[Dixielandjazz] Two Strange Gigs
Mon, 12 Aug 2002 21:06:13 -0500
On December 30, 1984 the Philadelphia Zoo held a birthday party for Massa,
the oldest gorilla in captivity. He was 54, and had spent 50 years at the
zoo. I played there with the Brandywine Revival Jazz Band, a busy
Philadelphia-area jazz band in those days. We spent a couple of hours in
the Primate House playing Aba Dabba Honeymoon, Gorilla My Dreams and various
other appropriate music. That night, all of the Philadelphia TV stations
covered Massa's birthday party, but no one mentioned the dixieland band.
During the night, Massa died of a stroke. The next day, in the course of
covering Massa's death, EVERY TV station now mentioned the dixieland band!
In December, 1986 I was living in Salisbury, MD, about 120 miles south of
Philadelphia. A Philadelphia friend called to say that his jazz band had
been hired to play at a ski resort in the Poconos (a mountain resort area in
northeastern Pennsylvania), and would I like to go up there and play with
them. It sounded great to me, and I said I would. The pay was $100 plus a
room, and I could make a long weekend of it if I wished. I couldn't get
away soon enough to do that, but I had visions of snowy vistas in every
direction, and ski bunnies in thick sweaters drinking mint juleps in front
of a stone fireplace.
Reality began intruding when the rest of the band decided to go up early. I
had hoped to go to Philly and catch a ride, but now I had to drive from
Salisbury. On the appointed day I set sail, and drove and drove. I thought
I would never get there. Finally I got up the Pennsylvania Turnpike
Northeast Extension to I-80, went east an exit, and went down a two-lane
Pennsylvania highway. Suddenly I found myself at the venue, right alongside
the road. Instead of snowy ski slopes, I faced icy parking lots, fore and
aft. I skated across with my tuba and went inside.
I found myself in the bar of a roadhouse. The bar patrons were bearded and
wore plaid flannel shirts. Grit crunched underfoot, and there was an
electric skittles machine in one corner of the bar. I went into the dining
room, where I found a stone fireplace and a grand piano (but no ski
bunnies). Incongruously, we had been hired to play for the local U.S.
Marine Corps Reserve unit's successful Toys for Tots campaign. The band
was very good, but our hosts had other things on their minds. We got a glum
reception until the break. The jukebox came on and everyone brightened up.
We started a second set, but were soon told to pack it in for the evening.
The jukebox came on for the rest of the night. I was free to claim my room,
which was across the icy parking lot in a big stone building which looked as
though it had served as a combination auto garage and Masonic hall. Built
into the side of the hill, it was three stories in front and two stories in
back. My room was at a corner of the third floor. The bathroom had a sheet
metal shower stall that dripped: thunk...thunk...thunk..... I had to put a
towel down the deaden the sound.
The room itself had bare stone walls that were very cold. Fortunately, I
had come prepared for a snowstorm en route, and had long underwear and other
clothing to stay warm with. I was just warming up under the covers when the
party ended and our hosts came crashing into their rooms. Oh yes, the walls
were so thin you could hear people changing their minds. Fortunately, the
party had been a good one after our departure, and the Marines were soon
lulled to sleep.
The next morning I came out and loaded my car. I just started laughing, and
drove away. EPILOGUE: In the summer of 1988, my girl friend and I were
returning from sightseeing in North Central Pennsylvania. Our route took us
east on I-80 to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension. I went past
it one exit, turned south, and refused to say why. In a few minutes, I
turned into the parking lot, now ice-free but no more attractive for it.
Sue took the scene in and burst out laughing (she knew the story). We both
laughed like loons for a couple of minutes before I decided we had best get
out of there.
Without a doubt, the Poconos gig marked the largest gap between my
expectations and reality. It was memorable, though.
Round Rock, TX