[Dixielandjazz] Getting into OKOM

Allan Brown allanbrown at dsl.pipex.com
Wed Nov 4 01:36:39 PST 2009

Great story! Keep them rolling in, they're priceless. As a beginner  
clarinetist, despite just turning 41 the other day,  I appreciate  
tales like this. It gives me hope that one day I too will be able to  
move my fingers like you and Bill Page - and have something musical  
coming out the end!

All the best,


On 4 Nov 2009, at 16:11, J. D. Bryce wrote:

> To All:
>    I've been following the thread about how guys got into OKOM. I  
> particularly enjoyed Rick Knittel's story.  I knew Rick when he  
> played in New Jersey.  So I thought I'd put in my twenty-five cents  
> on how I got into OKOM.  The post is a bit long, but it is all true.
> I had been listening to and loving trad jazz since watching the  
> Lawrence Welk show in the mid-1950s, which was on Saturday nights  
> from nine to ten.  My father had been a bandleader and he loved that  
> band.  He said what they played was corny, but the musicianship was  
> excellent.  Each week at about 9:40, they pulled guys from the band  
> and formed a dixieland unit they called the "Hotsy-Totsy Boys."  I  
> remember that Bill Page was their clarinetist.  I used to love to  
> watch that guy's fingers move on the clarinet.  I had just started  
> on clarinet with my father as a teacher. Man, but I wanted to play  
> like Page. Later, Welk got Pete Fountain and I loved his playing.
> In high school I played with a rock & Roll band; mostly doing boogie- 
> type blues in the keys of E, A and B; as well as the doowop  
> turnaround C, Am, Dm, G7.  I did some improvising, but it was all  
> simple.  During all this time, I was buying and listening to  
> Fountain, the Dukes, Clarence Hutchenrider, the Dixie Rebels etc.  I  
> listened, but never played the music.
> In 1957, I started taking clarinet lessons form Charlie Frazier.  He  
> had played with Jimmy Dorsey during Dorsey's glory years. He also  
> played with and respected my father. Charlie emphasized scales and  
> chord exercises. I learned them all, but never understood how they  
> applied to improvising. But I learned 'em.
> In 1967, I graduated college, started teaching Social Studies, got  
> married and moved to Morris County, New Jersey. About this time,  
> across the courtyard from our apartment, I kept hearing a piano  
> being played.  Eventually, I went over to meet the player.  Hs name  
> was Umberto Petrucci.  He was half Italian and half German.  He  
> spoke English with a thick German/Italian accent.  We went out  
> together and played a few jobs.  I generally played alto with him  
> and a bit of clarinet.  My association with him served to introduce  
> me to the music scene in Morris County.
> In April of 1968, Umberto mentioned a place called the "Copa Capri"  
> that had live entertainment.  It was on Route 10 in Ledgewood.  It  
> had a large oval bar, behind which was an elevated stage with a  
> spinet piano on it.  We saw an older woman playing piano, a younger  
> woman playing upright bass, and singing, and a younger guy playing a  
> cocktail drum and singing.  It turned out that the older woman was  
> the drummer's mother.   The drummer was introduced to me as "Chris  
> Scott," but I later found out his name was George Berry.  His mother  
> was Mona Berry and the bass player was Ann Wiehl.  They weren't bad.
>            We went back there a few times and I sat in with the  
> band.  They liked my playing, and had begun to talk to me about  
> playing there steady for the summer.  Unfortunately, George, who  
> owned the bar, was overextended there and the place closed in June,  
> 1968.
>            During my time sitting in at the Copa, I became  
> acquainted with some guys in a  dixieland band led by a trumpeter  
> named Tom Fox, who was to become my closest friend.  The clarinet/  
> tenor sax player was George DeWitt, and the pianist was Doug  
> McDonald whom I had seen at the Copa.  On drums they had Don  
> (Swannie) Swanson, and on trombone, there was a guy called Judd  
> Pecek.  I liked these guys a lot and went to see them as frequently  
> as I could.
> In July, I called George Berry (Chris Scott) and asked him if he was  
> willing to work with me.  He said he was and even had a keyboard  
> (Hammond organ) man that we could use.  I spent the next month  
> looking for a spot.  Finally in early late July, I started calling  
> bars from out of the yellow pages.  I'd call and say, "Someone told  
> me that you're looking for a band."  For the most part, they'd say  
> they weren't.  But on one call, I got a bite!  It was a place called  
> "The Stockman's" on Route 46 in Rockaway.
> I went up to see the owner, who didn't even ask to hear us, but said  
> that we could start in two weeks, which was the notice he was giving  
> his current band.  I named my new band, the "Nite Lites." We were to  
> be paid $25 per man.  We started in mid-August, 1968 and played  
> there until late February, 1969.  We played a mixture of pop, top  
> forty, bossa nova and swing standards.  The organist was an older  
> guy named Jack Cook.  He also played vibraphone.  I played alto and  
> tenor.  George sang, (he was very good) and played cocktail drum.  I  
> also played two songs on clarinet: the Swinging Shepherd Blues and  
> Stranger on the Shore.  That was all on clarinet.  I always had the  
> clarinet on the stand, but only very occasionally used it.
> By October, other musicians were stopping in and sitting in.  It was  
> a lot of fun, for me.  I was becoming known in the area, and the  
> musicians seemed to like what I was playing.  We generally finished  
> at one in the morning and I would  rush over to the Fireside in  
> Denbille to catch Tom's last set with his dixie band.  I became very  
> friendly with those guys.
> In February 1969, Stockman's asked us if we would play on a Sunday  
> afternoon for a Wild Game Buffet.  They were going to serve elk,  
> deer, Canadian goose, duck, pheasant and wild turkey.
> That day, we were playing our first set, when in walked Tommy Fox  
> and his dixieland band!  Naturally, we asked them to sit in. They  
> did.  Mac pushed a spinet piano over from the corner and George  
> Berry and Jack Cook vacated the stand.  Don Swanson set up his  
> drums.  I stayed up on the stand, just to maintain a Nite Lites  
> presence there.  I was on tenor.  The dixie band played a tune, I  
> don't remember what it was, but I played a solo, strictly melody.   
> When it was over, Tommy, who was standing next to me, said, "Why  
> don't you play one on clarinet?"
> I was extremely ill at ease about that. Remember, I'd been listening  
> to, and loving dixieland clarinet since the fifties, but I had  
> never, ever attempted to play it.  I told him I had never played  
> dixieland clarinet, that I didn't know how.
> He said, "Go ahead, try it.   What do you have to lose?"
> I said, "Please, Tom, I don't know how.  I don't know what to play.   
> I've never done it!"
> He picked up my clarinet, handed it to me and said, "Play it!"
> Then he turned to George DeWitt and said, "George, play tenor."   
> George shrugged and picked up his tenor sax.   So, with trepidation,  
> I asked "What are we going to do?"
> He said "Indiana, in F."  And so they were off, with me on clarinet.
> To my utter amazement, my clarinet began to play dixieland!.  It was  
> as if there was somebody else playing it.  I remember looking out  
> over the horn as I was playing with the ensemble, watching my  
> fingers move, and thinking that they looked just like Bill Page's  
> did on the Welk show so many years before.  All of the things I had  
> been listening to all those years, were suddenly coming out of my  
> clarinet!  I couldn't believe it.  I really couldn't.  I took a solo  
> and then we played the hell out of the out-chorus.  When we finished  
> the audience was roaring.  I was in a daze.  I just stood there,  
> looking at the clarinet in my hands.  Tommy, nudged me and said, "I  
> thought you said you never played this stuff before?"  Still in a  
> daze I said, "I never did.  I never did before...can we do another?"
> And so we did.  I played the rest of the afternoon on clarinet.  It  
> was the most wonderful afternoon I had every experienced.  Truly a  
> life-changing epiphany for me.  I could play dixieland!  It was all  
> I'd ever wanted and I've been doing it ever since.
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