[Dixielandjazz] The Weirdest Gig

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Dec 16 10:24:09 PST 2003

My weirdest gig was as a sideman on "First Night 2000".

The Millennium celebration plans had started very early in 1999. Bands
and events were booked early in the year at higher prices than usual as
this would be the Mother Of All New Year's.

1) Booked a BSJB New Year's Eve gig in March. It got canceled in July as
it seemed that folks had overestimated just how big their celebrations
would be. Got $150 per man cancellation fee.

2) Booked a replacement BSJB gig in August. It got canceled in November,
same reason as above. Got a $200 per man cancellation fee. (Yeah, I was

3) Decided not to work and made plans with wife to Celebrate. Heck, I
had a good chunk of cancellation change.

4) December 27, I get a call from Pete Pepke (our trombonist) that Bruce
McNichol needs help in NYC. He's booked a ton of bands and can't find
enough musicians. Millennium in NYC? What could be more enticing. Take
gig, piss wife off.

5) I head for NYC with Pete, we stop at banjo player's house for dinner.
He drives us to meet tuba player and we proceed. So far, so good, all
experienced Dixieland players.

6) Gig is at Bronx Zoo. Trumpet and Drummer to be supplied by AFM local
802. We knew gig was outside (temp 30 degrees F, (0 centigrade), so
dresses warmly. Find out in performers trailer that we are supposed to
wear Summer weight striped jackets. Are you kidding????? We don't need
no stinkin summer jackets.

7) Drummer shows up. He is dressed as "The Deerslayer" in black fringed
jacket and pants, long sideburns, jet black hair.
Chat with him and find out he just returned from a US Tour with an Elvis
Presley impersonator. What is Dixieland he asks? He cannot fit into
stripped jacket so we bag that idea. Thank goodness. In trying to do so,
he slips and rips fringed pants from knee to crotch on sharp table edge
in trailer. Lovely female assistant pins him together with safety pins.

8) Trumpet show up. Tall skinny kid, goatee beard, sunglasses (yes it is
night) and beret. Looks like young Mitch Miller and has long haired,
anorexic female who looks like Vampira on his arm. Both in Long
overcoats. Never played Dixieland, he says, but knows all bop tunes.

Well, to make a long story shorter, the rest of us are rolling eyeballs
and cracking up at prospect of working with Dizzy and Elvis, however we
realize that we have the guts of the band in good hands. We set up by
the Seal Pond. Seals are confused as there are miniature lights in all
the trees and Zoo, (very large) is lit up like fairy land and it is
their sleep time.

We start to play, Seals start to honk, swim around and give Elvis the
big eye. He press rolls wonderfully. Trumpet has amazingly good ears and
if Trombone or Clarinet takes first in chorus, he can manage the chords
from then on. (Dixieland is fairly easy music) When we do "Indiana" I
tell him: "Play Donna Lee". He's hip. And once he gets Bill Bailey
Chords down, we play all the familiar Dixieland tunes that have BB
chords and just tell him the key.

Folks love it. Primary audience is Black and Hispanic families and so
they are a bit bemused, but get into the swing of things as we play
stuff from the Condon Book. Our blues tunes get solid response. High
School Marching band comes by to listen and we ogle the twirlers, who
twirl to Bourbon Street Parade. Then we move towards the Ape House.

Our guide gets lost and we have a hell of a time finding the apes.
Finally get there. Apes do not like loud music at 10 PM so we move on
the the Elephants and Tapirs who love it.

Anyhow, the night was over at 11:00 PM. We left quickly and even managed
to see some of the fireworks from the harbor on the way home. They were
also being shown on a 40 by 20 foot screen in the zoo which is why the
night entertainment there ended early.

Elvis and Dizzy did OK. We still laugh about that night. The money was
good, but the experience was "Priceless"

Steve Barbone

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