Jazz Professional               

Handshakes All Round

By Ron Simmonds

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 impressed.

‘What is it you want? Concerto for Trumpet?’ I said.

‘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 bars, grimly.

Phil also had one of those evil smiles.

Old Friends

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?’

‘Er—yes. Right!’

‘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 you there!

‘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 to you?’

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 day.

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