London's Albert Hall did him no favours though, with his f___ word embellishments and shagging suggestions but the people still cheered and clapped. Maybe I'm too old for that sort of thing, or maybe they weren't all old enough.

The orchestras accompanying Robbie were first class. We were only shown brief glimpses of them, but I recognised Derek Watkins in the British one, as stalwart as ever. We had a longer shot of the trumpet section in the American show, and I saw Chuck Findley, with his nice black beard, and Gary Grant alongside him. Derek, Chuck, Gary and Don Rader all played with me a few times in Peter Herbolzheimer's band in Stuttgart and Baden-Baden. That was quite an experience. It was Don who supplied me with the quotations that head these chapters.

Readers of Jazz Professional will already be aware of all the goodies it offers. There are things on here that you cannot obtain anywhere else. All absolutely free. Last month it became clear that I was almost over my 100 megabyte limit on the website server, so I hit on the brilliant idea of making some parts of the site pay-to-view, to help cover the cost of enlarging and updating. Out of the thousand articles on the site about half would be affected. It goes without saying that everything on this site has been hard-won by dedicated musicians and journalists. My charge of twenty Euros for one year's membership was laughable, when one compares the quantity and quality of material available on the site with that on offer in far more expensive terrestrial magazines.

Up to then I'd been having between 5,000 and 10,000 hits every day. The day the site became pay-to-view I suddenly had almost 19,000 hits. People were going wild all over the site to see what was still available for free. Simultaneously I was attacked via email by several people attempting to illegally access my Pay Pal account, even though it was empty. I sat back, anticipating the rush. After all, I'd had over four and a half million hits up to then, representing about half a million readers. I was advertising several commercial products for free and I'd received hundreds of complimentary emails on the site, some of which can be read in the Comments section. So how many people produced that small crumpled note out of their back pockets to subscribe to my hitherto wonderful jazz website? Want to guess?

Seven it was. No, I'm sure of that because I counted them. Daily. Two of them were pals of mine. All the others found something more pressing to do, no doubt. It was an enlightening peek into the real world. DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson hit it right on the button in their song, The Best Things in Life Are Free.

Another colleague of mine died last week, only this one didn't die of old age. He was crossing the street outside his house when he was knocked down and killed by a jeep. The Indian composer Professor John Mayer, born in Calcutta, came to Britain at the age of 20, studied with Matyas Seiber, joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra as a violinist, moved later on to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I met him when we were colleagues in the West Side Story Orchestra at Her Majesty's Theatre in London's Haymarket in the middle 1950s. He told me about his new project with the West Indian saxophonist Joe Harriot, called Indo-Jazz Fusions. John gave me three LPs they had made with the Joe Harriott/John Mayer Double Quintet. To my eternal shame I have never listened to them. Always meant to, though. Maybe now. It's never too late.

Later in life I was commissioned by the Deutsche Welle, Studio Berlin, to write a report on a concert given in Berlin's Akademy der Kunst by the famous shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan. I went along, accompanied by the resident Indian reporter, who was going to help me understand what was going on. The place was packed with Indians. I'd had no idea there were so many Indians in Berlin, didn't remember ever seeing any around—and here they all were, all at once. The music was fascinating. The little group on stage played to an audience that sat there in absolute silence, intent on the music. I had no training in Indian music. To my European ears there were no discernible progressions, no harmonic or melodic preparation, yet suddenly the entire audience let out one great collective AHHHHHH! like a huge wind sweeping through the hall.

"What was that?" I asked my companion.

"They had built up the music over a long period to a great climax, and that was the climax," he explained.

"But I didn't notice anything different."

"That's because you are not from India. Allow me to advise you."

I listened carefully and, with his help, I do believe I got the hang of it. Soon I was going AHHHHHH! with the rest of them. Two weeks later Don Ellis turned up and showed us how to do it with a big band.

Over the past few weeks I've been writing some scores for my pal Dave Allenby in Darlington. He runs a saxophone quartet up there and they do gigs with it. It's an interesting challenge, writing for only four wind instruments, although they do add bass and drums from time to time if one insists upon it. I wrote a score of the Harry Warren tune Kalamazoo for them, followed by one of Very Early and That Old Black Magic. The last one was a quite audacious copy of the wonderful arrangement Frank Mantooth wrote for trombonist Ashley Alexander some years ago, when Ashley was teaching and running a school band in Walnut, California. I did it as a tribute to Frank, who had died only a week earlier, and managed to incorporate most of his goodies in it. I think he would have liked the result.

It has been raining like mad here in Spain over the past few weeks. Real end of the world stuff. This always happens when a load of tourists come down from the freezing north to enjoy our beautiful March sunshine. They huddle in the hotels listening to the rain, and watch the glorious weather they are now having back home on television.

I called the tenor saxophonist Bob Adams in St. Ives, Cornwall to wish him a happy birthday on the 10th. He was mumble-mumble years old when I asked him. It took me a few moments to realise that I wasn't talking to Bob at all, but to his brother Norman, who was down from Scotland for the party. I'd seen a lot of Norman when Bob and I were working in the London studios in the 1950s. He was a chemist, and presided over a shop at the end of Westminster Bridge, right underneath Big Ben. Norman is an automobile whiz-kid, and had formed a company with Bob, making a twin carburettor conversion for the Volkswagen. I'd been one of their first customers. We used to do the ton in that little car, wind it up until the engine whistled, but the conversion was also good for spinning the car around a few times on a dry road if you were wearing a heavy boot. A real white knuckle job. Norman was famous for getting thrown out of the pits during Formula One races because he used to stand around telling the mechanics what they were doing wrong with Stirling Moss's car.

Don Lusher has asked me if I want to go to a Ted Heath Reunion Lunch he is organising in April. I don't think I'll be going - didn't even attend his farewell concert. I played in Ted's band so long ago, and so many people were in there after I left, that I doubt whether I'd know many of them now. It's a long way to go for lunch and a chat, anyway. Now if someone put on a reunion for the Geraldo guys I would turn up, swim the Channel if necessary. I loved that band. Vic Lewis, too.

I have to go and see Max, my Dutch doctor when he returns from holiday. I have a small wart on my forehead and I banged it on a low ceiling joist the other day, so it's now a bloody wart. I can't help thinking that it was divine retribution for Noor banging her head in my house in the last chapter. Anyway, I like going to see Max because he has a very interesting young lady from Argentina working as his secretary and she always comes in and holds my hand when he's doing surgical jobs on me. It's a great comfort and I insist upon it and she doesn't seem to mind. Last time I called in the clinic she was sitting at her reception desk looking at my website. Max said you aren't supposed to be doing that in office hours, but when I went into his surgery he was looking at it as well.

Chapter Thirteen >>>

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