When I think back over past decades, the memories that stand out are the ones that are very special, but in very different ways. After graduating from college, I played trombone in night clubs over a period of time that was mostly routine. But there are a few instances that I remember that became magical. There is something that happens that lifts the musical experience to another level, another dimension. These moments don’t happen very often, so when they do, it is best to enjoy them to the fullest because it may be a while before another one happens.
Most of my playing days were in the sixties. I was young, callow and malleable. Everything was new. Even the old acts like Nelson Eddy, famous for his operatic style and parts in movies where he played the singing Canadian Mountie. His voice was still great, but his sight was terrible, and he would not go on stage with his thick glasses. So he always had his singing partner, Gail Sherwood, a soprano, point him to the microphone, tell him about how far to walk, and then give him a gentle shove during the play-on music. After that the magic began.
Vaughan Monroe was distinctive because of his voice and his personality. My music stand onstage was on the end and near a dinner table. One night in the middle of the week someone at that table reached up and took the top chart from my stand, “Racing With the Moon” which was his theme song. He became very upset with me because it was difficult to replace a handwritten copy in those days, before computer generated parts. Now you can just email another part and print it out. Since I had the part memorized by then he calmed down. Both memorable and historical.
While playing a concert with James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul,” I turned to another trombone player and remarked how fantastic this music was. He looked at me and said, “I hate this crap.” I was shocked and confused because he was African American, but I wisely said nothing further. James went way beyond magical into another dimension. After each concert the conductor would say, “Grab your music and your horn and get out quickly, the fans will be rushing the stage.” And they did…
The first time I played the Kim Sisters, three Korean girls, I knew that they would be very special. The stage was covered with instruments that they all played in their act. Brass and stringed instruments, guitars, kotos, and many more, besides their vocals. It was the first time I heard the song “Try To Remember,” and I have loved it ever since. Every show they did was enchanting. I couldn’t wait for the next one, and was very sorry to see them leave at the end of the week.
Other memorable gigs were: A four hour job at the Dayton Country Club playing lead trombone with the Woody Herman Band. The other player had left the band suddenly, so I got a call to fill in. Absolutely magical. Also at the Dayton Country Club I was playing with the Warren Covington (trombone player) Band. The guests had been golfing all day and were ready for drinks and fun. The highlight of the evening was singing by Jimmy Durante and Ray Bolger. After singing some standards, they started ad libbing. Songs and schtick from their old vaudeville acts. Both just messing around and having fun with themselves and the audience. And the band following along seamlessly, not knowing what would be coming next. Truly magical & historical & mind-blowing, all at the same time.
Riverfront stadium in Cincinnati, playing Gladys Knight and the Pips was another memorable evening. Part of the memory is of the echo in the stadium, especially of the drums. It took heavy concentration to consistently distinguish the original beats from the echoes. And, lastly, playing Sonny and Cher in Cincinnati Gardens with David Paich conducting. It was one of the concerts with Cher wearing the large Indian feather bonnet, (and not much else). I had to be very careful because trombone players are very easily distracted by the unusual. And these are just a few of the many acts that I played.
It is worth repeating that you must first realize that these are truly magical moments when they are happening, and then enjoy them to the fullest because they are so very rare. So, until the next one happens to any of us, take the time to listen to the great Burt Bacharach/Hal David song “Magic Moments” for inspiration. Then maybe some magic memories will “bubble up” into your consciousness and you will be able to savor those moments. Make it happen…!