VanPort Jazz

Big Band Jazz

Unclear expectations…


Oct 10, 2016 / Tony Adams
In 1972, some high school friends and I had a working Dixieland/Dance band – piano, drums, trumpet, clarinet/sax, trombone and tuba – we were young and didn’t know anything about gigging, so the reed player’s dad, who was a musician from wartime Britain and had stacks of Dixie and dance band combo charts from the 30’s & 40’s, managed us. He did a great job - he found us a gig about once a month, and we made $240 per gig – a nice sum today! We played some odd venues, to be sure, but the most memorable was a nighttime corporate holiday party. We opened with, I believe, King Chanticleer, followed by Basin St. Blues,  St. James Infirmary and a couple of other standards. There was a smattering of applause and some derisive hoots, as the drinks had been flowing before we arrived.
At our first break, a large swarthy man (apparently the owner of the company throwing the party), holding a highball glass in his hand, leaned over the piano to speak with John, our 15-year-old pianist. “We like rock”, he deadpanned. John politely replied that we were a Dixieland band. The man leaned closer to John, nose-to-nose, and repeated “We…like…Rock” in a rather firm tone. John, visibly shaken (and possibly light-headed from the alcohol content of the man’s breath), said “Y-y-yes sir!”, and hastily conferred with Pete, our clarinetist, who called “Spinning Wheel”, the one Blood Sweat and Tears tune we happened to have in our books. The room went wild.
The man approached John again, stuffing two $10 bills in his shirt pocket, and slurred “that’s more like it”.
Quickly we huddled and agreed on a Chicago tune, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” which we had messed with in rehearsal. Again, the crowd began dancing and cheering. Remember, this was an unamplified Dixie band, with a Sousaphone (me) playing bass lines!
Realizing that we needed to quickly become a rock band, we agreed to try “Dih-Dih-Dit” a harmonized rock-beat ditty we made up and sang (but had never played on instruments) for fun while driving around (we were getting desperate by this time). We each took about three choruses of solos to stretch it out. Apparently this was a good decision, because everyone in the place started dancing and “woo-hooing”.
So for the next 2 1/2 hours, we played “Spinning Wheel”, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” and “Dih-Dih-Dit” over and over, and the owner kept passing the tip jar around to his employees.
We left the gig with over $450 and a new appreciation for thinking on one’s feet.