Bread in your ear
I played with a jazz group in a restaurant on
the Costa Blanca last week. Busloads of people in there, all on a two–weeks holiday,
hotel included, in Benidorm.
‘I’ve heard about you lot,’ said a grim looking
man. He sat down at a table in front of the band. His left ear was about a yard
and a half from the bell of my trumpet.
‘You want to put a bit of bread in your ear,’
I said. ‘I’ve caused serious injury at twice that distance.’ He didn’t hear me
because he was busily putting a bit of bread in his ear.
When the food came everyone gobbled it up. Apart
from our usual fans, there was a long table with about two hundred people over
on our left. As soon as they finished eating they whipped their chairs round and
sat facing us. We weren’t ready yet. The bandleader and drummer were on their
knees with armfuls of cable, fighting with the amplifier. The girl singer was
going one–two, one–two into the microphone and shaking her head. I was
greeting the bass player, who had just arrived.
‘Hello,’ I said.
‘What do you mean by that?’ he muttered angrily.
When we finally began we played the music of Stan
Kenton, Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, Quincy Jones and Duke Ellington
as well as some Dixieland stuff by Harry Gold. This was pretty clever of us, because
we only had a three–piece front line, but I had arranged everything to sound like
a big band with five saxes and a ten–piece brass section with three or four French
horns, strings and woodwind and I think we fooled most of them.
Oh, but they loved us! Every solo received wild
applause. The vocals made them leap to their feet cheering; Peanut Vendor had
them screaming and stamping. With that kind of appreciation we couldn’t put a
foot wrong. Greatly daring, Mike Smith, our bandleader, put up the Black Bottom
and we codded about on it. They adored us.
‘Here,’ I said. ‘How about The St. Bernard’s
Waltz?’ But he thought that might be pushing our luck. A woman came up and
asked if I could play something by Eddie Calvert. Eddie Calvert! I was
‘What is it you want? Concerto for Trumpet?’ I
‘Oh My Papa.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘When I bought this trumpet
I promised that I would never ask it to play Oh My Papa, or Cherry Pink,
although I don’t mind belting out the last note of Cherry Pink if somebody
else plays it.’ We gave them Charade at breakneck speed and went
off for a beer. We had to fight our way to the bar, just like in the old days.
The grim man was there before me. ‘Told you I’d
heard about you,’ he said. He produced a large photograph from a brown envelope
and shoved it under my nose. ‘Remember that?’
It was a picture of Jack Parnell’s band, taken
in the Villa Marina, Isle of Man in 1956, at the time when George Hunter was on
lead alto, Johnny Edwards on first trombone and Bobby Orr on drums. Dennis Hale
was the vocalist. Boy I was thin in those days. I’m twice the size now.
‘Where did you get it?’ I gasped.
‘I’ve got pictures of all the bands,’ he said,
proudly. He went on to talk about the glorious big band era. He seemed to know
all the musicians and every record we had ever made. A lot of people used to love
those big bands.
‘See the way the people here are just sitting
and watching the band? In the old days we used to stand on the dance floor, packed
together so tightly we couldn’t move, just listening to the bands.’ He went on
for a while in that vein, then he suddenly said, ‘They used to get the same amount
of people in on some of those jobs as they do for the rockers today. Why aren’t
you guys millionaires, too?’
Why not, indeed?
When we finished we couldn’t leave the stand for
the crush of people leaving. As they went by every single guest that night insisted
on shaking hands with us. Don’t squeeze, we muttered anxiously as they paraded
by, smiling, crushing our fingers and trying to wrench our thumbs off. We were
asked to sign autographs. I was dizzy with memories. Some of the women kissed
us. Thank you, they said, you’ve made this a holiday to remember.
Off the Beaten Track
Eric Delaney turned up on the gig the other day.
I hadn’t seen him for over thirty years but I knew he played somewhere in Benidorm
now and then. As he starts his show at 1.0 am I’ve never been to see him because
that’s the time I usually begin fighting the computer.
The bass player said, ‘Delaney is here,’ but I
couldn’t pick him out in the crowd. The only guy I saw who looked anything like
a musician on holiday was a short, bald–headed, muscular man, suntanned almost
to a crisp, wearing a string vest, shorts and trainers. He didn’t look anything
like Eric Delaney.
‘Hey!’ I shouted. ‘Are you Eric Delaney?’
‘Of course not,’ he said.
I don’t expect he had really changed. In the past
I had usually worked with him in semi–darkness, never seen him in daylight before.
He had another man with him and I was supposed to remember who he was. I didn’t
get it, but he was George Bradley, the bandleader, here on holiday. George used
to be in Eric’s trumpet section when he had a big band.
I reminded George of something he had once said
to Stan Roderick during a record session: Give us some of your ready wit, that
we have come to love and cherish and regard as part of our heritage. He was
pleased that I’d remembered, but a statement like that is hard to forget. Stan
never forgot it, either, and chuckled over it forever after.
Eric played with us later on. He hasn’t lost his
touch, or some of his tricks, either, but I was ready for him. While I was playing
a solo he suddenly changed the beat. When I changed to follow him he changed back.
Eric used to have an evil smile, like the devil, when he was up to something.
When I looked back at him he was wearing it then.
‘Caught you, didn’t I?’ he said.
Altering the beat was one of Phil Seamen’s favourite
tricks. The drum intro of Gene Krupa’s Leave Us Leap begins with two quarter
notes. Phil would sometimes accent the second one to make it sound as if it was
the first beat of the bar. He’d repeat the phrase, then change it, then change
it back again. After eight bars of that, half the band had no idea where we were
and we didn’t come in. Next time, just as we were on the verge of abandoning all
hope he led us in with a joke military band intro. After that we all counted the
Phil also had one of those evil smiles.
A man came up to me and said he was a good friend
of Jack Parnell. He spoke about Jack warmly for about half an hour, extolling
his virtues as a musician and as a human being. Finally he declared, ‘As far as
I’m concerned Jack is the most wonderful person on the face of this earth.’
I agreed with him wholeheartedly. I’m aware that
Jack reads this page from time to time.
People are always coming up and talking to me
on this gig. Often they profess to have played with this band and that. As I played
with most of the bands they talk about I know when they are putting it on a bit.
One man told me he was a trumpet player and he used to work alongside Ron Simmonds.
This made me very anxious because I didn’t recognise him, but I didn’t want to
put my foot in it.
I have the same problem with women. When they
come up close, stare in my eyes and murmur, ‘Do you remember me.’ I start looking
for the back door.
Anyway, this guy knew me so well, he almost knew
me better than I did. As we chatted away he poured out a whole series of events,
including recent telephone calls and holidays together. Luckily he seemed to like
me, but I was beginning to wonder whether I led a double life. Soon a clear picture
began to emerge. I was sure we had never met before, but he did go on and on.
Maybe he thought I was the most wonderful person on the face of this earth, too,
but I didn’t push it.
When we parted he asked my name.
‘It isn’t important,’ I said.
At one of the Kenton Reunions an old man came
and sat beside me. He introduced himself, but I didn’t quite catch the name. He
was an American, about ninety years of age, and he knew everything about me.
‘You still playing the Schilke?’
‘Bill Chase model—6A4A mouthpiece?’
‘What else.’ I’m dreaming, I thought. I
bought both trumpet and mouthpiece in the PX in Munich thirty years ago.
‘Still working in Germany?’ Ah! Got
‘Not any more.’
‘But you still go back and play.’ He mentioned
several record titles. He was beginning to frighten me.
‘Are you FBI?’ I was investigated by the FBI when
I went for the job in RIAS, Berlin, when it was run by the State Department.
He laughed, told me a few more details of my personal
life and left. I saw him later on, sitting at a table with Milt Bernhart.
Next day I was talking to Milt and Buddy Childers
and I mentioned the old man. They told me his name was Charles Colin. He used
to have a big music store in New York.
Oh boy! Did I know that name! I’d bought
a book by him, early in my career, that had transformed my entire concept of trumpet
playing. The book contained no scales, no exercises. It was, instead, a psychological
treatise on what should go on in your mind as soon as you pick up the horn. No
meditation necessary, no warming up, no nothing, but once you read the book you
played like a man inspired. I know it works, because when I first read the book
people were saying to me, that very same evening, during the gig, ‘Hey! What happened
So I had a lot to thank Charles for. I told Milt
and Buddy about the book.
They agreed that the book was, indeed, sensational,
but somebody else had written it. Charles only published it.
‘Anyway—how come he knows so much about me?’ They
told me, gravely, that Charles knew everything about everybody. Everything.
Double Half Speed
Listening to Arturo Sandoval the other day reminded
me of a record Bill Russo once played me. It had a colourful, carnival type label
and contained some of the most terrifying Mexican style trumpet section work I
have ever heard.
‘What do you think of it?’ he asked. ‘Listen carefully.’
After a while I thought I noticed something. The
middle E’s sounded different somehow. You know, the one in the top space? Has
a different, distinctive sound? Clark Terry mentioned that Duke always gave that
note to Rex Stewart because he played it a certain way. Here it sounded different.
Bill said they had made the record with the Kenton
trombones, Bob Burgess, Frank Rosolino, Bill Russo and George Roberts, all playing
valve trombones. They’d played at half speed and the engineers had doubled it
up. This isn’t as easy as it sounds as you have to play each note with twice the
value and half the vibrato. Still, it sounded great. The German bandleader Werner
Müller used the same trick on one of his Latin American records, issued under
the pseudonym of Ricardo Sanchez and once very popular in Britain. I’ve heard
it done on some of the Earth, Wind and Fire albums.
The trick has also been done in reverse, with
trumpets playing trombone parts up the octave and played back at half speed. Why
anyone should want to do that beats me. I had to do it only once, years ago, on
a film music session in Berlin and it sounded ghastly. I did my best to forget
about that, then to my horror, I saw the composer on television only the other
A CD of film music made over his entire career
has just been issued. Its contents are being hailed as some of the most important
film music of this century. The CD was reviewed in a likewise manner in most of
the serious newspapers. If that trick number is included I sincerely hope it doesn’t
make its way into any record reviews. If it does, please do me the courtesy
of omitting my name in the line–up.
And if anyone tries to make you listen to it put
some bread in your ear.
Copyright © 2000 Ron Simmonds