Ragtime’s lusty successor had finally completed it’s evolution from “jass” to “jasz” and, in the New York Times of February 2, 1917, we find the first appearance of word spelled “jazz”. Nick LaRocca avers that the word “jass” was changed because children, as well as a few impish adults, could not resist the temptation to obliterate the letter “j” from their posters
Garvin Bushell said that Mamie Smith’s trumpet player Johnny Dunn was the first to use a plumber’s rubber plunger as a mute. Plungers are made in two sizes, for sinks and toilets. They happened to have just right diameters for trumpet and trombone bells. After Bubber Miles and Joe Nanton used plungers on recording with Duke Ellington, arrangers began to write for plungers and they became a standard mute.
While on staff at ABC, trombonist Charlie Small was given something to play that requires a plunger, and he didn’t have one with him. He ran out to a midtown hardware store and asked for a large regulation toilet plunger. When the man laid that one on the counter, Charlie told him, “I don’t need the stick”. Charlie said that the puzzled expression in the man’s face was rapidly replaced by one of sheer disgust.
“And to this day, when I go into that store, that man walks away and has a different clerk wait on me.”
At a Rahway, New Jersey, public school, a mature group of jazz musicians were demonstrating their skills to the assembled students in the music department. The teacher wanted to impress on his pupils the fact that the music was all improvised, and no one was reading music. He said to them, “Now, what is that we have in our orchestra that none of these musicians has?” One of the kids offered, “Hair?”
Jimmy Giuffre brought his trio to New York in 1957, His group included guitarist Jim Hall and Chicago bassist Jim Atlas, a replacement for Ralph Pena, who stayed in California. In New York, Giuffre discovered that Bob Brookmeyer was available. He wanted to add him to the group, but he had bookings for a trio and couldn’t afford a fourth musician. He decided to eliminate the string mass and let Jim Hall cover the bass notes on the guitar. He told Jim Atlas on his decision and sent him home.
Atlas hadn’t been paying much attention to national and world news so he was unaware of latest missile developments at Cape Canaveral. His dismay was understandable when he got off the train in Chicago and saw the morning paper’s banner headline: “ATLAS FIRED.”
Cuba Austin described some technical problems on a date at Victor with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers in 1928:
We had a lot of trouble with engineers/ In those day everybody took off their shoes and had a pillow under his feet so the thud from beating the rhythm didn’t ruin things. Well, on Milenburg Joys the band was beating a fast rhythm and then, bit by bit, the pillows kept sliding away.
Now the worst of all was Prince Robertson. Don Redman hit on the idea of lashing Prince’s ankles and knees together with a rope to hold him steady. We started another time and things went smoothly ‘til Prince started a solo; then he began to bob up and down with his feet tied together, and finally gave up in the middle of it – looked at Don and said, “Aw, Don, I can’t play tied up like this.” But finally we got by with a good one.
All the problems in the studios were not caused by the equipment. Some musicians found it difficult to transfer their music from the late-night gin-mills to the business world of nine-to-five. Sidney Bechet described the fiasco that occurs when Hugues Panassie came to New York to record some of the jazz greats that he admired. The band included Tommy Ladnier, Mezz Mezzrow, James P. Johnson and Sidney de Paris:
The man were supposed to be there pretty early in the morning. But something had got going the night before and when they showed up in the studio they were really out; they’d been drinking all night. That was a session I wasn’t scheduled to be at, but I heard about it quick enough. Tommy, he showed up dead drunk. James P. Johnson, he just stretched himself on the piano and passed out. Some of the musicianers didn’t know, how many fingers they’ve got in each hand. But they went ahead and recorded somehow. And after it all had been cut, Tommy knew the records weren’t what they could have been and he wanted to say something to appease Panassie, who was sitting in the corner holding his head – something he thinks will fit the occasion. So he pulled himself up and called out “Viva la France” and then fell almost flat on his face.
Eddie Condon was once hired by Ralph Peer of Southern Music Company to deliver Fats Waller, who he had advanced some money, to the recording studio. He wanted him on time with a well-rehearsed band. Condon found Fats at Connie’s Inn and introduced himself:
“Earl Hines told me to look you up”, I explained.
“Ol’ Earl?” Fats said. “Well, that’s fine. How’s ol’ Earl? I’m so glad to hear about him. Sit down and let me get a little gin for you. We’ll have a talk about Earl.”
He was so amiable, so agreeable, so good-natured, that I almost felt ashamed of my mission; but I performed it; I asked Fats about making a record. A recording date? He’d be delighted, he’d be proud; just any time. In four days. Fine. At Liederkranz Hall? Wonderful. At noon? Perfect.
For three days Condon tried to get Waller to get to talk about the music for the session, On the night before date he asked:
“After we get the band together, what shall we play?”
“Why, we’ll play music,” Fats said. “Now, let’s have a little drink and talk about it.”
Things grew faint and finally dark. When I awoke I was lying on the wall cushions at Connie’s Inn, fully dressed. It was half past ten in the morning. On another cushion Fats was curled up, also fully dressed, asleep.
“It’s half past ten!” I croaked. “We’re due at the studio at noon!” Fats sat up, stretched and yawned.
“That’s fine! That’s wonderful! That’s perfect!” he said. “Now let’s see about a band. Look around for some nickels so I can make the telephone go.”
They gathered a cabful of musicians and headed for Liederkranz Hall. In the taxi Waller said,
“Now here is what we are going to play.”
He hummed a simple, basic pattern of rhythm and melody, a blues in a minor key. When we had it memorized he explained what each of us was to do. At ten minutes before twelve we walked into the hall.
After recoring two successful sides with the band, Fats went on to make some piano solos.
“We must have some more of these dates,” the recording executive said. “This is an excellent example of planning and preparation.”
After that the Southern Music company, with careful planning and preparation, brought out the record on the Victor Label with the titles reversed: Harlem Fuss was called The Minor Drag and The Minor Drag was called Harlem Fuss.
Johnny Frigo once played a fancy Jewish wedding at the Palmer House in Chicago, doubling on violin and amplified bass. His bass was plugged in and ready to go, lying on the floor next to Barrett Deem’s drum set. Just before the ceremony of slicing challah, one of the spurs on Barrett’s bass drum slipped its moorings, allowing the whole drum set to roll over against the amplifies bass strings. Johnny said it sounded like a World War Three.
As he reset his drums, Barrett crouched beside his bass drum to adjust the spur. The host announced that the rabbi would now say the traditional prayer over the bread. Barrett didn’ t notice the microphone beside the bass drum as ne muttered directly into it, “Fuck the bread, say a prayer for my drums.”
In a small town on the West Coast a young trombone player was working at an informal night spot with a small combo. He noticed that a couple of unshaven guys at the bar wearing old fishing clothes were laughing at his crude attempt to play Tomme Dorsey’s theme song, I’m Geting Sentimental Over You.
“What’s so funny?” he asked them. “If you think it’s so easy, you come up here and try it!”
One of the guys said, “Okay,” and took the trombone from the surprised young man. “Where do you blow, in here?” he said, and proceeded to play Dorsey’s solo flawlessly. When the young trombonists expressed amazement, the fisherman said,
“Hell, anybody can do that!”
He called to his friend at the bar,
“Hey, Joe, come over and try this!”
The friend walked over, took the trombone, and repeated the performance. He handed the instrument back to the astonished youngster, and two fishermen left the bar talking over possibility of buying one of those things. The poor kid may never have found out, that he had been put on by vacationing Los Angeles studio trombonists Joe Howard and Lloyd Ulyate.
(The story has been attributed to several other pairs of famous trombonists but these seem to have been the original protagonists.)