A Week at Ronnie's
Peter Herbolzheimer called and asked me to go to Moscow with James Last.
Niet, I said. I hadnt 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 loaned Bert his brass section on such tours. The music was too sickly for me. The only good bits in that band were the wonderful fluegelhorn solos Ack used to play in things like Strangers in the Night and all the other tunes Bert wrote that had made him a millionaire.
I didnt need to make money like that. I was getting paid 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 wasnt in it any more. It was all journalistic rigmarole anyway.
Id gone to visit the main Deutsche Welle building in Cologne once, when Peters 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 Hefners visit to Cologne. I already knew all there was to know about Hef because Id only just covered his arrival in Berlin a couple of days earlier. The worlds number one playboy had failed to impress me.
I couldnt 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 Id just met the guy at the airport, and we were old pals and all kinds of lies like that.
While I was typing away a guy came into the next cubicle and caused me to leave in a great hurry. Looked as if there wasnt a quiet room in the whole building.
I went up to Hamburg to play with Peters band for one night with the American comedian Jerry Lewis. When I arrived home next day Linda said that I had to call his agent right away again. He said 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. Linda brought the Mercedes along later, her first big drive alone with the new car. When she turned up at the Jahrhunderthalle, looking like a million dollars, all the people accompanying Jerry had their tongues hanging out.
Where did you find her? they gasped.
Poland. You have to go to Poland.
Jerrys fears had been well founded. I just sat there in the trumpet section doing nothing, because it is impolite to enter a regular band and try and take over things. The rest of the trumpet section was uptight with me already, just for being there. They hadnt invited me.
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 didnt know that one of the sax players was French, and didnt understand him. The cymbals subsequently only missed Dominique Chansons 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 players in the section were as meek as lambs after that, and I carried on playing 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 in and shook hands with Linda and me.
Thanks for coming, he said.
They didnt 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 theyd booked British. Peters band would have cost them three times the amount.
I took Linda to the Argentina steak house for a couple of T-bones with corn-on-the-cob, French fries, and an enormous ice lettuce salad drenched in Roquefort on the side. We didnt watch the show. Twice was enough, even with Jerry Lewis, and there was always the risk of being hit by those flying cymbals.
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 didnt 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 Scotts club with Peter Herbolzheimer. The sessions were recorded, and came out later on an LP, Live at Ronnie Scotts.
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 Bobs 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 didnt 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. We even had Paul Gonsalves on with us one night. He 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. I suppose the Ellington band was around somewhere, but I didnt see any of the others. Apart from a couple of years with Basie, one with Dizzy Gillespie, and a brief sojourn in Tommy Dorseys 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 Wheelers Choice. The band made the playback first, and then Kenny went out alone into the studio and played his solo on top. 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 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 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 Ronnies that night I got him blocked into a corner, determined to have a chat about old times. I hadnt 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.
On the previous night, in the interval, I had been standing at the bar talking to some of the cats when I noticed a girl smiling at me, twinkling away with her head on one side, smoking a cigarette.
My God! I thought. Shades of the past. Who was she? She was absolutely adorable. I searched my brain quickly. Where had I seen her before?
It was Linda.
Shed taken a package flight from Frankfurt and come straight to Ronnies. Luckily the taxi driver knew the place, because Linda didnt speak much English. She just happened to meet Ronnie at the club door and managed to tell him who she was. He immediately gave her a cigarette and led her to me. It was a wonderful surprise, especially as she didn't smoke.
I introduced her to Johnny Keating, who had come along to hear the band that night with his new girl friend Thelma. They became such pals that, when I went back to Saarbrücken, Linda stayed on a few days with them. When she returned shed learned a whole lot of new English words, which she spoke with a Scottish accent.
She arrived in Frankfurt at midnight, and only phoned me after shed landed. I jumped into the car at once and tore off along the Autobahn to get her, a distance of 250 kilometers.
I drove like a maniac, petrified with fear. I knew that shed be sitting alone in the place until I got there.
When I got into the airport an hour and a half later it was dark, gloomy, and deserted, with only emergency lighting switched on. Airports in Germany are closed at night to avoid disturbing the population.
Linda sat there, all alone on a bench in the enormous place, with only a couple of cleaners working nearby for company. Boy, was she glad to see me.
We seemed to have some sort of telepathy going between us, because the next time I picked her up at an airport was in Stuttgart, after shed spent a week in Tenerife with her friend Helena, who ran a dress shop in Puerta de la Cruz.
This time I had no idea at all of when she was coming, because I hadnt received any phone calls from her about it. On a sudden impulse one day I jumped into the car and drove like a bat out of hell to Stuttgart, a three hour journey.
As I pulled up in the car park she came out of the main doors, pulling her suitcase, and looking for a taxi. A minute later and I would have missed her.
Linda and I caused quite a sensation in that radio station. Germans are not known for public displays of affection, and a lot of people were amazed to see me rise and kiss her whenever she came into the restaurant.
We dont do things like that here, growled one married man. His wife also worked in the station, but you never saw them together. They even ate at separate tables in there.
It isnt only love and affection, but also basic manners in my country, I said.
People would watch me with amusement as I opened the passenger door of the car for Linda, or held a door open for her to pass through. We held hands when we walked together. Several of my German friends, highly respectable people, walk ahead of their wives, sometimes even up to a hundred yards or so in front, when they go out anywhere.
They nodded. I was British, a gentleman, and therefore eccentric.
I went to Sweden to accompany the Manhatten Transfer with Peters 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 hed gone back to the States.
We stayed the night and went to see One Flew over the Cuckoos 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 white people were crazy anyway. When I brought up the further racial complication of the Red Indian inmate I was accused of misunderstanding the whole point of the film by Rudi Fuesers, the third trombone player, whose sister had worked in an asylum so long that she was now crazy herself. Sometimes I wondered if he himself wasnt so far off, either.
Rudi had played for several unhappy years in Max Gregers band in Munich. Many years after he left the band hed gone on a South American tour with Caterina Valente, which had taken them to Brazil. Some of the guys took time off to make a trip up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. There, sitting on the top of the world, with the beautiful panorama spread all around beneath him, Rudi is reported to have looked around sourly for a couple of minutes. Then, shaking his head slowly, he said, in measured tones, That f_____ Max Greger.
We were paid the seven thousand marks Manhattan Transfer tour money and I arrived home the next day. It was the most Id ever earned for doing nothing. Linda was overjoyed to see me back so soon. As Id 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 wasnt 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 didnt renew it.
It didnt worry me too much because Id just had the dental operation that consequently ruined my lip, and I was fed up with touring around by then.
The leader of the Saarbrücken radio band was a valve trombone player called Eberhard Pokorny. He had an very pleasant wife named Anna. She was a very kind-hearted woman, and helped me out considerably during my divorce from Linda later on.
Eberhard, who was quite a small man, drove a six cylinder BMW 528. He drove at such terrifying speeds that, in the days long before the French motorway had been completed, he could make the trip to Barcelona in just under ten hours. Even later on, with the new motorway, I could only ever manage it in twelve.
Some of the players in that band were really terrible. On one recording, of Ray Anthonys 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 wed 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, wasnt getting the twiddley bits right in the introduction.
Then why dont you stop the band right away and tell him?
If we did that it would make him more nervous, and hed play even worse.
He couldnt 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 couldnt get away from the place quickly enough. I told Pokorny to close the door and engage the man in conversation. He knew hed been playing badly but had kept quiet about it. He was an asshole, and 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 Franzs third trumpet part on to the recording. It took exactly three minutes.
Some years later I was to repeat the operation on a larger scale on a record that the East Berlin actor Manfred Krug made, which was arranged and conducted by Peter Herbolzheimer in Ludwigsburg.
Id played on the session with three trumpet players out of Erwin Lehns 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 Als 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. Id been a fan of Als 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 Linda and I called back in at Peters 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.
Peters jaw dropped when he saw us.
How did you know? he gasped.
How did we know what?
I was just begging, praying that God would make you would walk through that door at that moment. He was visibly shaken.
Butwe both love you and had an overpowering urge to see you again, I protested. He had tears in his eyes. This was not surprising as he was halfway through an enormous breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausages, tomato and fried onionsenough to fell a gorilla. No wonder his gut had swelled up like a medicine ball.
Youve 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. Linda took one look at the town and then came back and slept on a bench in an anteroom while I was doing all this.
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. Hes now one of the best loved German television actors, but I dont think hes made any more singing records.
He was sitting in the Casino restaurant up in the castle in the Saarbrücken radio station one evening when Linda and I walked in to try and find him. Wed heard he was there to collect some acting prize or other.
At Manfreds 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 us Manfred jumped up and embraced us both warmly. Apologising to the big nobs he turned his back on them and led us 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.
Thousands of people thronged the radio station grounds next day. All male, they were more or less dressed identically in dark suits, white shirts, and sober ties. They disappeared into the big hall reserved for symphony concerts.
My next-door neighbour, Hans-Joachim Molders, director of the coal mines, appeared, looking distraught.
Im making a speech, he croaked nervously.
You look as if you could do with a drink.
Not now, not now! God Im nervous.
Think about car batteries, I said.
Car batteries. Its a joke.
Are you out of your mind?
He disappeared into the hall. I heard applause, and the sound of many heads banging down on the carpet. (We had gone out to dinner recently with some of his colleagues and they had talked enthusiastically, through the entire meal, about a visit they had just made to a factory making car batteries.)
The house we lived in next door to the Molders shared a communal boiler room with them that looked like the reactor room of a nuclear submarine. There was every piece of equipment in there for water softening and steam extraction and gauges and thermostats for adjusting the radiator heat to the outside temperature.
In spite of all the expensive gadgetry the two houses were never warm enough.
Also in the boiler room was a huge one-way valve which pumped the contents of the house drains up into the main drain in the street. Just as we were sitting down to lunch one day the pump went into reverse, there was a tremendous explosion, and several tons of human excrement, and all kinds of other horrors surged up out of the downstairs toilet, forming a layer six inches deep all over the ground floor.
Linda screamed, because when she saw it rushing into the room she was convinced that we were going to drown in it. Linda was always having dreams about drowning, and this was going to be it.
The stink was incredible, nauseating. We phoned the house owner in Strasbourg, who sent over his local house insurance agent. He in turn called my house contents insurance agent and they both came and started a wrangle as to who was going to pay for the damage.
We had to live in the place for a few days, picking our way gingerly over the turds on the carpet until theyd thrashed it all out. Then we moved into Pokornys house while the place was cleaned up.
No sooner had we moved back in than Linda came home from a visit to her doctor to say that she had to go to the hospital. She had gone to him about a pain she had in the abdomen. Hed said that it was caused by the rheumatism pills she was taking, and that she should therefore stop taking them.
This didnt satisfy her one bit, and so she went on to the hospital for another opinion. There she was told, in no uncertain terms, that she had a swollen appendix, and that it must be removed at once.
I rushed her back with her night clothes in a suitcase, and she was operated on right away. She had a general insurance, which would normally have meant her sharing a ward with several other patients, but when the chief surgeon clapped his eyes on Linda he gave her a private room with one other good-looking young girl. There they were treated like royalty, nothing was too good for them.
I had my birthday while she was in there, and I brought champagne for everyone, and a TV set for the girls that I borrowed from Eberhard Pokorny, who lived nearby.
While Linda was in the hospital the ground floor of our house was redecorated. Right in the middle of all this, with stuff piled up everywhere, and me living like a hermit up in the bedroom, 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 filthy iron foundry that makes gas and oil pipelines for Russia. Johnny was sitting in there with Thelma and his daughter and 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 hadnt known it, but the whole family had become a rock group. Jill, whom Id last seen as a two-year-old, played bass guitar, the boys Martin and Kevin 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 theyd 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.
When Linda came out of the hospital Hans-Joachim Molders sent over Herr Windhorn, who was chief engineer in the coal mine, to find out why our house was so cold in winter. The radiators got hot, and the place was well insulated, but we froze all the time.
The engineer bored a hole in our floor and poked a sophisticated periscope thing down through it. After a while he told me to take a look. There was a light on the end of the optics, and it was immediately clear that I was looking down into the basin of a large swimming pool with quite a lot of water in it.
Theres your problem, he said. No wonder your wife has rheumatism.
We tackled the owner about it and he owned up like a man. It had been built as one big house, and our portion had originally been the swimming pool and changing rooms. Where the water in the pool came from he had no idea, but to remove it would take major excavation of the newly decorated ground floor.
We moved out, and so did the Molders, who had rising damp in all lower floor rooms and a leaky roof.
Linda found us a new place at once, just being renovated. We contracted to buy the house when it was finished, moving in at once. On the day we moved Saarbrücken had the worst snow storm for a hundred years, which made moving in a piece of history all its own, and which effectively stopped all work on the canalisation. For the next two months we had to slip and slide over planks to get into the house.
Everything that could go wrong in that place did. The renovation, shown on our contract as to be first class luxurious turned out to be low-class shoddy. There were fierce drafts everywhere which blew out candles and gave us headaches. Workmen clumped all over the new carpets in muddy boots. The heating system, once more the latest design, refused to cut itself off according to the room thermostat. I was given detailed technical explanations of how it worked in conjunction with an outside feeler, but this didnt make it function any better.
Once more we were living in utter chaos. A visiting architect told us, for two hundred marks, what we had known already, namely that we were living in the highest house in Saarbrücken, and that it got the most wind. This was true. When Linda started going to the Weight Watchers I could put my head out the window and watch her drive all the way through the town right up to the Congress Hall car park, where the meetings were held, and get my head blown off at the same time.
There is an annual television competition in the Belgian seaside town of Knocke called the Golden Swan. The Saarländische Rundfunk, where I worked had booked the Herbolzheimer band as their 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 wed been told there was a famous fish restaurant.
Rick said he didnt 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 perfect performance.
I had displayed a similar lack of concern back in Munich during one Oktoberfest. Sitting at a table talking to Dick Spencer, the American alto player, I was suddenly drenched from head to toe with Löwenbraü beer. A waitress had tripped and thrown the entire contents of sixteen two-litre steins all over me.
I went on with what I had been saying to Dick, while Pandemonium broke loose all around me.
People were shouting in my ear in panic.
Man, youre wet! Dont you know! Youre wet!
I ignored them.
Waitresses were running around all over the place trying to pick up the broken glass and dry me at the same time.
I continued to speak quietly. Dick caught on at once, and we went on with the conversation as if nothing had happened. We looked steadfastly in one anothers eyes, talking nonsense until the pandemonium had died down.
Id already been having a bit of quiet fun during the week with Rick because it was baseball season. During the season Rick and Herb Geller became changed men. Usually, at this time, Herb sat on stage with a tiny transistor radio glued to his ear between shots, listening to the AFN coverage of the World series. Rick had spent the week staring at a newspaper cutting containing the statistics of all the best players in the competing teams. After three or four days of intensive study he crumpled the paper up and threw it on the floor, from whence I rescued it when he wasnt looking.
A quick perusal that evening gave me enough information for the next day, and then I struck.
Hey! That guy (So-and-So) in (Whatever Team) got up to a batting average of Point three-four-oh in the last Series, am I right? Wow!thats nearly as good as Babe Ruth.
Rick was crouching down on the floor at the time, something he usually did when we werent playing, and he looked up very, very slowly at me.
I glanced away over the studio, merely remarking idly that the Dodgers pitcher had better pull himself together, or they were going to go down pretty quick against Toronto. He got up and grabbed my arm fiercely.
What the hell do you know about all that?
I shook him off with an injured air. Its not a closed shop, you know. Not privatelike only for Americans. I came out with a few team statistics, speaking off-hand like an expert, and left before he could start asking leading questions.
Rick ended up in the radio station in Cologne, in the band Werner Müller brought in after Edelhagen died. John Eardley was there beside him in the trumpet section. John looked so remarkably like me when he played that we often exchanged press photos that had been wrongly labelled.
Linda and I had taken our Siamese cat Susy to Knocke with us. There was nowhere for her to go, so we opened our second floor hotel window and she spent most of the week sleeping on the narrow ledge outside in the fresh sea air. She never complained once. We didnt expect her to fall because she had been used to sleeping on the edge of the roof in the penthouse in Saarbrücken.
I had a lot of fun in Knocke. Of course, with Linda at my side I had a great time everywhere.
My Dad died in February of 1980 at a time when Saarland was so icebound that even the German trains had stopped running. I had a bad dose of the grippe. It was impossible for me to get to either of the Luxembourg or Frankfurt airports, so I just stayed home and didnt go to the funeral.
When I received a telegram from my sister that my Mum was dying a couple of years later I had just got a severe eye infection which almost rendered me blind in one eye. It was as if someone was trying to prevent me each time from going to the family funerals.
I phoned my brother at once. My mother was in an old peoples home and she only had a few days to live, he said. My sister had already left for Nevada, for a holiday at my cousin Peggys.
I rushed down to an optician in the town and he found that there was a grain of sand, or something embedded in my eyeball. Once hed removed it I could see again, but by this time Linda had told Pokorny about it and he offered to drive us to Luxembourg to get the plane to London.
I found this very helpful of him. Just as we were about to leave it began to snow, so we took our fur coats. Anna was in the car too, for the ride.
By the time wed got into the hills between Trier and Luxembourg it was snowing like mad. Pokorny didnt have snow tyres, but he managed all the hills OK. The trouble came when some of the enormous trailer trucks couldnt get up the slopes, and we had to wait around until they backed down out of the way.
It got very cold on top of the mountains and I said that we ought to turn back. I was afraid wed get stranded in the middle of nowhere. But Pokorny pressed on.
When we landed at Heathrow there was no snow and the sun was shining. Id wanted to rent a car, but the prices were ridiculous. I forgot about the bus to Victoria and dragged Linda down to the Underground station.
We boarded a train crammed with Pakistanis and Arabs. There we stood, muffled up to the eyebrows in the fur coats, and standing in the middle of them with our two big suitcases. It was like landing in enemy territory. I got ready to fight for our lives.
Travelling from Heathrow to Purley was a nightmare. We left the Underground at Victoria and got on the train to Purley. Victoria was being rebuilt and no one knew which platform we needed. Everyone I spoke to was a foreigner.
We found the right train, but had to change again at East Croydon. Again no one knew which train was going where. The timetables were mounted under glass in such a way that you could only see the times of arrival. The departure times were covered by the wooden edge of the frame. All station personnel was either Turkish, Iraqi, or Indian, and no one spoke any English that I could understand.
I found the only phone in London which had not been vandalised and got my brother to pick us up.
I was pretty mad at what greeted me, but I never let it show. My sister had looked after our Mum for years. Now that she was too old and ill to get up out of bed she had dumped her in the old peoples home and gone away on holiday.
I dont know how I would have behaved under similar circumstances. Living with old people can be trying, but she had done it for so long that she could surely have gone on for another week or so. That was all she needed, because my mother died almost as soon as my sister landed in America.
I was shocked when I saw my mother. She had shrunk almost to nothing, and could neither speak nor recognise anyone.
I had not been aware that she was slipping away. No one had told me. It was my own fault, too. I had neglected her over many years, not even writing regularly, or remembering her birthday. She must have been pretty disappointed in me. It was no excuse for me to say that I was too busy all the time.
The trouble was, I think, that my parents had still been alive long after most other peoples parents had gone. I had begun to believe that they were immortal. Because some of my aunts and uncles had almost reached the hundred markone aunt had died at age 103, and that only through an accidentI had fully expected my Mum and Dad to go on forever.
Mum didnt recognise me at all. Linda was marvellous. She seemed to know exactly what to say, how to behave. Although she spoke only a few words of English she was at my Mums bedside talking away to her all the time we were there. She had only met my family once before for a few hours.
We went home for dinner, leaving word that we were to be called if my Mum got worse.
She died as we were just finishing eating. We went to the home at once.
My mum had died without quite reaching the age of 83. We did what we had to, and returned home very sad. I was particularly sorry that my mother, who had led a pleasant sheltered life for most of her old age, should meet her end in such a miserable place. All of the nurses there were from Sri Lanka. If she had opened her eyes in there at any time she would have seen only strange black faces, something which would surely have puzzled her greatly in her final moments of life.
On my fiftieth birthday, on tour with Peters band, we were playing in Regensburg.
At the beginning of the concert, Peter brought his arm down to start the first number and I came in as usual with a bang. The rest of the band came in somewhat easier. They were playing Happy Birthday.
I was overcome with emotion. Not only was it a big surprise, with which the audience joined in, but it surely must be the only time that anything like that has ever happened in a serious jazz concert, and by such a great band.
Afterwards, in the hotel restaurant Linda gave a party for everyone. The high spot came when the lights dimmed and she walked in with this enormous cake with fifty candles burning. The heat was terrific, and I cant imagine how she managed to light them all. She had been carrying the cake around secretly for several days.
There were about forty or so older Germans at another table. One of them came over later on and asked the trombonist Otto Bredl what we were celebrating. The man wore traditional Bavarian type costume.
Its my friend Rons birthday, said Otto, clapping me on the back.
The next thing we knew, the whole of the table opposite burst into song. It was a male voice choir from Regensburg, fresh back from a music festival. They serenaded us softly for at least half an hour. There was magic in the air. Otto was crying unashamedly as he heard all the songs of his youth, sung so beautifully.
We sent over the rest of the cake, and a barrel of beer to keep their throats wet.
Deep into the night we made our way up to our room. Just as Linda was standing there naked with her nightdress in her hand, Otto entered the room suddenly, with only a perfunctory knock. She only had time to leap into bed, but by this time Otto was stoned to the eyeballs, and only had eyes for me at first.
He staggered over to our bed and sat on the end, still holding his litre of beer. He looked at both of us for a very long time. Once or twice he opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it again without uttering a word.
We all sat like this for the next ten minutes. Every now and then he nodded at us gravely. I began to wonder whether he intended staying all night. Then he nodded again, got up and walked out. I guess this was Ottos way of telling us that we were his friends, and he loved us.
Some years later, while I was on holiday in Spain I had a dream in which Ack van Rooyen suddenly appeared before me, saying, Hes gone. I awoke, shaken by the dream. Convinced that Ack himself had died I phoned Peter in the morning, to learn that Otto had passed away the previous afternoon. He had come in from the garden, saying he was tired, gone to bed, and died peacefully. I never discovered the reason for his death, but it was probably heart failure. He was a great trombone player, with a wonderful sense of humour, and died in his fifties.
Copyright © 2001, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved