In 1985 Gene Lees asked me to write something for his Jazzletter about Benny Goodman's tour of Russia in 1962. I had been Benny's bass player on that tour. Gene offered me unlimited space, made helpful suggestions about form and gave me encouragement throughout the writing of the longest piece I'd ever attempted at that time. He later took a lot of flak from some of his readers who felt I shouldn't have been so candid about Goodman, at least so soon after his death. Of course, we also got many compliments. "I devoured it like a Mounds bar," said Dave Frishberg. "Thank God the truth is out," said Margaret Whiting.
Benny's passing took us by surprise. Gene had been expecting to be sued by Goodman as he prepared the article for publication, and made sure I could document what I wrote. The article was ready for the printer when Goodman died. We decided to run it anyway, since it was true. We changed a few verbs to the past tense and left everything else the way I'd written it while he was alive. It was published in several issues of Jazzletter between August and November of 1986.
I want to thank my colleagues on the tour who provided me with their recollections of the experience, especially Turk Van Lake, who let me read and extract data from a manuscript he prepared shortly after the tour was over.
TO RUSSIA WITHOUT LOVE
Benny Goodman was probably the world's best-known jazz musician. The average person thought of him as "The King of Swing," master of both hot jazz and classical music, a statesmanlike bandleader who traveled the world as Musical Ambassador of Good Will for the United States. Among jazz fans he was also known as the first white bandleader to break the color bar when, in the 1930s, he hired Teddy Wilson, Charlie Christian and Lionel Hampton. His bands and his recordings were always first class, and countless musicians found their careers established, or placed on a firmer footing, because Benny hired them.
Insiders in the business know other aspects of his personality. Whenever veterans of Goodman's bands find themselves working together, they tell stories about him, either to marvel once again at his paradoxical nature or to exorcise with laughter the traumatic experience of working for him. Musicians who were with him in 1936 swap similar stories with musicians who worked for him in 1986, the last year of his life.
Because his music was lovely, most musicians expected Goodman to be lovable as well. The stories about him make us laugh because they describe our astonishment at discovering his true nature. They may sound exaggerated to anyone who never dealt directly with the man. Benny apparently did something to insult, offend or bewilder nearly everyone who ever worked for him. He put together some wonderful bands, but he had a reputation for spoiling the fun. During my brief time with him, I watched him completely demoralize an excellent band.
Around April 1962 I got a call from Jay Finegold, Benny's manager:
"Benny's taking a band to Russia for six weeks, with a break-in tour out to the Seattle World's Fair. He'd like you to make it if we can agree on the money. How much would you need?"
This was the first actual job Benny had offered me. About a year earlier Jay had called to say Benny wanted me to come up to Lynn Oliver's rehearsal studio for a couple of hours one afternoon. At the studio I found John Bunch, who had recommended me to Benny, and a couple of young drummers I hadn't met before.
Benny and Jay came in. Benny, tall and reserved, was comfortably dressed in an old cardigan sweater. Jay, half his size, could have been mistaken for an eager-to-please nephew. A tidily dressed, handsome young man, he seemed to be everywhere at once, getting Benny a chair, handing him his clarinet case, making sure we were set up the way Benny wanted.
John introduced us. Benny got out his clarinet, got a reed working and called a tune. The rhythm section fell in behind him and he began to play, smoothly and beautifully, with the effortless control of his instrument that I had always admired. After a couple of choruses he waved us out and called another tune. It went on like that for a while. He'd call an old tune, play a chorus and stop us. Wondering if he were testing us to see if we knew old tunes, I suggested some of the ones I knew, like He's a Gypsy from Poughkeepsie and From the Indies to the Andes in his Undies. Benny gave me a suspicious look, and I decided maybe I didn't know him well enough yet to make jokes.
We played for an hour or so and then Benny said,
"Okay, boys, I guess that's it."
He packed his horn and left. Nobody mentioned any work, so I said goodbye to John and went home. I called Jay a few weeks later and told him I hadn't received a check for the rehearsal.
"Rehearsal?" said Jay. "Oh, no, Bill. That was just a jam session."
I told him I was used to being invited to jam sessions. When somebody calls and tells me to show up somewhere, I assume it's business. I never got paid, so I guess it was a jam session. I wish I had known. I would have taken a chorus.
At the time Jay called about the Russian tour, I had been making $300 a week with Gerry Mulligan whenever he had work for his quartet, and $225 when he booked a job for his big band. Jobs in Europe paid more. I wanted to see Russia but I also wanted a fair salary, and I had no idea what to ask for. Gerry had always given us a fair share of whatever he was making, so I had never felt the need to bargain with him. But everyone who had worked for Benny had told me he would try to pay as little as he could. I asked Jay for $300 a week. He said he'd speak to Benny and get back to me.
Jay called the next day to say that $300 was okay, but Benny would have to have any recordings made on the tour for nothing. I didn't know that such an arrangement violated union rules, so I accepted. Mel Lewis told me later that Benny did the same thing to him, but Mel got more money out of him. My salary turned out to be at the low end of the scale on the band, though I had expected that when I heard the lineup. The band was loaded with talent and experience. Some of the guys made twice as much as I did. Jim Maxwell told me he got $1000 a week, but his was a special case.
Before we left, Jay told some of the higher salaried players that the State Department insisted they take cuts. Joe Wilder had been hired for $600 a week, and would only come down to $550. Reductions were reluctantly agreed to by a few others. When we got to Moscow, these musicians descended on Terry Catherman, a cultural attaché from the U. S. embassy, to ask why the State Department had found it necessary to demand the salary cuts.
"I don't know anything about it," said Terry. "We pay Mr. Goodman a lump sum."
Before I was hired, I had read an article in the New York Times announcing the Russian tour. It said that twelve musicians had already been signed, with one trombonist, at least two trumpeters and a bass player yet to be chosen. It sounded like a very good band: John Bunch on piano, Gene Allen on baritone sax, Jerry Dodgion and Phil Woods on altos, Oliver Nelson and Zoot Sims on tenors, Jimmy Knepper and Willie Dennis on trombones, John Frosk on trumpet, Mel Lewis on drums, Jimmy Raney on guitar. Joya Sherrill was to be the featured vocalist.
The article said that Benny was "expected to perform with his fifteen-piece band, and to conduct Soviet symphony orchestras on the tour." Nat Hentoff was quoted as saying, "The prevailing composition of the band is young and modern. An interesting question is how (Goodman) will adapt his style to this group."
The Times said that some people felt Duke Ellington should have been the first American jazz band to make an official tour of Russia, and that Benny had offered Duke a couple of weeks on the trip as guest soloist, but Duke hadn't accepted. A later Times article quoted Benny as saying he would play "jazz, chamber music and some classical works" but that the prime purpose of the tour was to present "an anthology of American jazz" to the Russians.
Benny tried out several drummers before he finally hired Mel Lewis. John Bunch, who had been helping Benny assemble the band, advised him to hire me as well, since Mel and I had worked well together on Gerry Mulligan's band.
Mel was known as "The Tailor" on Gerry's band. It was a sobriquet he had brought with him from Los Angeles, and I had heard speculation about its origin. Some people thought it meant he "suited" the band well, "custom fitting" his rhythmic patterns to the music, "stitching" the time skillfully together. Actually, Terry Gibbs hung the name on him. "Have you seen him walk? He looks like my tailor."
Mel's appearance was deceptive. A soft, round man with a dreamy expression, he didn't fit the image of the hot jazz drummer that Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich established. But then, neither did Dave Tough or Tiny Kahn.
Rehearsals began on April 14. When I joined the band soon afterward, I discovered a few changes in the lineup that had been announced by the Times. John Bunch played some of the rehearsals, but Teddy Wilson was to make the tour. Tom Newsom had replaced Oliver Nelson after Oliver left to write a movie score. Jim Raney had never actually been hired. He said,
"Jay Finegold called and offered me the magnificent sum of $150 per week. I was so stupefied that I was speechless. When I finally found my voice, I made a counter-offer of $600 a week plus expenses. He considered this to be out of the question. He would call back every few days to make a new offer, but by the time he had come pretty close to my price, I had made other commitments. He asked me to make a few rehearsals until they could find someone. I did make a couple."
Turk Van Lake was the guitarist at the first rehearsal I made. He later told me that Jay hired him from day to day and didn't tell him he was to make the tour until shortly before we left New York.
Turk's Armenian name was Vanig Hovsepian. His father came from a part of Armenia that is now in Turkey, near Lake Van, hence his American name. A small, slender man with jet black hair brushed straight back from a broad forehead, he sat wrapped around his guitar, the point of his chin buried in his shirtfront, his slender fingers manipulating the strings with quick deftness. Turk played acoustic rhythm guitar a la Freddy Green. Since I had been working with Mulligan's pianoless groups for quite a while, the four-man rhythm section format was a big change for me. I enjoyed figuring out the best way to play with it.
The sax section was superb. Gene Allen, a dark, genial man with a deceptively somber mien that wouldn't look out of place in a George Price cartoon, anchored the section with his strong, subtle baritone. There were also a couple of bass clarinet parts in his book, a double that Gene handled well. Tom Newsom was a fine tenor player with a laid-back country boy manner that fitted well with Zoot Sims's carefree style. Phil Woods, strong and definite by nature, played great lead alto and clarinet, and Jerry Dodgion, merry as a chickadee, matched his sound perfectly on third alto and clarinet. They were all good soloists, and Zoot and Phil were in a class by themselves.
The trumpet section wasn't set until half-way through the rehearsal period. Several different trumpeters passed through, including Clark Terry, Jerry Tyre and a Yugoslavian trumpet player Willie Dennis brought down from Berklee School of Music. Clark was offered the tour but didn't want to go. Clark was on staff at NBC. He knew about Benny's influence there, so he decided against a direct refusal. Instead, he got his doctor to give him a letter citing a physical condition that made it inadvisable for him to fly, and successfully avoided being drafted by Benny. Jim Maxwell, Joe Wilder and Joe Newman became the final choices for the open chairs in the trumpet section, and Wayne Andre joined the trombones.
John Frosk and Maxwell were equally powerful players, though John was only half Jimmy's size. Walking together, they looked like a polar bear and cub. They had both played lead for Benny in the past, and could contribute good jazz choruses when called on to do so. Joe Wilder, an ex-marine with a welterweight's physique, also played good lead and was an imaginative soloist with a unique, lovely tone. Joe Newman, though a light and slender man, was a fountain of swinging energy in the section, and his trumpet turned into a blowtorch on his solos.
Dark-eyed, handsome Willie Dennis was a very strong soloist, and Wayne Andre, calm and introspective, had a singing tone and sparkling technique. Jimmy Knepper, a sweet soft-spoken man who seemed to have been molded from Play-Doh by a precocious six-year-old, was a fine lead player and a great soloist.
Jimmy had made only a couple of rehearsals with us when he came down with the mumps. Jay hired substitutes to cover for him -- Jack Satterfield, Eddie Bert, Tyree Glenn and Jim Winter were there at one time or another. Mumps shots were given to members who weren't sure they'd had the disease or shots. Jay would check with Knepper every day to see if he was well enough to come back to work, but when Jimmy got the okay from his doctor and called Jay, he was told, "Forget it. Benny has replaced you." Jim Winter was his replacement.
Like Clark Terry, Jim Maxwell, who was making a good salary at NBC playing the Perry Como show, didn't want to go to Russia with Benny. Their personal relationship had been a long one, and Jim was grateful to Benny for establishing him in the music business. Their families were friendly and Benny seemed fond of Jimmy's son David. Benny told Jim that it was essential that he be his lead man on this tour, and kept raising his salary offer.
When Jim said no to $1000 a week, Benny tried pressure. Jimmy got a call from one of the head men at NBC telling him he could have the time off, and was to go. Then someone from the State Department called, telling him it was his patriotic duty to make the trip. Jimmy said,
"I take care of my patriotic duty by paying my income tax."
The man from State said, "Yes, and we can look into that, too."
When Benny called again, Jim was still reluctant.
"I don't like to leave my family," he said.
"Bring them along," said Benny.
"My wife works, and my daughter has already planned her summer," said Jim.
"Well, bring David along. He can be the band boy. It will be a great experience for him."
David, just out of high school, was eager to go. So Jim, deciding it might be his last chance to do something with his son before sending him off to college, finally agreed to make the tour for $1000 a week, and to bring David along as band boy. At one of the first rehearsals Benny showed David how he wanted the band set up, and Mel showed him how to assemble the drum set.
In Seattle Benny changed his mind. He had a friendly talk with Jimmy, telling him he was getting too old to play lead. He said,
"Why don't you take it easy, play fourth, play a little jazz, and enjoy the trip?"
He divided most of the first trumpet parts between John Frosk and Joe Wilder. Maxwell was surely the most expensive fourth trumpet player Benny ever had.
David Maxwell probably got more out of the trip than any of us. He became so interested in the Soviet Union during the tour that he majored in Russian when he got to college, and went back to study for a year at the University of Moscow. (He is now Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Tufts.) David was never given any specific duties as band boy. Mel usually set up his own drums, and the local stage crews always set up the chairs and stands. But David was helpful and good company, and we were glad to have him along.
In addition to the musicians, the first rehearsals swarmed with ancillaries -- State Department officials, reporters, Benny's staff people, producer George Avakian from RCA Victor, an NBC-TV crew, arrangers with new material, various friends, well-wishers and hangers-out, and Benny's greatest fan, Sol Yaged.
For years Sol had idolized Benny, played like him, dressed like him, stood the way Benny stood, talked the way Benny talked. Someone told me he once even heard Sol call his own wife "Alice." He had made such a study of Benny that he was the natural choice to coach Steve Allen, who portrayed Benny in the Hollywood fantasy, The Benny Goodman Story. Sol came to all our rehearsals and sat there with the happy expression of a kid from a sand-lot team who has been allowed to sit on the Yankee bench.
Eddie Sauter, who first attained fame as the orchestrator for Goodman's band in the 1930s, attended one rehearsal. We played him an old arrangement that he didn't remember writing. We also rehearsed Mission to Moscow, written twenty years earlier by Mel Powell, who took the title from a book by Joseph Davies, former ambassador to Moscow.
Benny had a stack of new arrangements from several of the good writers around New York. Bob Prince had written a number called Meet the Band that introduced us individually and by section, and an Anthology of Jazz medley of tunes identified with Louis Armstrong, Paul Whiteman, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Dave Brubeck and Count Basie. Ralph Burns, Al Cohn, Jimmy Knepper and Joe Lipman had done charts for Joya Sherrill, and there were instrumentals by Bob Brookmeyer, Bobby Bryant, John Bunch, John Carisi, Tadd Dameron, Joe Lipman, Gary McFarland, Oliver Nelson and Tom Newsom.
The only new piece that Benny rejected outright was a Third Stream composition that Gunther Schuller brought in, but a lot of the charts that he accepted didn't make it as far as Russia. What he did use appeared on the concerts less and less as the tour progressed. Benny felt more sure of himself on his older numbers like Bugle Call Rag, Down South Camp Meeting, Bach Goes to Town, etc. At times when the band began to roar on the new charts, he seemed a little overwhelmed. I think he felt threatened by our collective spirit. We knew how this music went better than he did, and I think the realization of this upset him.
We played Benny's older arrangements well, and we liked some of them a lot. None of us had expected not to be playing the arrangements that had made him famous. But the new stuff was challenging and satisfying to us, and at the beginning we were led to believe that the identity of this particular Goodman band would be built on the new material. We had rehearsed it all thoroughly in New York and had it sounding good. When Benny went back into his early book during the tour, many of us were sight reading, and there were parts for only five brass.
One new chart that Benny seemed to like was written by John Carisi. John called it The Bulgar, and Other Balkan Type Inventions. Benny called it "The Vulgar Bulgar." John had structured it like Benny's old hit, Sing, Sing, Sing. He took a Bulgarian folk theme, wrote the first chorus fairly straight, then put in a tom-tom figure over which Benny could play a solo in a minor mode before the full band took it out. Benny played well on The Bulgar, and at the Seattle fair, he called it every night right after the opening theme.
Benny would sometimes have Zoot Sims or Phil Woods play before his long clarinet duet with Mel Lewis's tom-toms. One night in Moscow, when Benny pointed to Phil during The Bulgar, Phil stood up and played an absolutely spectacular solo, filled with singing and dancing and fireworks. It was one of those rare, inspired performances that takes your breath away. When he finished, the whole band joined the audience in a roar of approval.
As Mel continued the tom-tom beat, Benny made several false starts on his own solo. He usually played well on that section, but he was obviously stunned by Phil's solo, and couldn't seem to concentrate. He fumbled through a perfunctory solo, but he probably should have just skipped it and gone straight to the out chorus. Anything else was bound to be an anticlimax.
Benny never gave Phil a chance to do that again. In that spot the next night, Benny called his old arrangement of Bugle Call Rag, and we never played Carisi's chart again. The concerts were being recorded, but The Bulgar wasn't used on Benny's RCA album of the tour.
George Avakian said one of the hardest parts of editing the tapes for that album was having to make do with just one or two takes on the new charts. He didn't want the record to be another reprise of Benny's older material. I think Benny ordered all the new arrangements because he didn't want to be called old-fashioned, but when we got to Russia he began to worry about being too modern for the Russians. He also didn't like to be seen reading the new parts onstage. He had memorized all the older arrangements, and didn't need to look at the music.
At many of the concerts, Soviet jazz fans shouted "Zoot! Pheel!" They wanted more solos by the two saxophonists. On the album, on Tom Newsom's Titter Pipes, these cries can be heard. George Avakian told me he had trouble getting a clearly audible example of the real thing on tape, so the voices heard yelling "Zoot! Pheel!" on the record belong to George and Carl Schindler, the recording engineer.
Our morale was high during the rehearsals in New York. We knew we had a good band and we were proud to be taking it to Russia. The cold war seemed to be thawing into peaceful co-existence, and everyone considered the Russians' acceptance of our tour to be a sign that Soviet-American relations were improving.
We appeared on The Bell Telephone Hour on April 27, before the trumpet section was set. Doc Severinsen and Clark Terry filled in the gaps. We played Let's Dance, Mission to Moscow, Clarinet Ala King, a quartet number, and we accompanied Anna Moffo, who sang Embraceable You and `Swonderful. Sol Yaged came to the TV studio to watch. Actually, Benny was preoccupied that day and didn't play as well as he'd been playing at the rehearsals, but as I was packing up my bass, Sol came over and said with stars in his eyes, "You sure can see why they call him the King!"
Besides the daily rehearsals, we had a lot to do to get ready for the trip. Benny sent us to Alexander Shields's chic Park Avenue men's boutique to be measured for band uniforms. Then we got security clearances, passports, and briefings from the State Department. Heath Bowman and Tom Tuck, of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, spent an afternoon giving us an idea of what we might expect in the Soviet Union, and they brought a doctor to one of the rehearsals to administer smallpox, tetanus and typhus shots.
The Ukranian Dance Company was in New York as part of the cultural exchange. We had a special rehearsal in the Grand Ballroom of the Essex House, and the dancers were brought there to meet us. A few of them jitterbugged discreetly for the benefit of the press photographers.
Just before the tour began, we discovered that Benny's secretary, Muriel Zuckerman, planned to pay us at the end of each week in Russia by check. Most of us had families and would have no way of cashing checks in Russia or of sending money home. Muriel, a flinty little lady long associated with Benny, seemed to find our objections to her plan unreasonable. We raised hell, the State Department interceded, and Muriel found she was able to arrange to have advances sent to the families of those of us who requested it.
Benny contacted Clifton Daniel, then head of the Moscow Bureau of the New York Times, to ask for any suggestions he might have for cementing relations with the Russians, and cultivating their interest in jazz. Daniel told him that jazz records were hard to get in Russia. He said that if Benny wanted to send him some albums, he would see that they were placed somewhere in a library or a cultural center where the Russian people would have access to them. Benny agreed that this was a good idea and sent a box of records for Daniel to put into the proper hands. To Daniel's surprise, Benny also sent a bill for the records, which the Times eventually paid.
My feelings toward Benny during the rehearsal period were very positive. He was a little patronizing and would get on different guys about inconsequential things -- he kept trying to get Joe Newman to sit up straighter -- but I loved the band, and Benny was responsible for having put it together. I was looking forward to being in on some good music.
Our first job out of New York was a college dance at the University of Illinois on May 18, and then we flew to St. Louis for a concert at the Keel Auditorium on May 19. At the hotel in St. Louis I got a call from Benny an hour before the concert:
"Say, Pops, did you get a chance to look at your part on the Aaron Copland duet I gave you last week?"
I said, "I looked at it, but we never rehearsed it."
"Oh, there's nothing to it, Pops. We'll try it out tonight."
My heart sank. My part was all bowed half notes in the upper register of the string bass. Knowing Copland's love of dissonant intervals, I was worried. I had no idea how my part related to the clarinet part, which I'd never heard, and I was not thrilled about sight reading it in front of a couple of thousand people. I asked Benny to wait a day so we could rehearse together. He said something noncommittal and hung up.
Sure enough, after the second number on the concert that night he announced the damned thing, and I suffered through it, feeling trapped and furious. Benny of course had his part memorized. I comforted myself by saying, "Well, at least now I know what it is." I woodshedded my part, but Benny never played it again while I was with the band.
After St. Louis, we flew to San Francisco, with a stop at the Los Angeles airport to pick up vibraphonist Victor Feldman, whom Benny had added for the septet numbers. At the San Francisco Opera House concert on May 20, Count Basie came backstage to say hello. We were pleased when he told us he liked our rhythm section.
In San Francisco, Joe Newman, my roommate on the tour, took me to the home of his brother, Alvin, for dinner. Joe said his sister-in-law, Lillian, was famous for her cooking. He had once taken several of the Basie band's champion eaters to her table and she had surfeited them with ease.
When we walked into her pleasant living room, Lillian, a large, handsome lady, was sitting on the couch with a slippered foot propped up on the coffee table.
"Oh, Joe," she wailed, "You brought somebody when I'm having trouble with my foot, and can't do for you properly! You'll just have to take pot luck this time! I haven't felt up to cooking today. All I've got is leftovers!"
What she had "left over" turned out to be half a ham, a pot roast, two kinds of potatoes, beans, greens, vegetables, salad, corn bread, and assorted side dishes that made it look like she had been cooking for a week. Alvin came home, and we all sat down at the table. Joe and Alvin are both small men, but Joe always looked trimmed to the bone, with a wiry energy that came bursting out in his laughter and in his music. His brother was calm and sleek and ate like a man twice his size.
After we had laid waste to the meal, Lillian cheered up a little and made us promise to return when she was feeling better, so she could fix us something more substantial.
"Now, you come back any time you're in town," she told me. "You don't have to be with Joe. Just jump in a cab and come right on out."
We opened in Seattle on May 21, and enjoyed being at the fair. I was especially happy to be playing in my home state. I grew up in Kirkland, across Lake Washington from Seattle. A lot of my old friends came to look me up. The band's schedule wasn't heavy, so I had time to explore the fair and the city, which I hadn't visited for years. Some of the guys in the band bought a giant World's Fair souvenir post card and sent it to Jim and Andy's bar in New York, covered with signatures and wisecracks. We were having a good time together, but the concerts were beginning to be hard work.
Benny had become the bandleader I'd heard all the stories about. He stayed at a different hotel than the rest of us; we only saw him on the job. His manner became severe -- the hard taskmaster. He began fixing things that weren't broken in the music, changing tempos, changing soloists, glaring and snapping at us. Though our ages ranged from 29 to 49, he addressed us as "boys," and Joya was "the girl." His general demeanor indicated that he thought he was, by virtue of his position of stardom, wealth and power, innately superior to us mere mortals.
It's easy to understand how a person might begin to think too highly of himself when he is at the peak of popular success. Having thousands of fans cheering every note you play and clamoring for a look at you wherever you go can easily inflate your ego. But it was a long time since Benny had been the superstar he was in the `30s and `40s. In 1962 he held a respected position in the music world, but he'd had time to outgrow any delusions of grandeur he might have contracted from the mass teenage adulation of the Swing Era. The band didn't subscribe to Benny's special view of himself. We gave him credit for his achievements and respected his musicianship, but we also respected our own. We wanted to be treated as adults and professionals.
Benny wanted separate hotels in Russia, too, and when Intourist told him this was not possible, he insisted on at least staying on a different floor that the rest of us. In the dining rooms he and his family always ate at a separate table. This didn't bother us, since Benny wasn't much of a conversationalist, and he was an untidy eater. But we came down to lunch one day at our hotel in Kiev to find we had been moved to his table for one meal for the benefit of a movie crew he had hired to do some filming for him; we were supposed to pretend to be one big happy family, with Benny in the role of the benevolent father.
In Seattle, Benny began fiddling with Joya's numbers. He had Bob Prince fly out from New York and write two new charts for her. We used one of them for only two performances. Benny never even had the parts copied out for the other one. He asked Joya if she knew the lyrics to any of the vocal arrangements in his old book. Those charts featured the band, with one vocal chorus.
Joya stopped that idea dead in its tracks:
"Mr. Goodman, I have my music, and those are the songs I am going to sing. I was hired as the featured vocalist on this tour. I am not the band singer."
That was the beginning of a decided coolness between Benny and Joya. By the end of the week in Seattle, she, Teddy Wilson, Jimmy Maxwell and a couple of others were talking about quitting. Mel Lewis told them,
"You guys don't understand the Old Man. I get along great with him. He plays his axe, I play my axe, we both do a good job and everything's fine with him. Everybody misunderstands him."
Jimmy Maxwell laughed. "You tell me that the last week in Moscow," he said.
The State Department had moved mountains to get Moscow to approve Benny's tour and didn't want to give the Russians any reason to have second thoughts about it. They prevailed on the dissidents not to leave.
Benny wasn't in good contact with us, nor with our audiences. He didn't seem comfortable with the crowds that came to hear us, and he did things that confused them. Sometimes after raising his hand in preparation for a downbeat, and getting the band set to play, instruments ready, embouchures set, breaths taken, he would stand there for a long time with his forefinger in the air and his eyes half closed, waiting. He might have been thinking about the tempo, but who could tell? I timed him once. It was a forty second wait! That's a lot of dead time on stage. The audience would grow restless, and then there would be shushing by those who thought Benny was waiting for total silence. He would sometimes end these long pauses with a little start, as if he had just awakened from a nap, and then he would tap off the tempo.
On one concert, as Benny was about to start a tune, he noticed that I was chewing gum. He walked over and told me to get rid of it. I stopped chewing and indicated that I was ready to play. He wasn't satisfied.
"That's okay, Pops, I'll wait for you," he said.
I didn't want to stick the gum on my music stand, and I wasn't about to make a trip offstage, so I swallowed it and made a face at him, and he went on with the program. His fastidiousness about the gum amused me, since he often hawked and spat right on the stage, and would sometimes stand in front of the band absently exploring the depths of a nostril or the rear seam of his trousers with his forefinger. Mel Lewis would sometimes make oinking noises when Benny did these things. One of Jay Finegold's customary concerns before concerts was to make sure Benny didn't walk onstage with his fly open.
John Frosk had been on Benny's tour of the Far East, and had taken movies of him picking his nose and scratching his behind while entertaining the King of Siam. When NBC was preparing a television special on that tour, John mentioned to one of the producers that he had some film. A motorcycle messenger was sent to his house to pick it up. The producer of the special called John the next day and said, "Are you crazy? We can't use any of that stuff!"
In Seattle, Benny kept bugging the trumpet section. He would move the lead part from one player to another without giving any reason. He'd take a solo away from one player and give it to another in a quite discourteous manner. He'd wait until Joe Wilder was on his feet ready to play the solo indicated on his part, then would wave him down and point to Joe Newman.
Benny had a reputation as a perfectionist, but I don't remember him giving us any useful suggestions for improving the music. Everyone was on their mettle to play their best, but we never knew what Benny's standards were. If he was displeased, we found out by having a solo, a part, or an entire arrangement taken away, but he rarely said what it was he hadn't liked, or what he wanted instead.
Benny never acknowledged us as musical colleagues. He would be friendly from time to time, but he always found it necessary to remind us that we were the hired help. He deserves a lot of credit for taking John Hammond's advice in the `30s and integrating his band at a time when white bands were lily-white. But after working for him, I give him no credit for being a libertarian. He treated everyone like slaves, regardless of race, creed, or national origin.
With such a good band, we couldn't understand why Benny didn't just let us play, and take his solos and his bows. If he had done that, the tour would have been a piece of cake for him. Instead, he seemed to be always on his guard against us, as if we had been shanghaied and had to be watched for signs of mutiny. He rarely indicated his appreciation of the band's quality, and he seemed to resent the best work of most of his soloists. He approved of Zoot and Joe Newman, and that was it.
By the end of the tour, most of us felt betrayed and outraged, and Benny had a couple of cases of serious rancor on his hands. Even so, we played a lot of good music. Jerry Dodgion said later,
"No matter what went down with Benny, I had the best seat in the house, right between Zoot and Phil. I was in heaven."
We were proud of that band and we couldn't understand why Benny didn't seem to feel that way, too.
We had originally been told we would fly to Moscow from Seattle via the polar route, but in Seattle, Jay told us we were going back to New York first. We flew east on May 27th and stopped again in Chicago where Benny had a short visit with his mother at the airport. There was some speculation that Benny had changed the routing just to be able to see her again. But in New York we found John Bunch and Jimmy Knepper waiting at the airport to join us. Benny had decided that Teddy Wilson didn't play "modern" enough for the band and had hired John, planning to use Teddy only on the quintet and septet numbers.
John didn't really want to go to Russia. Charlie Mastropaolo, who had been there with Ed Sullivan, had told him,
"It's the awfullest goddamned place I've ever been. If Benny wants you to go, be sure to ask for a lot of money."
When Benny called him from Seattle, John named a good figure, and Benny stayed on the phone for half an hour, haggling over fifty bucks.
The guys from the State Department were pulling their hair out because of the last minute clearances they had to get for John and Jimmy Knepper. When Knepper had been bumped off the band, he had mentioned his disappointment to a lawyer friend. The lawyer evidently had called Benny in Seattle and told him he was liable for Jimmy's salary. At any rate, Jim got a call from Seattle telling him to meet us at Idlewild. Jim Winter disappeared from the trombone section, and Jimmy Knepper flew to Russia with us.
We had some time between flights when we arrived at Idlewild, but not enough to go anywhere. Everyone made phone calls to say last goodbyes to family and friends. In a private airport lounge, a delegation of officials from Local 802 gave us a farewell party with music provided by Bobby Hackett's band.
A representative from the Selmer company brought new saxophones to the airport for Tom Newsom and Gene Allen to use while we were in Russia. Benny wanted the sax section to be playing new Selmers, and had already prevailed on Zoot Sims to not bring his favorite tenor, an old horn that sounded great but looked very ratty, the lacquer having long ago peeled away leaving irregular blotches of corrosion and tarnish. Zoot had walked into a music store on 48th Street in New York, pointed to a new Selmer and said,
"Gimme that one."
He bought it without even trying it out. He didn't like it as well as his old favorite, to which he returned when the tour was over. The new one was stolen the following New Years Eve when he left it in his car in front of Jim and Andy's bar.
Jerry Dodgion already had a new Selmer alto that he had acquired while working with Benny some time earlier. Jerry had always played a King saxophone, but Benny asked him to switch to a Selmer because they were about to play for a Selmer convention. "I'm a shareholder in the company," he told Jerry, "and it wouldn't look right."
Unlike many other musical instrument companies, Selmer has never provided complimentary instruments to the artists who play them. They do sometimes offer horns on trial, with the understanding that when the artist finds one he likes, he'll buy it. Selmer sent Jerry an alto in time for the convention. Jerry was happy with his old horn, and since he was only using the Selmer in deference to Benny, he kept ignoring the bills that periodically arrived from Selmer. He finally sent them his old alto, and the bills stopped coming.
The arrival of the new instruments at Idlewild created the problem of what to do with the old ones. Gene Allen and Tommy Newsom decided to take them along. If there were any mishaps, a spare horn might come in handy. The Selmer representative had also brought a reed instrument repair kit. We were going to be a long way from the repairmen on 48th Street.
The trip from Seattle to Moscow, including the stopover at Idlewild, took about 24 hours. As we left New York we had quite a planeful. There was Benny, his wife Alice, their daughters, Rachel and Benjy, Sophia Duckworth (Alice's daughter), eighteen musicians, Joya Sherrill, Jay Finegold, Muriel Zuckerman, Hal Davis (Benny's public relations man), David Maxwell, an NBC television crew, reporters, photographers and State Department people. Stan Wayman, the famous Life photographer, was with us, assigned by the magazine to cover the entire tour. SAS gave us the full celebrity treatment on the flight to Copenhagen. There, we changed to a more austere Aeroflot jet and flew on to Moscow.
Jazz writer Leonard Feather wasn't on our plane, but he turned up at our hotel in Moscow. When he learned of the tour, Leonard said,
"My reaction was immediate. `I want to be there when the band starts playing.'" He booked a trip to Russia on his own, having lined up just enough magazine assignments to cover his fare. When he arrived at Moscow airport, the Intourist people couldn't or wouldn't tell him our itinerary, yet he was required to declare his own travel schedule. He knew the date we opened in Moscow, so he booked a week there and a second week in Leningrad, the artistic center of the Soviet Union, where he guessed they might send us next. Unfortunately, we traveled south and east for a few weeks before going to Leningrad, so we didn't see Leonard after we left Moscow. He went to Leningrad without us and investigated the local jazz scene there.
In Moscow Leonard found our hotel, interviewed Benny and the band members and covered the opening concert and a party afterwards at the U.S. embassy celebrating the tour and Benny's 53rd birthday.
The United States had been through the McCarthy era and, at the time of the tour, Russia loomed large in the American subconscious. I hadn't shared the general anxiety about the Red Menace, but I was still surprised to realize that the evergreen trees surrounding the Moscow airfield looked just like the trees in my home state. I had been so conscious of Russia as a political entity that I had forgotten it was also a place of trees and grass and birds. And, of course, the people looked just like people. Only the buildings and the clothing looked different, and not any stranger than the differences one sees when traveling from New York to New Orleans.
As we stayed there longer, we began to notice and feel oppressed by the socio-political climate in the Soviet Union, but on a human level, I felt a more immediate empathy with the people I met there than I had felt in some western European countries. John Frosk said that Gene Allen, his roommate, never got over his nervousness about being in a Communist country. He was sure their room was bugged, and would constantly shush John.
"What if it is bugged?" John would say. "We're not saying anything!"
"Ssshh!" Gene would insist.
I had a copy of the Hammond company's Tourist Manual for Russia. It was full of good information and advice. Among their list of do's and don'ts:
Bring plenty of film. Roll types may be scarce.
Use a comfortable pair of shoes, there's plenty of walking.
Bring a sink stopper (universal flat type) seldom available.
Bring your own soap for best washing.
Wash and peel all raw fruit before eating.
Bring special medicines you need, especially for diarrhea.
Have plenty of paper tissues. They are very useful.*
*[Footnote] Russian toilet paper is slick and crinkly. B.C.
Bring in any Soviet currency, it is strictly forbidden.
Take pictures from planes, trains, or of bridges, etc.
Wear shorts or bathing suit in the streets.
Drink tap water in the smaller towns.
Give tips, it may be considered an insult.
Become exhausted or frustrated. Rest up for a while.
Lose your patience. Keep a chipper attitude. Avoid arguments.
I reminded myself of the last two items after every concert, since Benny was even more supercilious with us in Moscow than he had been in Seattle.
Cultural attache Terry Catherman was a handsome, blond all-American boy. In his regular briefings, he described situations we should avoid that might be used to embarrass the United States, and told us horror stories about reporters and diplomats who had been set up by the KGB in order to create scandals for propaganda purposes. He cautioned us not to go anywhere alone with a Russian, but said his gut feeling was that the heat was off for this tour. He didn't think we would experience any unusual harassment, and he was right.
Terry pointed out the guys in the blue suits who stood in front of Moscow's Leningradskaya Hotel, looking like store detectives. He said they would take note of who talked to us and might even follow us around. I walked a lot by myself and never noticed any of them following me, but some of us were followed. In an attempt to forestall any wild behavior, Terry kept stressing our roles as ambassadors representing the United States. I thought it amusing that as an ambassador of western democracy I was a member of the least democratic band I'd ever played with.
The language was difficult, not just because the words were new, but also because of the Cyrillic alphabet that is used in Russia, with different sounds for some of the same letters we use. They use a "C" for the "s" sound and a "B" for the "v" sound, so when they say "Moskva" (Moscow), they write it "MOCKBA." They use "P' for their "r" sound, "H" for their "n" sound, "E" for "ye" and "Y" for "oo." There are other letter symbols, with their own sounds, that were completely new to us. Reading even the simplest sign was difficult. We had to refer to our alphabet charts and slowly sound out each character just to see if it was a Russian word we had heard before. I practiced hard in order to be able to read street signs and the names of subway stations.
We picked up enough Russian phrases by ear to be able to exchange basic courtesies, and we had our handy Berlitz phrase books, but we were heavily dependent on Felix, Gallia and Tamara, the interpreters provided for us. Felix was a tall, thin, neatly dressed, balding man with a small mustache, wire rimmed glasses and a bright wit. Gallia, a neat attractive brunette, remained in the background. Tamara spoke with the voice of authority. Dark, petite and businesslike, she served as our tour guide in Moscow and amused us with her party line interpretations of the paintings at the art museum:
"Here we see the wicked landowner drinking to assuage his guilt... In this painting, notice the steely eyes of the aristocrat and the kind, warm eyes of the peasant woman."
Tamara stayed in Moscow when we hit the road. She was replaced by Nadia, a stocky dishwater blonde with a pleasant smile that revealed a chipped front tooth. Since Felix was mainly assigned to Benny, the two girls had the rest of us to deal with. Sometimes we couldn't find them because Benny would send them on errands.
We became friendly with all three interpreters during the tour, even though Terry told us that their job probably included reporting on us to the secret police. Besides interpreting for us, they explained local customs, helped us avoid gaffes, and generally smoothed our way.
Some of us were more charmed than others with life in the Soviet Union. We all criticized the food we were served and the governmental restrictions we ran into, but I think most of us enjoyed the people we met. Some of us played jam sessions in local restaurants after the concerts, but nothing stayed open late. There were no night clubs or late movies, so there wasn't much to do at night but return to our hotel to read, drink, play cards, and bitch about Benny. After a few weeks, I noticed a psychological exhaustion among us that was probably a combination of the language barrier, homesickness, dysentery, travel weariness and musical frustration.
On arriving in Moscow, we took the large instruments over to the Central Army Sports Club, a grandiose palace with a marble lobby of crystal chandeliers and opulent draperies. Then we were taken to the Leningradskaya Hotel, a monolithic building with a soviet version of art-deco ornamentation. Its lobby was large and a little gloomy, and the rooms were spartan but clean.
I'm an early riser, especially when I'm in a new place. The second day in Moscow, the morning of our first concert, I tiptoed out of our room while Joe Newman was still sleeping, and walked around the city for a couple of hours before breakfast. Benny had called a 10 a.m. rehearsal, and breakfast had been announced as available from 8 to 9 a.m., so I timed my walk to get me back just before nine. As I entered the hotel lobby I met a frantic Jay Finegold.
"I've been looking all over for you! Benny wants to rehearse the quintet at nine. The other guys are just leaving for the hall. You've got to get right over there!"
I told Jay that I hadn't had breakfast, and would get there as quickly as I could. He seemed to feel that I should have gone hungry, but I had been walking briskly for a couple of hours and was famished. I figured it would be a long rehearsal, and the Sports Club was in the middle of a park, far from any coffee shops. Also, I didn't appreciate being notified at 8:45 about a 9 a.m. rehearsal.
I went into the hotel dining room, and there was Benny with a napkin tucked under his chin, having a leisurely breakfast. I ordered some eggs and coffee, and we finished at about the same time. Since he had a car and driver waiting, he told me to ride to the rehearsal with him. As Jay got in front with the driver, Benny climbed in the back seat and sprawled out in a way that left me hardly any room to sit down. He had done the same sort of thing when he sat next to me in the lounge on the plane. He was a tall man and needed a lot of room, but he always managed to take up more than his share of the available space.
Benny had a reputation for taking advantage of his musicians. He appropriated clarinet reeds from his saxophone players, cadged their cigarettes, and when he joined "the boys" for coffee or lunch, he usually stuck them with the tab. He once met drummer Maurice Mark and his wife on the street and invited them to join him in a visit to a New York night club. At the end of the dinner, Benny went to make a phone call and never returned, leaving them with the bill.
He once fired a bass player in New York after their plane had just made a stop in Washington, where the guy lived. And when Helen Ward, rehearsing at his house in Connecticut, complained that the room was cold, Benny said, "You're right," left the room for a minute, and returned wearing a heavy sweater, ready to continue with the rehearsal. I have heard people attribute this sort of thing to his "absentmindedness," but I think the truth is, he just didn't give a damn about anybody but himself.
As we rode to the rehearsal in Moscow, Benny chatted jovially. When we arrived, I got out of the car on the curb side and held the door open for him. He slid over and handed me his clarinet case, which I took, thinking he needed both hands to get out of the car. He stepped by me and walked away, leaving me standing there with his horn. I was supposed to carry it! Not only that, I was clearly not supposed to walk beside him! I stood there in disbelief. He really took that King of Swing thing seriously!
I considered leaving the clarinet on the curb, but I couldn't do that to anybody's instrument. I angrily shoved the case into Jay's hands.
"Who the hell does he think he is?" I fumed. "If he wants a valet, why doesn't he hire one?"
"Don't get excited," Jay placated, " It's just his way."
On the U.S. part of the tour, we had been playing a quintet number on every concert. It was a medley of Avalon, Body and Soul, Rose Room, Stompin' at the Savoy, and either China Boy or The World is Waiting for the Sunrise. We'd play a chorus of each tune and modulate to the next. At the rehearsal in Moscow, Benny got out his clarinet and came on stage where Teddy, Mel, Turk and I had set up.
"Uh, boys, on that medley, I just wanted to be sure we're all using the same chords. Are we all using the same chords there?"
"Where do you mean?" we asked.
"Well, let's just run through it and see," said Benny.
We began with Avalon, and at the end of the chorus Benny stopped us.
"Are we all using the same chords there?" he asked.
We assured him that we were.
"Okay, let's go on," he said, and went into Body and Soul. At the end, same question, same answer. On Rose Room he had Turk play a little by himself.
"That's good," Benny said. "Teddy, just follow the chords Turk is using."
Turk felt embarrassed, since we'd all been following the chords Teddy was using. Benny seemed deliberately insulting when he told Teddy,
"Don't smoke during rehearsals," and a minute after Teddy had put out his cigarette, lit one of his own.
At the end of the medley, played the same way we had always played it, Benny asked again if we were sure we were all using the same chords. We said we were sure.
"Okay, boys, that's all for now."
We still had no idea what had been bothering Benny about the number. All we knew was that we were at the Sports Club an hour before the rest of the band, and there was no coffee within miles of the place. When the rest of the guys arrived, I told John Frosk about the quintet rehearsal. John said,
"He didn't want to rehearse anything. He was just testing out his reed."
Before the concert that night the new band uniforms were unpacked. We had been carefully measured in New York but there hadn't been time for fittings. Some of us were luckier than others. My jacket sleeves were only slightly too long. Nice material, though. Red raw silk.
Jim Maxwell was built like a clan laird, twice as big as any of the rest of us in both height and girth. Someone at Alexander Shields had evidently not believed the figures that were written down when Jim was measured for his uniform. His jacket was okay, but his pants were impossible. He couldn't begin to get them closed. He used some dark trousers of his own for a day or two while his uniform pants were at a local tailor's, having a large piece of material inserted in the back.
The band had to spread out a little on the huge stage at the Sports Club to make room for the forest of microphones that had sprouted up. Since we were being covered by several news services, there were five or six mikes wherever there normally would have been one.
During the second number of the opening concert, Benny came back to play between me and the piano. I noticed he was cozying up to an NBC microphone that I knew wasn't live yet.
"Benny," I whispered, "that's a dead mike."
He raised his eyebrows.
"Don't worry about it, Pops," he said. "This is just for here."
I guess he was referring to the fact that George Avakian and Benny's recording engineer wouldn't begin taping until the following night. But "here" was a house full of five thousand Russians, including Premier Nikita Kruschev and his family.
Joya Sherrill was a sensation in Moscow. Goodman didn't seem too happy about it. On the first concert in Moscow, the audience's response to Joya was thunderous. The Russians had never seen anyone like her. Joya, an elegant, beautiful black woman with graceful bearing and a mellow voice, was stunning in her white strapless gown. The Russians couldn't get enough of her. They especially loved the Gershwin medley Joe Lipman had put together for her.
For a sizzler to bring Joya on, Al Cohn had written a chart combining the tunes Riding High and I'm Shooting High. He gave it a long introduction to allow Joya enough time to walk across the stage to the microphone. There was a strong opening and a wonderful shout figure under her last chorus. Her second number, a Ralph Burns arrangement of The Thrill is Gone, began with a repeated bass figure at a slower tempo. Joya wanted me to start it while the audience was still applauding the opener, so she could begin singing as soon as the crowd got quiet again. In Seattle this routine had been very effective.
On our second concert in Moscow, Benny canceled Joya's opener and had her begin with The Thrill is Gone. He would announce her, let her walk out with no music, take her applause, and then after it was quiet again, he would count off the introduction, leaving Joya with at least four measures to wait before she could begin singing. It gave her a much less effective entrance, but she carried it off professionally and was very well received throughout the tour.
I never heard Benny refer to Joya by her name except when he announced her. She was always "the girl."
"Where's the girl? We'll put the girl on next."
One night Benny told me to play the introduction to The Thrill is Gone as straight eighth notes. It was a shuffle figure Ralph Burns had written to set the feeling for the whole arrangement. It would have sounded ridiculous as straight eighths, so I ignored Benny's instructions. As I started playing, he walked over and stuck his face right into mine.
"Straight eighths!" he yelled.
"NO!" I yelled back, right into his nose.
He snapped his head back and nearly lost his glasses. I wasn't going to play her music wrong just because Benny was jealous of her. Joya, unaware of all this, continued to sing, and I didn't hear any more about straight eighths.
One of Joya's songs was a Jimmy Knepper arrangement of The Man I Love. We couldn't understand why Benny insisted on also playing that song with the septet later in the program. It seemed redundant. There certainly were a million other tunes we could have played instead.
Katyusha was a prewar Russian popular song that Joya had learned in Russian. Benny didn't let her do Katyusha on the first Moscow concert, but even so, Premier Kruschev sent her a note saying her singing was "warm and wonderful." Katyusha was well received when Joya sang it on subsequent concerts.
The only place that song was not welcomed was in Tblisi, where the audience stamped and whistled until Joya stopped singing it. They were Georgians, and didn't want a Russian song. It was as if she had sung Yankee Doodle in Alabama. She skipped Katyusha and went into I'm Beginning to See the Light, with the band making up a head arrangement, and she soon had the Georgians eating out of her hand.
A letter in Izvestia criticized the "cabaret style" with which Joya sang Katyusha, and after that there were always a few in each audience who would whistle their disapproval when she sang it. Inside a bouquet she was given onstage at one concert was a note from a Russian fan praising her rendition of the song and claiming that the whistlers were "hired goons."
From the evidence contained on the RCA Victor album Benny Goodman in Moscow, no one would suspect that Joya had been with us on the tour. Benny specifically instructed George Avakian to omit her material, and told him not to mention her in the liner notes. George urged him to reconsider.
"It's my album," said Benny, "and that's the way I want it."
Toward the end of our stay in Seattle, Muriel Zuckerman had passed out individual contracts that she wanted us to sign. Most of us had thrown them into our suitcases and hadn't read them carefully until we got to Moscow. When we did, we were appalled. The first page of each contract was a standard specification of wages and weeks of employment. But the next several pages looked like army regulations.
There were restrictions on our deportment, and rules about our relationship with Benny. We were to agree to obey all of his instructions and be under his command 24 hours a day while we were out of the United States. Those clauses were insulting but not a serious problem. The one we balked at was an agreement to grant Benny options on our services, a week at a time, for a couple of months after we got back to the States, tying up our ability to book any other work, but giving Benny no obligation to hire us! The clause allowed him to drop the options at the end of any week.
Most of us refused to sign the contracts. Few of us had ever been asked to sign a contract with a bandleader before. Verbal agreements commonly suffice. We told Muriel that we had no access to lawyers in Russia, and didn't want to sign anything so complex without legal advice. Muriel countered with a threat to cut off our funds. We were getting weekly paychecks, which we couldn't cash in Russia. For spending money, Muriel advanced whatever rubles we needed, deducting the equivalent amount from future paychecks at what Phil Woods referred to as "the Muriel rate of exchange."
Jay Feingold kept telling us individually that there would be trouble if we didn't sign the contracts. At one point Muriel refused to advance any more rubles without a signed contract. Jim Maxwell began making loans to Zoot Sims and Phil Woods from a supply of cash he had brought along in case he needed to bail out and buy a ticket home. In Leningrad, Jim went on a hunger strike for about ten days to protest Jay and Muriel's tactics on Benny's behalf. The story made the newspapers in New York.
At the concerts, Benny continued to cramp everyone's style. He seemed indifferent to our best efforts and did what he could to undermine our confidence. His own playing was erratic. Sometimes he sounded wonderful, and sometimes he seemed to run out of gas, tootling aimlessly through his choruses, especially toward the end of a show. Terry Catherman attributed this to the tranquilizers he said Benny was taking. In a couple of weeks he had gone through a large bottle that Terry had expected to last for the whole tour.
Jim Maxwell was surprised to hear this. He said Benny had never used any crutches since he'd known him. Benny wasn't a drinker, only smoked tobacco, and had never taken pills. Jim said that this trip was important to Benny, who found being in his mother's homeland a very emotional experience. That may have been part of the reason he was so difficult on the tour. His back may also have been bothering him. He had suffered for years with a slipped disc.
Benny had celebrated his fifty-third birthday at the opening night party at the U.S. embassy in Moscow. I was thirty-four then and thought fifty-three was pretty old. I asked Teddy Wilson if he thought Benny's strange behavior could be attributable to age. Teddy snorted.
"The man is the same today as he was in 1936," he said. "You just have to learn to ask for enough money to make it worth your while."
I laughed. "Man, your price must really be up there by this time! Why do you keep taking jobs with him?"
"I have a lot of alimony to pay," he said. "Also, these jobs allow me to play with a class of musician I can't afford to hire myself."
Half way through the tour, Benny began to use John Bunch with the small groups as well as the band. He was using Teddy only on the opening number. John felt bad about it. He considered Teddy to be one of his musical fathers, and thought he deserved more respect.
Benny was killing Joe Newman with kindness. He had given him most of the trumpet solos on the band arrangements, and had him playing with the septet as well. Joe complained that his chops were hurting. Mel and I asked Benny to give Joe a break.
"These people know Teddy from his records and would like to hear him play. Why not let him do a trio number?"
Benny said it was a good idea, and tried it on the next concert. Teddy played Stompin' at the Savoy and Satin Doll with Mel and me. The audience cheered. Instead of leaving the stage, John Bunch had taken a chair in the back row next to Joe Newman, right beside the lid of the piano. He sat there, beaming with pleasure, and joined enthusiastically in the applause for Teddy.
Terry Catherman said that one of the most common Russian criticisms of the United States was of our treatment of African Americans. Always on the lookout for positive symbolism in our role as ambassadors, Terry encouraged Benny to continue featuring Teddy's trio number. It stayed in the program, but Benny seemed unhappy about the applause Teddy received. He behaved ungraciously while Teddy was taking his bows, turning his back to the audience until the applause died down.
One night Benny stopped me backstage and said,
"Pops, don't you think you ought to be playing in two for Teddy?" (Teddy's left hand usually played a two-four stride bass line.)
"I asked him about that," I told Benny, "and he said he likes to hear the bass in four."
Benny looked a little put out, and said,
"I've been meaning to talk to you, Pops, you're trying too hard."
This took me completely off guard. I said, "What the hell does that mean?"
He made his little waffling noise and said,
"Just play the notes, Pops."
I was flabbergasted. I thought the rhythm section had been sounding great, and up until then Benny had seemed satisfied with it.
"Look, Benny," I said, "on the new charts, I'm playing pretty much what's written until we get to the jazz choruses. But when we get back into your old book, those two-four bass parts are dumb, even if Fletcher Henderson did write some of them. This is supposed to be a jazz band. If I play those parts the way they're written, this will sound like a 1936 dance band. That isn't what you said you were bringing over here."
Benny peered over his glasses at me, twiddled his fingers, and said,
"We'll talk about it later, Pops."
We never did.
Sometimes Benny featured Mel Lewis on Sing, Sing, Sing. One night, after he and Mel had an argument, he called the number, but told Mel not to take a solo. He didn't tell the rest of the band, so we dropped out at the usual spot, and Mel took a solo anyway. He played a half-note triplet figure at the end of it, obscuring the obvious division of the measures. Benny lost track of the meter and didn't know where to come back in, but the sax section made the proper entrance and saved him.
Joe Wilder had a repertoire of classical trumpet solos. Benny told him at the first rehearsals to have a couple of them ready, but he never asked him to play them. In Moscow, we heard that Aram Katchaturian had written a "jazz fugue" for clarinet, trumpet and orchestra. Benny kept telling Joe they were going to play it, but it never happened.
The State Department had used Benny's classical repertoire as a trump card to win his acceptance by the Russians. Some Soviet officials had been opposed to having a jazz band tour their country. They lumped everything from Duke Ellington to Elvis Presley together under the term "jazz." They had heard of the rioting at the Newport festival. A jazz artist who also played classical music seemed a safer bet.
Part of the original deal had included an appearance by Benny with the Moscow Philharmonic. He was to rehearse with them during our first week there and perform with them during the final week of our tour when we were back in Moscow. I think he had told them he would do either the Mozart concerto, a Brahms sonata, or something by Prokofiev.
Terry Catherman told us the Moscow Philharmonic was upset because Benny had failed to rehearse with them during our first week. Benny had told them he would do the Mozart and they had been rehearsing it without him. In Sochi, Benny had Terry send them a wire saying that he wanted to do the Brahms instead. Later, when he changed his mind again, the Russians took umbrage and canceled the performance. Terry said Benny seemed relieved.
Our schedule called for thirty-two concerts: three in Moscow, five each in Sochi and Tblisi, three in Tashkent, six in Leningrad, five in Kiev and a final five in Moscow. We had been told that the jazz fans in the Soviet Union were eager to hear us, and we were prepared for mob scenes. Our first audience was courteous but not avid. What was wrong? Terry Catherman explained that this was the event of the year in Moscow. The announcement that Kruschev himself would attend had given us the official seal of approval. Any politician in Moscow who hadn't been able to get a couple of tickets for opening night was definitely low on the totem pole. Of the nearly five thousand people in that first audience, only a handful knew anything about jazz.
Premier Kruschev and his wife, U.S. ambassador Llewellyn Thompson and his wife, Anastas Mikoyan, and various other high Soviet officials were in the place of honor. After the first number, everyone looked at Kruschev to make sure he was applauding before they joined in. The Premier and his wife left at intermission, sending their congratulations and apologies backstage.
During the Anthology of Jazz, Hal Davis came onstage and displayed huge photo blowups of the musicians whose works we were playing. We felt it was stretching it a bit to include Paul Whiteman and Glenn Miller in such a small sampling of historic jazz, especially since we left out Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. But the Miller number turned out to be a crowd pleaser. Since the movie Sun Valley Serenade had just been released in Russia, they knew Miller's music better than Ellington's or Basie's. After our last number the audience threw bunches of flowers until the front of the stage was covered with them.
Alexi Batashev, a jazz historian and president of Moscow's largest jazz club, said in his review of the first concert:
"The music was a little bit old fashioned but very entertaining. We applauded Goodman from our hearts, but we expected more. The program was arranged as if intended for an ignorant and unprepared audience."
Actually, that was an accurate description of that first audience. At the remaining two Moscow concerts that week, we began to notice a more knowledgeable enthusiasm as the bureaucrats gave way to the jazz fans. When we played the 15,000 seat Moscow Sports Palace during the final week of the tour, the audience response was everything we had hoped for.
Moscow was more austere that the other Russian cities we visited. The golden domes of the Kremlin churches and the gay colors and fanciful shapes of the towers of St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square made one think of a fair or an amusement park, but the heavy hand of government lay everywhere. The Muscovites who spoke to us on the street looked over their shoulders while doing so. This behavior was not so noticeable in the other cities we visited. Only a few years earlier, contact with foreigners in Moscow had been completely forbidden.
While I was exploring the city one day, I noticed a policeman directing traffic. As I walked by him I saw him blow his whistle at a car driving by. I hadn't seen the driver do anything wrong. He was nearly a block away when he heard the whistle, but he pulled over immediately, parked at the curb and ran back to see what the officer wanted. That encapsulated for me the difference between Moscow and New York. The authorities had power over people's lives there to a degree we have a hard time imagining.
Walking around Moscow, some of us were turned back when we headed toward the older neighborhoods with beam-and-wattle houses. Our Russian guides only wanted us to photograph the newer buildings. They seemed to be afraid we would take home evidence of their "backwardness." They pointed with pride to their new buildings, some of which, like the Leningradskaya Hotel where we stayed, were twenty-five story "skyscrapers." But most were housing projects and office buildings with little architectural interest. Many of the new buildings had wire netting rigged above the first floor to protect pedestrians from being hit by facade tiles that the severe winter cold had loosened.
With the assistance of our guides, we explored the Kremlin, the art museums, the GUM department store and the ornately decorated subway stations. But we weren't able to relax with Russian people until we left Moscow and flew south to Sochi, on the Black Sea.
Sochi looked like a Mediterranean resort, but there were only two public hotels. The rest of the buildings were sanitoriums built by various labor unions and operated by the Ministry of Health. Workers who earned a vacation there were given a physical checkup and health regimen as well as a week at the seashore.
We played in an open-air concert hall that seated about 1,700. Above the side walls we could see people sitting in the branches of trees to get a glimpse of us.
The first concert went well. Afterward, Benny gave us a champagne party in the hotel dining room. He apologized for being rough on us, blaming it on the tensions involved in putting the tour together.
"But it might happen again," he joked. Then he proposed a toast "to a great band."
On the next concert he seemed to have forgotten his toast. He snapped at Mel Lewis and Jimmy Knepper about their playing, glared at us and made us all feel miserable onstage. He tried to give Zoot one of Phil Woods's solos, but Phil jumped up before Zoot could get his horn in his mouth and took his solo anyway.
The authorities in Sochi seemed nervous about us. Security police patrolled the stage door. They rousted a fan who was taping interviews with some of us, and confiscated his tape. Terry Catherman was upset because Gallia, the interpreter who was translating Benny's announcements for the audience, wasn't giving verbatim translations of Benny's remarks. She was just announcing the names of the tunes in Russian. Terry interpreted for Benny on one show, but the Russian officials objected to this and the next night Gallia resumed her duties. Later Felix took over her job and was able to translate Benny's comments to Terry's satisfaction.
George Avakian had come along to supervise the recording of the concerts by an engineer Benny had chosen, Carl Schindler. Carl carried an Ampex recorder and a few Telefunken microphones. The Russians had given Benny a contract permitting the recording of every concert, but someone seemed to be deliberately creating difficulties.
George and Carl hadn't been permitted to arrive in Moscow in time to record the opening concert. They began recording on the second night. When we moved on to Sochi, Terry Catherman had to use his diplomatic influence to get permission for Avakian and Schindler to accompany us.
On the second night in Sochi a tough-looking little man with five o'clock shadow came over to where they were recording, waving his arms and saying in Russian,
"Turn off the machine."
George pretended he didn't understand, and began showing the man how the recorder worked. Terry came over and said,
"He's saying you must stop the tape machine, and I think you'd better."
"Do I really have to?" asked George.
"Look at the bulge under his arm!"
George told Carl to shut off the tape. The NBC-TV crew also had to stop filming.
Terry lodged a complaint through the U.S. embassy, but it him took two days to get permission to resume recording. The officials in Sochi were claiming that Benny's contract to record had been signed in Moscow, and therefore only applied to concerts in Moscow. After Terry got things straightened out, there was no further trouble about recording in Sochi. Tapes were made of the remaining concerts and the TV crew was permitted to resume filming.
Benny wasn't happy with the quality of the tapes he was getting. At one point he threatened to hire a Russian sound man he thought was doing a better job than Carl. During the last half of the tour, Benny called several rehearsals to try to get a better recording balance. I guess they didn't help much; George Avakian later said the editing process was extremely difficult. There was a different balance on every take, and in some cases he had to patch together different performances of the same number in order to avoid extraneous noises.
Our hotel in Sochi, the Primorskaya, faced the Black Sea. Each room had a small balcony. On our second night there, a party developed after the concert in the room occupied by Jimmy Knepper and Jerry Dodgion. The door to their balcony stood open to the warm night air. Phil Woods began holding forth on the deficiencies he perceived in Benny's character and personality. He improvised freely on his theme for some time, with a supporting response of amens from the chorus.
Phil conceals a romantic soul with a cocky hell-for-leather exterior. A musician with great ears, a daring imagination and complete command of his instrument, he is not a man who tends to mince words. At the climax of his diatribe, Phil stepped out onto the balcony, stretched his arms toward the sea, and in a voice made stentorian with vodka, declaimed,
"FUCK YOU, KING!"
On the floor below, Benny had stepped out on his own balcony for a breath of air. He heard everything.
We had planned to spend the next day at the beach, but at breakfast Jay announced that Benny had called a twelve o'clock rehearsal. We set up in the open-air concert hall in the bright sun. Benny spent several hours going over everything in the book that we weren't using. He said nothing about Phil's outburst from the balcony, but he gave us many significant looks. We hadn't all been at the party, but we were all being punished.
Benny called Let's Dance, his theme, and began working on Phil's tone and attack. Then he called Blue Skies, and went over and over it, poking his clarinet right into Phil's ear and playing along with him.
"Not like that, like this!"
Phil was a little hung over and not up to the battle. Benny shouted at him,
"You're just one of eighteen men in this band. I'm sick and tired of you thinking you're the only one here who can swing!"
Phil said later that he looked at the heavies sitting around him and couldn't remember having thought that.
Zoot told Benny to lay off Phil.
"What's it got to do with you?" Benny asked.
"You're pickin' on my roomie!" said Zoot.
Benny made a little speech to the band. He told us he wasn't making any money on the tour. He claimed that some of us were making more than he was. He said that if we had any gripes, we should take them up with Jay Finegold. Then he had us get out When Buddha Smiles. The chart sounded so old-fashioned that Mel started playing two-beat press rolls on his snare drum. Zoot turned around and said,
"Don't do that. He'll like it."
Teddy Wilson had nothing to rehearse, but Benny kept him sitting there anyway. He told Teddy to put out his cigarette. Mel immediately lit one and sat there glaring at Benny. Benny looked at him for a moment and then walked offstage. The rehearsal was over.
Jay tried to keep us for a few more minutes to announce the program for that night, but we all laughed at him.
"What's the point?" we asked him. "You know Benny will change it all when we're onstage."
As we were packing up, Jay told Jimmy Knepper that Benny had "demoted" him. He'd been playing the first trombone book, and Benny wanted Wayne Andre to take his chair.
"What's wrong?" asked Jimmy.
"Benny says you're making faces at him."
Benny didn't realize that was just the way Jimmy always played.
The beach at Sochi was a disappointment. The water was almost unbearably cold and there was no sand. The narrow beach was covered with rocks the size of baseballs. If you wanted to lie down to sunbathe, you had to use one of the wooden duckboards that were stacked conveniently at hand. Wading was difficult because of the stones underfoot. The people at the beach were very curious about us, and much less afraid to talk to us than the people in Moscow. There was always someone who spoke enough English to make communication possible when the interpreters weren't around.
One morning there was a tap at the door of the room I shared with Joe Newman. A pleasant dark-eyed young man introduced himself to us. He said he was a bass player and presented me with a bottle of Russian brandy and some rubles.
"Please," he said, "take my address. When you get home, send me some bass strings and a bridge. I play in a restaurant band, which has no official standing. I have nowhere to buy musical supplies."
He was an Armenian who had been raised in Paris, where he had learned English and French. He had returned to Yerevan to see his father at a time when international travel had been easier. Since then he had not been able to get permission to leave the country again. He had come to Sochi because he found life there "more European." I promised to send him the supplies (which I did, though I don't know if they reached him), and he took me around to the local restaurants and introduced me to the musicians there.
Throughout the tour we noted the ingenuity with which the Russian jazz musicians maintained their instruments. Most musical supplies had to come from the West, and that conduit was open only to official orchestras. The amateurs and non-official professionals had to make do with what they could find. A bass I saw at a Leningrad jam session was strung with used harp strings. A saxophonist in Tblisi showed Jerry Dodgion a mouthpiece he had carved from a block of wood. Soviet drummers had real drumheads only on the side of the drum that was beaten. The other heads were made of paper.
An alto player in Tashkent handed Phil Woods his horn and asked for his comments. Phil tried it, had trouble getting a sound on it at all, handed it back and shook the man warmly by the hand.
"Congratulations," he said. "I don't know how you do it."
We had expected to find jazz players in Russia, but we were surprised to find that they knew all the latest tunes. Willis Conover's Voice of America programs had been getting through. Russian musicians had tape recorders and good collections of American jazz. One guy in Leningrad told me about making dubs many years earlier on an old acetate recorder, using X-ray plates with holes punched in the center as substitutes for the unavailable acetate blanks.
Playing piano at jam sessions, Victor Feldman saved us from appearing ignorant of our own music, since he knew all the latest tunes Miles Davis and John Coltrane were playing.
The enthusiasm among the musicians was wonderful, though we didn't run into any really impressive groups. They had been figuring out the music on their own and were coming along fine, but they were in a tough climate for jazz. It had no official sanction until shortly before we arrived, and was actively opposed in some quarters.
Soviet citizens couldn't move freely from one city to another. The bureaucracy liked to keep track of everyone, and frowned on unauthorized travel. Consequently, it was difficult for musicians to gravitate to centers of action and learn from their best players as easily as we do here. The bureaucracy controlled the jobs in Russia, and bureaucracy is always pretty square.
In Sochi, Joe Newman made friends with a young fan named Valentino, who Joe gave a signed record album and a book. As they were walking out of the hotel together, two motorcycle cops pulled up, grabbed Valentino, confiscated his gifts and arrested him. Joe, horrified, ran into the hotel to get Terry Catherman. Terry raised some hell through official channels and we saw Valentino the next day among the crowd that came to see us off to Tblisi. But he didn't make any attempt to speak to us.
The food we were served in the Soviet hotels was generally sad. It ranged from dull to barely edible, with one or two exceptions. Meat was gristly, coffee was poor, vegetables were cabbage and leeks. Meals often looked like they had been prepared by army cooks. The dark heavy bread they served was nourishing and tasted pretty good, so it became the mainstay of my diet.
The food was not only dull. For a big man like Jim Maxwell, there wasn't enough of it. The servings were small, and Jim was happy when one of us left something on his plate that he could scrounge. His food problem was solved by Mr. Konstantinov, our commissary man. A Russian of large proportions, he saw Jimmy cadging someone's uneaten chopped steak one day, and had an interpreter tell him,
"From now on you get two of everything. I know what it is to be a big, hungry man."
Konstantinov and the transportation director, a little round man in a wrinkled suit who we nicknamed "Popsie" after Benny's famous bandboy, referred to us as "the collective." They were puzzled when we failed to do things as a group. I would come down for an early breakfast and find a table set with twenty places. At each one would be an egg cup containing a soft-boiled egg. The eggs were usually underdone, so as each musician straggled in, he would send his egg back to be cooked another minute. It worked out fine.
"Popsie" couldn't figure out why he had only a few people on the bus for museum tours. I explained that we all liked different things, but he kept on trying to fill his bus.
The first dinner at each hotel usually featured Chicken Kiev, a mock drumstick made of boned chicken breasts. It is supposed to be cooked with the outside crisp and the center filled with butter. We usually got it with the outside soggy and the center filled with what seemed like motor oil. Russian science evidently hadn't come up with a very good margarine.
After a couple of weeks of meals where the only greens in sight were a few slices of cucumber, we began to express a longing for some variety in the salad department. Our interpreters laughed.
"You should be here in the winter," they said. "Then, you don't even get cucumbers."
In the United States, we are so accustomed to an unlimited supply of fresh fruit and produce that it was surprising to us that a large country like the Soviet Union could be organized in such a way that no amount of money could buy a head of lettuce in the summertime. We saw people lining up to buy an orange. There were no apples, and bananas were unheard of.
The food in Tblisi was somewhat better than the norm, and in Tashkent we were served one meal of traditional Uzbek dishes, mainly of rice and legumes, that I found very tasty. In Leningrad we found a couple of restaurants that offered an improvement on hotel food.
When we returned to Moscow, the chief cultural attache, Rocky Staples, and his wife Charlotte invited the band to dinner at their apartment in the U.S. Embassy compound. They had sent to Denmark through diplomatic channels for all the food we hadn't been getting on the tour: fresh lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, corn, fruit, nuts, and best of all, fresh milk. We'd been warned away from the local milk. Most of us had been drinking bottled mineral water.
There was a liquid yogurt, somewhat the consistency of buttermilk, that was safe to drink and quite enjoyable. I found the Russian soda beverages too sweet for my taste. The one Russian delicacy we all liked was marozhny (ice cream). It was delicious, and was available wherever we went.
Teddy Wilson, careful of his stomach, had come prepared. One of his suitcases was filled with tins of sardines. He would come to dinner on the first night at each new hotel, shake his head sadly and say,
"No chefs here, either."
He would retire to his room and his sardines until we moved on. By the end of the tour he was looking pretty thin.
Teddy always presented himself to his audiences with a genteel dignity that perfectly matched his elegant playing. I was delighted to find that he was a warm and friendly person offstage, with a bright intellect and a delicious sense of humor.
Teddy liked to party. His room was often the place to go after the concert. I always dropped by, but never stayed long. I have no talent for alcohol. Besides, I always liked to get up early, since the mornings were the easiest and most pleasant times for me to explore the cities we visited.
It's just as well that I didn't stick around for the poker games. I knew even less about cards than Zoot and Phil, who were learning the subtleties of serious poker playing from John Frosk. On planes, at concert halls and in hotel rooms, whenever there was time for a few hands, the three of them would start a game, occasionally attracting a few extra players. John told me he never drew any rubles from Muriel Zuckerman for spending money during the whole tour. He used his winnings from Zoot and Phil.
The drinkers would stay up late and would rarely be seen at breakfast. Teddy wouldn't even show up for lunch. When he turned up in the afternoon, he would be looking very weedy, with a gray stubble on his cheeks and a weariness in his walk. By concert time, though, he would have himself pulled together and would appear at the auditorium looking natty, bright, and about twenty years younger. He'd spend a few minutes at the piano warming up, and when the concert began, he really took care of business.
Russian hotels excelled at one thing: counting the towels. There was a big scene when we checked out of the Leningradskaya after the first week in Moscow. The maids had found some towels missing. Suitcases were opened in the lobby and the errant linen was retrieved. The embarrassing thing was that they were such cheap, tacky towels. The Russians took a dim view of the collection of such souvenirs.
Joe Newman, my roommate, often woke up in the night craving a cigarette. He had nodded off one night while smoking, burning a small hole in his sheet and a large one in my peace of mind. My roommate was a fire hazard! The hotel billed Joe for the bedsheet with the cigarette burn, and for a dime-store glass ashtray that had cracked in half when he rested a hot travel iron on it. Joe paid the bill, but demanded the sheet, since they charged him so much for it. He waited indignantly in the lobby until a maid brought it down. He carried it in his suitcase for the rest of the tour.
Flying in the Soviet Union was no luxury. The planes were much less comfortable than western airliners, having been designed to be quickly modified for military use if necessary. They had plastic noses with bombardier compartments, and military-style doors with high thresholds to step over. The seats were hard and close together. The pilots flew military style. They crammed the planes right down onto the runway with a resounding "Wham!"
For some reason, planes were always parked far out on the airfield. At airports without jitneys, we had quite a walk to the terminal. I was glad I had brought a wheel for my bass.
We waited all day at the airport in Sochi for the weather in Tblisi to change. Tblisi is in mountainous country. Fierce cross winds there were creating unsafe landing conditions. After sitting in the Sochi airport lounge for thirteen hours, we were bused back to the hotel, and we didn't get out until the next day. Luckily, that turned out to be our only weather problem during the whole tour.
When we landed in Tblisi, the winds were still pretty strong. I had trouble holding onto my bass as we walked in from the plane. Over the whistling of the wind, we heard someone calling,
Three Armenian newsmen were running toward us across the runway. They had heard that George was with us and had come to greet him. George told them that Intourist had put him at a different hotel than the band, but they said,
"Don't worry, come with us."
They piled him into their car, drove him to our hotel and fixed him up with a room.
The next day, the local paper published a huge picture of George, Joya Sherrill and Gene Allen that the newsmen had taken. Because of the picture, George was deluged with Armenians who came to the hotel to see him. He was in the habit of signing autographs in three different languages, using the English, Cyrillic and Armenian alphabets. The Armenians in Tblisi shouted,
"Forget the Russian!"
George admonished them, in Armenian, to be careful what they said in public; the Russians might be listening. The Armenians said,
"Screw them. We're not afraid."
George's parents had lived in Tblisi (Tiflis) until he was about seven years old. His mother had given him the location of the house that they had owned. One morning George, Joe Wilder and I set out to find it. The street had been renumbered sometime in the ensuing forty years, but by following his mother's directions, we easily found the house. George, speaking Armenian, asked some people in the courtyard of the building if anyone remembered his parents. They found an old lady who had lived there at that time who remembered George as a child.
Our visit caused a lot of excitement, and the people insisted that we look at all the rooms of the house, which had been broken up into several apartments. George's memory of the place had faded, but we were interested to see inside some ordinary homes. George took pictures of everything. He told me later that his mother was delighted with them.
Turk Van Lake also spoke some Armenian. He and George became the underground connection for Armenians who wanted to send greetings to relatives in the States. There were always a few of them hanging around our hotels waiting to speak to Turk and George. Turk also got to meet his aunt Galipse from Yerevan. His mother had located her shortly before our tour, after a fifty year separation. Terry Catherman arranged for Turk's aunt and her son to travel to Tblisi to meet him and hear a concert.
Tblisi gave us our first encounter with a different culture in the Soviet Union. Although the people are loyal Soviet citizens, they are profoundly Georgian, not Russian. They let you know this right away. (Stalin, a Georgian, was still a hero in Tblisi.) The city is very old and sits athwart a group of hills clustered beside the Dura River. Walking around its streets, I felt a sense of timelessness. It couldn't have looked much different there a couple of hundred years ago.
Hearing a chorus of voices coming from an open cathedral door, I stepped into its shady cobbled courtyard and stood behind an ancient wisteria vine where I could hear without being seen. An Orthodox service was in progress. The entire congregation, mostly male, was singing the responses. The strength and resonance of the voices was entrancing. I stood there until it was over, and then wandered back to our hotel, and the Twentieth century.
Formal religion wasn't prohibited in the Soviet Union, but it wan't encouraged either. There were some operating churches in Moscow and Leningrad, but many had become museums, schools, etc. We saw one that had been turned into a power station. There seemed to be more official acceptance of the church in Georgia. Our guides took us on a trip outside of Tblisi to an old monastery where we met priests with long beards, dressed in traditional robes and square-topped hats.
Victor Feldman took some movies that became popular at parties back in the States because of one scene. While Benny was talking to the priests outside the monastery wall, a little kid came up and held out his hand for alms. Benny reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of Russian coins. He picked around among them and selected one to give the kid. When Victor showed the film, he would reverse the projector just as Benny hands over the coin, making him seem to have second thoughts, take the coin back and return it to his pocket.
Victor was a prankster throughout the tour. His favorite prop was a plastic replica of a puddle of vomit, which he kept rolled up in his pocket. He pretended to be sick everywhere, on planes and buses, in hotel lobbies and restaurants. But in Kiev he had to be taken to the hospital when he contracted a severe case of dysentery. After that, he retired his fake vomit. It didn't seem funny any more.
On the return trip from the monastery, our Georgian guide pointed to a string of low hills to our south.
"Do you see the caves in those hills?" he asked. "That is where many citizens of Tblisi lived when the Persians came and captured their city."
He said that Georgia, lying in the passage between the Black and Caspian seas, had been overrun time and time again as empires to the north and south would become strong and move through Georgia on the way to conquest of larger areas. He said that the Georgians had always waited until the occupying forces had become corrupt and weakened, and then would throw them out and reoccupy their capital city. I got the impression that he considered the present situation to be another occupancy by a foreign power, and that he was biding his time.
In Tblisi we spent our free time during the day in a variety of ways. We all did a lot of exploring, of course, and many of us made friends with the local musicians. A few of them arranged for a jam session at the Tblisi Polytechnical Institute, where we played one day for a couple of hours with half a dozen Georgian jazz players while a large crowd of students and teachers listened.
When we were taken to Tblisi Lake for an afternoon of swimming we nearly lost one of our interpreters. Jim Maxwell was larking with Nadia. While they were wading, he picked her up as if she were a child and dunked her in the water. He didn't know she couldn't swim, and that she also had a heart condition. She passed out. Gallia, her partner, rushed out with some pills, and Nadia came around after a couple of minutes. She was okay, but we had been very frightened. Jim felt terrible.
On another afternoon we were given a private performance by the Georgian National Dance Company at their theater. They did their whole show for us. Then the children who were studying to join the company danced for us. It was Georgian folk dancing performed at a high artistic level. The dancers flew joyously about the stage with grace and precision. The traditional costumes were wonderful, the whole performance a delight. We especially liked a fighting dance in which swordsmen whirled and rapidly struck their weapons against each others' shields as they executed complicated dance patterns. Showers of sparks flew on the darkened stage as metal struck metal.
Since Jay had told us Benny wanted to play a little jazz for them afterwards, several of us had brought our instruments. When the dancing was over, Mel and Turk and I set up center stage as a piano was wheeled in for John Bunch. Benny, Joe Newman and Jimmy Knepper got out their horns. The dancers, who had changed into their street clothes, crowded around to listen. Benny looked disturbed.
"No, no," he said. "We wanted to get pictures. Can't they put their costumes and makeup back on?"
"Benny," we said, "don't ask them to do that! Don't you realize how much time and work that involves?" We wanted them to be able to relax and enjoy themselves.
Benny reluctantly agreed, and we began playing Caravan. Joe Newman lit a fire under the melody as Benny and Jimmy played a background riff. As Jimmy Knepper began his chorus, playing with his eyes closed, Benny saw the photographers coming down the aisle. He nearly knocked Jimmy down as he shouldered him aside to strike a pose for the photographers at the front of the stage. Mel and I looked at each other in disbelief.
When we finished that tune, Benny began urging "just one or two of the dancers" to get back into their costumes and makeup for some pictures.
There were two men in the company who had done a juggling dance with hand drums. Benny got one of them to play with us for more pictures. It had become a photo session instead of a musical offering. Mel and John Bunch and I refused to continue being part of such discourtesy. We felt, after having been given such a wholehearted performance by the dance company, that Benny had treated them shabbily. Rather than giving them our best music in return, he only seemed interested in getting publicity shots. We packed up and went back to the hotel.
Benny played another tune with Joe, Jimmy and Turk before he left. He complained of the "unprofessional behavior" of those of us who had abandoned him.
He had pulled a similar stunt after the first concert in Moscow, telling some of us to bring our instruments to the birthday party they gave him at the American Embassy. Even though we were guests at the party, we didn't mind playing a little, but Benny acted as if it were a club date he had booked, with us as the unpaid band. We were glad when he went off to talk to the Ambassador and left us to play by ourselves. He was hopeless as far as recreational playing was concerned. We learned to avoid jam sessions where he was to be involved. We could have had fun together if he had just played, but he couldn't stop being the boss, calling the tunes and directing who was to play when, and for how long. The publicity always seemed more important to him than the music itself.
The newest and most modern structure in Tblisi was the radio building that sat on top of one of the hills of the city. In it was a large restaurant with an excellent view. We were invited there by the Georgian Philharmonia for a banquet to follow our last concert in Tblisi.
When the party was announced that morning, Zoot and Phil planned their day so they would be in good shape for the midnight festivities. We boarded "Popsie's" bus at 10 a.m. to be driven to a restaurant outside of town for a shashlik luncheon. Zoot and Phil decided against bringing any hard liquor and, at the luncheon, they limited themselves to a single glass of wine apiece.
Back at the hotel, Phil wanted to stop at the buffet in the lobby before we went to the concert, just to stave off his hunger pangs until the party. Zoot wasn't hungry and went back to their room.
When Phil opened the door to their room half an hour later, he found Zoot sitting in a chair facing a hat he had placed in the middle of the room. He'd been throwing playing cards at it. There were cards all over the floor. An empty whiskey bottle sat beside him. He was completely smashed. When he arrived at the concert hall, he was a one man New Year's Eve party.
Liquor usually made Zoot feel like dancing and swinging. He often used it to get himself into the mood to play. If he went too far, he would lose the wonderful control of his fingers that he normally had, but he could still invent pretty phrases and, as long as he could exhale into the horn, he could always swing. He prided himself on being able to play no matter how much he'd been drinking.
He once told me that his dad, a vaudeville hoofer, had been stopped during the Prohibition era by two Los Angeles cops who accused him of being drunk. They gave him an impromptu sobriety test by ordering him to walk the edge of the curb. Zoot said his dad was indeed loaded, but he not only walked the curb, he tap-danced it. The cops laughed and let him go.
At the Tblisi concert, the rest of the band had settled down to what had become the serious business of doing our jobs. We had learned not to look as if we were having too much fun, or Benny would act like it was costing him something. But Zoot was mellow and ready to swing. Though he looked a bit bleary, he played his parts with gusto and got the rest of us feeling better. He clapped on the afterbeat and whooped like a cowboy while the brass section was swinging. Benny reminded him several times that they were recording the concert, but Zoot kept whooping it up.
Benny called a septet number (four rhythm, Victor Feldman, Joe Newman and himself). We were grouped to play right next to Zoot's chair at the right end of the sax section. During the first ensemble, Zoot joined in. After Benny took a couple of choruses, Zoot took a chorus, too. It was a wonderful octet, but Benny decided to put the lid on this little outburst of spontaneity.
He called Stealin' Apples, Fletcher Henderson's old chart on the Fats Waller classic. We hadn't played it much, and Benny correctly surmised that Zoot might have trouble with the reed chorus, on which he had the lead part. Sure enough, Zoot fumbled a few bars. During the applause, Benny gave him his famous "ray." Zoot beamed sweetly at Benny and explained,
"I couldn't see it!"
Georgia is wine country, and Georgians are fond of drinking toasts. Protocol at banquets requires the toastmaster to propose toasts that compliment and flatter the guests. After each toast, everyone is supposed to empty his glass. When the toastmaster has proposed all the toasts he cares to make, he appoints someone else toastmaster, and they start all over again.
At the banquet that night, the wine glass in front of me at the table looked like it would hold a pint. I knew if I emptied it more than once, I'd be unable to walk. I looked around to see how I might avoid drinking without insulting our hosts. There were large bowls of strawberries on the table and some of the diplomats were filling their wine glasses with the berries. Aha! I followed suit, and by tilting my glass at each toast while using the strawberries to hide the fact that I wasn't drinking more than a sip each time, I was able to stay in the game.
Zoot had rapidly progressed from jolly tippler to sloppy drunk, and we were afraid he would say or do something to offend our hosts. Phil spent the first half hour at the banquet hissing at Zoot:
"Come on, man, shape up! We've got to have some protocol here!"
Mr. Keepiani, director of the Georgian Philharmonia, had begun the toasts. He saluted music, Benny's Georgian mother, friendship, the tour managers, the American journalists, brotherhood, peace. (For that one, a dove was brought in.)
After each toast, Zoot would begin to lurch to his feet, feeling the urge to respond with a toast of his own. When Phil and I restrained him, he growled at us for spoiling his fun. Finally, Phil changed his tack.
"Okay, you mother. If it's going to be juice city, look out! Here I come!"
He immediately began doubling his intake of wine, trying to catch up with Zoot.
The toastmaster was preparing to yield the floor to Benny.
"And now, our guest of honor, a great musician. I give you...Benny Goodman!"
Right on cue, Zoot threw up all over his jacket front. Jerry Dodgion rose from his chair and kissed Zoot on the cheek.
We napkined off Zoot's red uniform jacket as well as we could, and he sat there quietly for a while. Then he nudged me.
"From now on," he whispered conspiratorially, "I'm only eating the strawberries." He pointed to his lapel. "Then if I throw up on my jacket again, it won't show!"
He sat back, chuckling at his clever plan. Phil bawled him out for losing his cool and his dinner, calling him "un-American." Two minutes later, Phil was leaning over the rail out on the side porch, throwing up.
Benny toasted Georgia, Mr. Keepiani, the band and Zoot, the audiences, Muriel, and Alice ("my most loyal fan"). We were unable to restrain Zoot the next time he was struck with the impulse to respond. He announced loudly,
"I wanna make a toast!"
Benny yielded to him. We held our breath as Zoot pulled himself to his feet, raised his glass, and carefully constructed a most courteous and proper toast. He complimented our hosts and their city and thanked them for their hospitality. When he finished, we all drank up and applauded with relief. Zoot made a courtly bow to the Russians, leered at the band triumphantly, and collapsed into his chair.
After Zoot's toast, the dam broke. Phil toasted the sax section, Zoot toasted Phil ("my room-ski"), someone toasted the trumpet section, someone else the trombones, someone the rhythm section. Then Phil toasted Mr. Keepiani and apologized for the lack of protocol.
"As musicians, we're really all one family," he said, and won everyone's applause.
Teddy Wilson toasted "peace in the world," and the Times reporter's wife toasted the muralist who had decorated the walls of the restaurant. Mr. Konstantinov claimed the last toast, saying we had to get up early to fly to Tashkent in the morning.
Most of us were feeling pretty unsteady by this time, with the exception of Joe Wilder, who doesn't drink. "Popsie" got us on the bus and down the hill to the hotel. In the lobby, Phil got a little loud, so Jimmy Maxwell picked him up, carried him up to his room, opened the door and threw him at Zoot. Zoot, having sobered up a little, lectured Phil about his behavior.
Everyone went to bed, but the night wasn't over for some of us. Gene Allen and John Frosk had the room below Zoot and Phil. Gene had collapsed on his bed fully dressed and was sound asleep, but John was kept awake by the noise upstairs. It sounded like they were breaking up the furniture. Shouts of protest in foreign languages could be heard coming from the courtyard. John grabbed the phone and called Zoot. Using a heavy Russian accent, he shouted,
"Stop that noise, or I come up there and beat you up!"
The noise abated and John went to sleep. In the morning he got the rest of the story. Zoot and Phil had called Jim Maxwell for protection against the irate Russian who had called. Jim posted himself in a chair in front of their door all night.
After Zoot and Phil had checked out, John peeked into their room. A cyclone seemed to have passed through. John looked in the bathroom. On the wall were two footprints, one on each side of the washbasin. Someone had obviously been trying to tear it off the wall.
When the band left Tblisi, we said goodbye to George Avakian. Carl Schindler continued recording the concerts, but George flew back to New York with the first batch of tape, taking Stan Wayman's exposed film to be dropped off at the Time-Life office.
Our flight from Tblisi took us much farther east. We could see a huge desert below us, an ocean of gray sand stretching for hundreds of miles. Then the gray suddenly turned to green. We had reached water, and the Uzbek nation. We landed in Tashkent, the main city in Uzbekistan, two thousand miles east of Moscow. It is a Turkic Moslem nation that became part of the Soviet Union. The Soviets brought sanitary engineering and literacy to the Uzbeks, but they still preferred their own culture: language, architecture, clothing. The older men wore the robes and long beards of biblical patriarchs. The young men mostly wore white collarless shirts, black cotton trousers tucked into black leather boots (relics of their required service in the army) and Uzbek skull caps---black cloth beanies embroidered with traditional designs. Of the few women seen in public, many wore veils.
In the older part of the city, Tashkent's houses didn't have windows facing the street. The conventional Moslem design had a blank wall on the street side enclosing an inner courtyard. Most of the streets looked identical: featureless white stucco walls topped with red tiles on both sides of a road lined with palm trees. Our hotel, next to the hall where we play, was on the edge of the old city.
Since we had an afternoon rehearsal on the first day, I got up early in order to have plenty of time for exploring. Wandering around a strange city, I usually pick out any landmarks easily spotted from a distance, so I can find my way back. In Tashkent I needed a different method. As soon as I had walked a block, the walled streets and palm trees obscured my view of the hotel. There were no tall structures and no high ground from which to reconnoiter, so I kept careful track of the turns I had made in order to be able to retrace my steps.
After I had looked at a few old mosques and churches, I came to a street with a large gate half way down the block. Inside the gateway I found a huge walled courtyard filled with people sitting beside goods they had spread for sale on blankets. Crowds of shoppers were milling among them. It was an oriental marketplace, just like the ones I had seen in Ali Baba movies. I took my bearings at the entrance and spent a wonderful hour wandering around, looking at everything and everyone. I bought a few souvenirs to take home, and an embroidered Uzbek beanie, which I put on my head. Then I looked for the entrance, planning to make my way back to the hotel.
To my dismay, I discovered there were four identical entrances, one in each wall! The streets outside each entrance were identical. My orientation was instantly scrambled. With the sun directly overhead, I couldn't even guess where North lay. The hotel could have been in any direction. To make things worse, I couldn't recall the name of it.
I reached into my pocket for my room key, then remembered that it was one of those with a large, heavy ball attached, to discourage guests from forgetting to leave it at the desk when they go out. I was carrying nothing that had the name of the hotel on it. I stood and laughed at my predicament: I was lost in a country where even the Russian phrases in my Berlitz book were a foreign language to the people on the street.
I decided to pick a direction and walk a while to see what turned up. I had a couple of hours before the rehearsal, so I wasn't too worried. But I certainly felt stupid.
I came to a wide street that had a few cars going by. We didn't see a lot of automobile traffic anywhere in the Soviet Union, and especially not in Tashkent. I tried to flag a taxi but it went right on by. I planned to say "Konzertall" or "Teatrah" to the taxi driver, hoping he would know enough Russian to get the idea.
After a few more cabs passed me by, a cabdriver wearing a beanie just like mine stopped, even though he had a passenger. He put me in the front seat with him. I explained in pidgin-Russian that I was a musikant Americanski looking for the Konzertall. He laughed and pointed to my beanie, then at his. He had thought he was giving a lift to a landsman.
He seemed to understand where I wanted to go, so I settled back with relief, but after he drove for quite a distance I began to be concerned. I knew I hadn't walked that far. The driver finally stopped, motioned for me to get out and pointed down at the pavement. After a moment I realized that he was pointing to the streetcar tracks embedded in the middle of the street. I pointed to them and he nodded with delight. He indicated the direction I should take the trolley and drove off, refusing to accept any money for the ride.
In a couple of minutes a street car that looked old enough to be one of those I had ridden in Seattle as a child came creaking along the track. I climbed aboard and held out a handful of Uzbek coins, allowing the conductor to select the correct fare. The trolley circled back along a different street and then headed off in a new direction. After riding for ten minutes, I began to wonder if the taxi driver had misunderstood my destination. Then we turned a corner, and there were the concert hall and the hotel. I was just in time for the rehearsal.
The rehearsal had been called to have the band read through a Phil Lang arrangement of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue that Benny told us we would be playing in Leningrad with Byron Janis. I think Benny was hoping that this would make amends for his canceled classical performance in Moscow. The voicings in Lang's arrangement were pretty bland. They made the Rhapsody sound like it had been simplified for a grade school band. We hoped it would sound better when we played it with Janis.
Byron was completing a successful tour of Russia. He made a great hit when he played three piano concertos on the same program (Rachmaninoff's First, the Schumann, and Prokofiev's Third) with the Moscow Philharmonic. He had planned to leave the country right after that performance, but was prevailed upon by the American embassy to stay a few extra days and play the Rhapsody with us in Leningrad.
Our Tashkent concerts weren't great successes. The hall was hot and the audiences were cool. We received only polite applause. After the first concert, Newsweek's Whitney Basso set up a jam session for some of us one night at a Tashkent restaurant. The local musicians were pretty good. The manager tried to close the place at 11 p.m. but the audience wouldn't leave. We played for an hour after closing time.
The second concert was the one the band enjoyed. We had two that day, and when I went backstage in the afternoon, I found half the band listening with delight as Willie Dennis told of his adventure the night before. Disregarding all the State Department warnings, Willie had gone home with the local drummer after the jam session. He had asked about the possibility of locating something to smoke, and the drummer had driven him to a village out on the edge of the desert where he bought a block of hashish for the equivalent of thirteen American dollars. Willie passed the pipe around before the afternoon show, and everyone began laughing.
We were so fed up with Benny that a good laugh was positively medicinal. I remember picking up John Frosk's trumpet. Recalling an embouchure I hadn't used since I was in grade school, I played a vile rendition of a Salvation Army hymn that broke everybody up.
Phil Woods came over to the hall just in time for the concert, missing out on the whole thing. When he looked around the bandstand, he did a double take. Half the band was stoned. The tempos that afternoon were all very relaxed, no matter where Benny tapped them off.
Terry Catherman asked Mel Lewis if there was any danger of weird behavior from the guys who were getting high. He knew Willie had the hash, but he knew nothing about how it affected people. Mel told him to relax. Nobody would notice a thing. Benny never said anything, but he must have wondered why there was so much laughing backstage.
We had a birthday party for Turk Van Lake in Tashkent. Jay got the hotel cooks to bake him a cake, and we all broke out the wine we'd been given as farewell presents in Tblisi. Felix, the interpreter, was amazed when he saw Turk's bottle.
"Where did you get this?" he asked.
Turk said an Armenian shirtmaker he'd met in Tblisi had given it to him. Felix was impressed.
"This is the best of Georgian wine," he said. "They only drink this in the Kremlin."
We were disappointed to be so near Samarkand and not be able to visit it. Benny chartered a plane to fly him and his family there on our day off. The rest of us didn't even know he was going. On our last night in Tashkent, Benny cut the final concert short. Since he was tired and the audience unenthusiastic, he took us into the closing theme when we had played little more than an hour.
The flight from Tashkent to Leningrad was so long that the plane had to land to refuel when we were only halfway there. We think of the United States as a large country, but Tashkent wasn't even halfway across Russia. The food on the flight was worse than usual: cold greasy, undercooked chicken. And the plane was under pressurized. We were all weary when we reached Leningrad, but the city's attractiveness cheered us up.
For me, Leningrad (formerly, and now once again, St. Petersburg) was the best part of the trip. We arrived there on June 18, during the season of the "white nights." The city, which is located in the same latitude as Stockholm, Oslo and Anchorage, Alaska, enjoys long hours of summer daylight. Designed by Peter the Great to emulate Paris and Vienna, it has broad avenues and classic European architecture. We were charmed by the rivers and bays in the section of the city built on islands and connected by bridges. A surprising contrast to Moscow's bleakness.
We were taken to the ballet and to the Hermitage museum. I went back to the Hermitage several times by myself. On our last morning in Leningrad I finally arrived at a time when the floor containing the French Impressionist collection was open. The museum evidently stopped acquiring French paintings after the revolution, but it owns some wonderful early canvases that have rarely been out of the country. There were some especially interesting early Miros and Renoirs. Of course, the rest of the museum is crammed with wonderful things that were collected by the tsars: Rembrandts and Velasquezes, ikons, ancient jewelled swords and armor, huge ornate tables made of single slabs of polished jasper, jewelled playthings fashioned by Cellini for Russian princesses.
In Leningrad, Muriel Zuckerman presented Jimmy Maxwell with a bill for subsistence for his son David, at $32 a day. Jimmy couldn't believe it. He confronted Benny and reminded him of the deal they had made. Benny denied ever having said that David was to be the band boy.
"And I never said anything about feeding him, Pops."
Jimmy reminded Benny that he had shown David how to set up the band at a rehearsal in New York, but Benny denied having done it.
Jimmy said later that he had been surprised that Benny would go back on his word:
"Benny was always hard on you, and irrational, but he was always honest about the money. He would chisel you down, but he would never cheat on the deal he finally made. This was the first time I ever knew him to deny what he had agreed to."
When he realized that Benny wasn't going to back down, Jimmy told him,
"Have the Russians give me a bill. I'll pay them, not you."
Intourist, the Soviet travel agency, billed Jimmy for David's food, lodging and transportation. They charged him $10 a day, not $32.
The audiences in Leningrad were crazy about us. We played at the Winter Stadium, which seated six thousand. At the first concert, several girls came up to the stage with huge bouquets of lilac blooms while the audience screamed for encores. The concert lasted two and a half hours. Even after we'd cleared the stage, they kept yelling for more. Benny finally went back onstage in his hat and overcoat, rubbing his stomach to pantomime hunger, and they let us go.
On the last concert, we played so many encores that the trumpet section was losing its chops. They brought us individual bouquets of flowers and kept applauding long after we had packed up and left the stage. Benny went back out, dressed in a lounge sweater and smoking a cigar, to play one chorus of Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen. Mel was the only one still on stage, strapping up his bass drum case. He accompanied Benny by playing his case like a conga drum.
When Benny finally left the stage, Terry Catherman told him that Mr. Moiseyev of the famous ballet company wanted to come backstage to pay his respects. Benny told Terry to get the photographers. When Terry couldn't find them, Benny said,
"Then just forget it."
For souvenir giveaways, the Selmer company had provided us with 15,000 pin-backed metal buttons bearing a drawing of two hands playing a clarinet, and the lettering, in Russian, that said "Benny Goodman, USA 1962," and in smaller type, "Selmer Clarinet." We thought it a little corny of Selmer to put their ad on them, especially since they had no Russian market. Maybe they were hoping to establish one. They also sent a number of Selmer student model musical instruments for Benny to distribute as gifts.
The buttons were in great demand wherever we went, especially in Leningrad. Crowds of fans would press up to the bus windows as we left concerts, scrambling to get them. In other, calmer meetings with fans, we exchanged buttons for Russian pins. Every Russian club, school, or group of any kind has its own pin. There are also commemorative pins for sports events, anniversaries, etc. Most of us came home with a collection of them.
Leningrad seemed to be the best place in Russia for a jazz player to develop. It was a hipper city in general. The university was a musical center. Some of the musicians we heard had developed styles of their own.
We were especially impressed by Konstantin Nosov and Gennadi Golstein. Nosov was a husky, square-jawed trumpet player with wavy blond hair and a forthright cheerful nature. Alto saxophonist Golstein was slender and dark haired, with a black moustache that turned down at the corners of his mouth, giving him a mournful look.
We had a jam session with the local players on our first day in town, in the dining room of the Astoria Hotel, and another in a dressing room backstage at the Winter Stadium after a concert. Golstein was delighted to the point of tears when Jerry Dodgion gave him a mouthpiece, and bandleader Mardig Hovananessian was completely bowled over when Turk presented him with thirty Count Basie stocks. The Russian musicians talked about their hope of eventually making a statement in jazz that would be uniquely Russian. Meanwhile, we had fun playing with them.
We were supposed to meet one night at the university for a jam session, but we had trouble finding the address. Our driver couldn't locate it. After we had circled the block several times, a policeman noticed us and came over.
"Don't say anything," said the two Russians who had come to fetch us with the car. "Let us do the talking. We're not doing anything illegal, but the police mentality is: `If I don't understand what's happening, I'd better take everybody down to the station and let my superiors sort it out.' If he hears American voices, he'll decide to take us all downtown, and by the time we get back here, the session will be over."
The driver explained our problem to the cop. He called over another cop, who called the station. They finally located the building for us, on an inner courtyard. We weren't able to play as long as we'd have liked. We had to leave in time to get back across a drawbridge that was always left in the open position after midnight.
While the session was in progress, Jerry Dodgion and Benny's stepdaughter, Sophia Duckworth, were poking around in the back of the room. They discovered a stack of large pictures of Stalin that had been piled there, face to the wall. Some of the students seemed surprised that we knew who Stalin was.
One afternoon at the Winter Stadium a gray-haired bandleader, Oreste Kandat, came backstage after the concert with his bass player, Mike Korgenowitz. Mike, a healthy looking young man with a steelworker's physique, spoke only Russian. He stood there beaming at me while Oreste, in excellent English, asked many intelligent questions about my instrument, and about playing a bass line. I quickly told them everything I knew, with Oreste translating for Mike's benefit. They invited me to come to hear their band play the next afternoon in a park across the Neva River.
Soviet parks got a lot of action. They were large, well kept and well funded. The people cherished them as communal property. Free concerts, plays and dance programs were provided in great quantities and were well attended. Not many Russians owned cars. The hundreds of people we saw in the parks had taken public transportation, or walked there.
I told Oreste that I would come to hear his band if I could. We had an afternoon concert that day, and we never knew when we would be finished. It wasn't unusual to do five or six encores, and there was always a crowd of fans waiting to greet us afterwards. I thought I had been vague enough in my answer to be able to show up or not, depending on how much time I had.
I was glad I decided to go.
I walked across the Neva bridge to the park and headed for the bandstand Oreste had described, thinking I would probably get there halfway through the concert. I found the band and an audience of several hundred people patiently waiting for my arrival. I was greeted warmly and installed in the place of honor. Then the concert began, forty minutes late. It would have been terrible if I hadn't come.
The band was interesting. Their phrasing was a little stiff, but they played with enthusiasm, and they had their moments. There was one saxophone player who especially impressed me. Oreste said,
"I won't be able to keep him. Mine is sort of a school band. I develop young players, and as soon as they become good enough, they move to more prestigious bands."
Oreste played alto, sounding a little like Johnny Hodges. He told me that when he was a child, during the revolution, many Leningrad parents had sent their children to safety in farm country to the east. When it became impossible for the children to return by the same route, they were sent all the way across the continent to Vladivostok, then by boat to San Francisco, on to New York, and back to Leningrad. Oreste was one of the children who had made that trek around the world.
He said he never forgot the reception given them when they reached the United States. Russian immigrants by the hundreds came to meet them at the docks, emptying their pockets of whatever they had to give them money for food. He heard his first jazz band in San Francisco and fell in love with the music. On his return to Leningrad he had begun a career in jazz which he was still pursuing.
When we checked into the Astoria Hotel in Leningrad, we found that Shirley Mac Laine was staying there. She was traveling in Russia with a female companion. They came to one of our jam sessions and decided to hang out with us for an extra day. When Shirley told the hotel they would be staying over, the manager told her it was impossible. A short while later they found all their luggage piled on a dolly in the lobby. Someone had packed all their things and cleared them out of their room.
Shirley checked the pile of suitcases and found that her handbag was missing. The porters claimed they had put it on top of the pile, but it was nowhere to be found. It contained her money, passport and papers. There was a big fuss, but I don't think she ever got it back. She said she suspected she had been set up by someone who disapproved of an impromptu talk she had given to the students at the university.
Stan Wayman, the photographer covering our tour for Life magazine, was the only press person we told about our Leningrad jam sessions, because he knew how to just be there. He was a sunny, likeable man, interested in everything and easy to be with. He'd been all over the world on photo assignments and clearly knew his business. The other media people got in the way more often than not. Stan just watched quietly and shot what interested him as it happened.
Stan shot hundreds of rolls of film during the tour, and Life selected a few for a photo essay. They used pictures of Russian fans at a concert, of Benny conducting and of Joya singing, three different shots of Joe Newman with Russian musicians, one of Joya under a dryer at a beauty parlor flanked by two Russian women. There were also pictures of Benny: practicing with his daughter Rachel at the piano, looking at the score of Rhapsody in Blue, posing with his clarinet in front of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square.
Life also included a couple of shots from the beach at Sochi. We had been surrounded there by curious Russians. They especially wanted to look at Joe Newman, Joe Wilder and Joya. (Teddy Wilson didn't come swimming.) They hadn't seen many black people before, and none from America. One woman said to Joe Newman,
"Wait here while I get my little boy. I want him to see you."
The photographers were taking pictures as we chatted with the Russians. Somebody got Joya to sit in a paddle boat with a young Russian man, and that was one of the shots Stan sent back to the States. In the Life spread, some insensitive copywriter captioned it:
"Joya and her new found Russian boyfriend kick up the waves."
When a copy of the magazine reached us, Joya hit the roof:
"What's my husband going to say when he sees this?"
There was also a shot of Joe Newman in bathing trunks with two bikini-clad Russian girls. He had to explain that to his wife when he got home. We teased Joe about having bribed the editors of Life. He was the only band member they ran any pictures of. There wasn't even a shot of the band playing.
The accompanying article said:
"While the band played on, spreading friendship and harmony, its members hit plenty of sour notes among themselves. Tired and tuckered out, they complained that Benny cut short their solos, made them play old time arrangements when they would rather have gone modern....But after the tantrums were gone, the melody and the triumphs lingered on."
We laughed at the line about sour notes among ourselves. We got along fine with each other. The only sour note was our relationship with Benny.
Joe Wilder didn't appreciate the truncation of a response he gave during a press conference at the beach in Sochi. A Russian reporter asked him about the race problem in the United States, and Joe replied,
"There's no denying we have a problem, but we're working on it."
The Life article dropped the last phrase, changing the character of the remark considerably.
Time magazine ran several articles about the tour, often written in a breezy pseudo-hip style designed more to entertain than to accurately inform. One article began:
"All that jazz was getting on Nikita's nerves, so Soviet officials started bugging Benny Goodman and his touring boys. First they stopped an RCA recording crew and an NBC-TV team from taping a Black Sea blast in the resort of Sochi, then they banned the distribution of B.G. Buttons, next they arrested a fan for fraternizing with foreigners (`We will be lucky if we see him again,' mused a bystander), and finally they tried to bar Benny's 19-year-old daughter Rachel from going backstage, thinking she was one of the local cats."
We never had any indication that "jazz was bugging Kruschev" or that he was doing anything to sabotage the tour. On the contrary, he made two personal appearances to give us his seal of approval. He stated candidly to Benny at a party that he was not a fan of jazz, but he was good-humored about it and courteous to us.
Tom Newsom was the most patient guy on the band. He rarely groused about anything. His big, country-boy smile and his easy drawl helped to calm things down when tempers were short. Tom had been suffering with a sore tooth, which became a serious problem in Leningrad. Terry Catherman was afraid to send him to a Russian dentist. The diplomatic corps in Russia usually flies to Denmark for dental work. Something had to be done quickly for Tom or he wouldn't be able to play. Terry found the solution. An American medical exhibit was visiting Leningrad. Inquiries there turned up a doctor who had trained as a dentist before he became a M.D. He examined Tom at the exhibition hall and discovered a gum infection behind a lower molar. He cleaned it out and gave Tom a new toothbrush and some Listerine from the exhibit display.
The main event in Leningrad was to be our performance of the Rhapsody in Blue with Byron Janis. Two rehearsals were scheduled with Byron, one on the day before and one on the morning of the concert. At the first rehearsal we were introduced to Byron, a slender, angular man with intense dark eyes. We began reading through the arrangement with him.
There was nothing difficult to play, but tempo changes became a major problem because Benny wouldn't conduct. He started the piece himself, with the clarinet trill and upward glissando that precedes the band's first chord. When he reached the top of his gliss, he never gave us a nod to bring us in. The band's entrance was pretty rough.
At each tempo change we would all look at Benny, but he would give no indication of the new tempo. We all knew approximately where it belonged, so we would eventually get together, but it was a pretty chaotic reading from start to finish. We told Benny that we needed him to conduct the tempo changes. Byron said,
"Mr. Goodman, I can't see you! You're standing behind the piano lid. Can we move the piano downstage a little and turn it so I have a better view of you?"
"Don't worry, Pops. I'll stand over here."
He moved a step to the side, where Byron could just barely see him. He seemed to be avoiding having Byron closer to the audience than he was.
We ran through the piece again. Benny managed to bring us in with a nod after his opening glissando but he still didn't conduct any of the tempo changes, leaving us to find them on our own. Byron continued to insist that the piano needed to be moved. He got the stagehands to roll it a couple of feet downstage and turn it so he could see Benny better. He had them mark the position with tape. Then he began to address the problem of the tempo changes.
Benny smiled and said,
"We'll straighten it out tomorrow, Pops." He indicated that the rehearsal was over.
Before the concert that night, Benny called a meeting of his lead players. John Frosk, Wayne Andre and Phil Woods headed for his dressing room, expecting him to raise hell about the section playing at the rehearsal.
"You wanted to see us, Benny?" they asked.
"Oh, yes, boys. Um... When I raise my hands like this, play louder. When I hold them down like this, play softer."
End of meeting.
When Benny came on stage that night, he stumbled a little and Frosk heard a voice behind the bandstand cry,
The soundman with the NBC-TV crew had set up back there, and Benny had just kicked out his power cord.
The next day Jay Finegold got in touch with everyone and told us that Benny had canceled the second rehearsal with Byron. I think someone had invited him to go fishing. Jay said that when he told Byron that the rehearsal was off, Byron had tried to cancel the performance. The embassy people pleaded with him not to walk out. His appearance had been publicized and they feared his failure to perform might insult the Russians.
Byron reluctantly agreed to play, but he made two conditions. The piano must be placed where he had marked it, and he must go on early, in order to comfortably make a late flight to Milan. This was agreed upon, and the hour of the concert arrived. Backstage, Byron told us,
"Please watch me!"
We played Benny's opening theme, then Bob Prince's Meet the Band, which introduced us all individually. We assumed that Benny would bring Byron on after this number. Instead, he continued through the first half of our regular program. In the wings, I could see Byron and the embassy people talking furiously, arms waving. Finally Benny announced the Rhapsody in Blue. As Byron was being introduced, he realized that the piano hadn't been moved. He stalked angrily onstage, sat down at the piano, and whispered fiercely,
"Mr. Goodman! I can't see you!"
Benny peeked around the piano lid and gave Byron a playful wave of the fingertips. He disappeared again as he prepared to play the opening trill and glissando. The packed auditorium waited attentively.
"Doodledoodle-SQUEAK!" Benny stopped. Reed trouble. At rehearsal he had played the trill and glissando perfectly every time. He chuckled a bit, adjusted his ligature and began again. "Doodledoodledoodle-SQUEAK!" No chuckle this time. "Doodledoodledoodledoodle-" and he finally made a perfect glissando to the top note. But he didn't give us the slightest hint of a nod when he got there. Some of us came in when he hit the top note, and the rest an instant later. A ragged start, but at least we had begun.
Byron played furiously, pounding the keys as if he were attacking an enemy. He gave tempo changes with his left hand, omitting a few bass notes while doing so. He continued to play and conduct throughout the piece. At one point, where he was supposed to be playing a two-handed run in opposite directions, he realized that his left hand, after conducting a ritard, had returned to the keyboard going in the wrong direction. He snatched the hand away from the keys as if he had burned himself, still managing to carry on with his right hand.
He got through the thing somehow, but it wasn't a performance to be proud of. The band sounded pitiful, with all its hesitant entrances and ragged transitions. We were all embarrassed, and sorry to have been a part of what must have been a humiliating experience for Byron.
Time magazine, in its June 29 issue, gave a report of the event that correctly identified Benny's failure to conduct as the cause of the fiasco. But the article cited as part of the problem "the difficult Phil Lang arrangement," a fabrication on someone's part, as it was a very simple chart, and implied a clash of temperament between Janis and Goodman. After describing the success of the rest of the concert, the article concluded:
"The only unhappy man in the hall was pianist Janis. Said he, still brooding over Goodman's insistence on remaining at stage center, `Incredible vanity.'"
The letters column in the June 29 issue of Time brought a comment from Janis:
I read with interest your perceptive article on Mr. Goodman's Leningrad performance of the Rhapsody in Blue, in which I was soloist. I would like to say that unfortunately I had no time to "brood" at the auditorium as I was Milan bound for my next engagement well before the second half of the program got under way.
I must take exception to the remark that I was "the only unhappy man in the hall." Members of the American embassy, press and band to whom I spoke shared my anger at Mr. Goodman's obvious lack of interest in making this performance of the Rhapsody a success. Indeed, after our rehearsal I would have canceled the performance outright had it not been for the very special circumstances....
....Maybe Mr. Goodman does not feel, as I do, that vanity certainly has no place in the cultural exchange where one is playing for one's country as well as one's art....
This evoked a letter in the next issue of Time from Hal Davis, Benny's public relations man:
....It is hard to believe that Benny Goodman is anything but a perfectionist when it comes to music. It certainly will come as a surprise to anybody who knows Goodman that he strives for anything else but the best any time he plays, no matter who is with him on the stage."
Benny's public relations people were successful for many years at promoting that image of Benny. It may even have once been true.
At Benny's request, Turk Van Lake had been carrying a banjo with him since the beginning of the tour because of the Paul Whiteman number in our Anthology of Jazz. Turk didn't like the banjo and stopped using it after the Seattle concerts. Benny hadn't said anything about it, so Turk had continued to play the number on guitar. In Leningrad, Benny told him to use the banjo on the Rhapsody, and then asked for it on the Whiteman number and the Dixieland tunes as well. Mel growled at Turk for playing it, but Turk was just following Benny's orders. Somewhere in Kiev the banjo disappeared from the program, Benny having changed his mind again.
Leningrad was the end of the trip for Alice Goodman. Jim Maxwell saw her in the hotel lobby, checking out.
"I'm leaving," she told him. "I'm sick."
"Stomach trouble?" asked Jim.
Alice answered, "Not exactly."
Benny came downstairs as they were talking.
"Hey, Alice," he said, "what are you doing?"
"I'm going home," she answered.
"Oh. Well, have a nice trip."
And Benny went in to breakfast. Alice went to the airport by herself. Rachel, Benjy and Sophia stayed with us until the end of the tour.
Shopping for gifts and souvenirs in Russia wasn't easy. There wasn't very much to buy in the stores. I found a few souvenirs in Leningrad. Painted wooden toys were cheap and plentiful. Most of us brought home a few. I found an inexpensive balalaika and a method book for learning to play it, some books of art prints, and a couple of fur hats. Prices were fixed by the government, and reflected neither value or demand.
Some of the guys bought music by Russian composers. Jerry Dodgion found some nice flute pieces. Turk brought back a good collection of Soviet postage stamps. When we left Leningrad, Mike Korgenowitz, the bass player, came to say goodbye and gave me a delightful carved wooden bear playing a bass. It now sits on my mantel shelf beside the balalaika, a set of nesting babushka dolls and a toy Kremlin clock tower.
John Frosk had been eager to reach Kiev. His parents were from the Ukraine, and he had learned the language from them. He had relatives in Kiev and had brought them letters from home. Arrangements had been made for a car to take him to see them, but at the last minute, Terry Catherman advised him not to go. Terry was afraid the visit might cause problems for John's relatives after we left. John had no way of knowing if Terry's fears were well founded, but he decided not to take the risk, and canceled the visit. Terry may have detected a tougher attitude in Kiev on the official level.
The police in Kiev came down hard on the fans. Several people were arrested at one concert for tape recording the music. The tapes were yanked out of their machines and the recorders were broken. The cops were also very tough when the fans wanted to run up to the stage to greet us after the concerts. A line of very forbidding looking officers stood at the front of the orchestra section facing the audience, effectively discouraging any demonstrativeness.
"Popsie" arranged an excursion for us on a motor launch up the Dnieper, and on another afternoon took us swimming. Going to the beach in the Soviet Union is not much different from anywhere else, except for the free music supplied by the government. On tall poles spaced regularly along the beach were metal loudspeaker horns tinnily broadcasting music that none of us wanted to hear: stirring marches and "light" concert music. The best strategy was to spread your blanket halfway between two speaker poles. I made a mental note to bring wire cutters if I came that way again.
While I was lying on the beach, a blond, suntanned young Ukrainian sat down beside me. He wanted to practice his English, and was very curious about life in the United States. He had many questions, which I did my best to answer.
"Is it difficult to avoid military service in the United States?" he asked.
I told him that, during times of conscription, it had been difficult but not impossible to avoid service.
"Here, it is very difficult," he said.
One question was revealing:
"Is it true, as I have heard, that two million people in your country do not have passports?"
"A lot more than that," I laughed. "We don't need passports unless we're leaving the country."
His eyes widened.
"Here," he said, "everyone must have a passport, and papers proving he has a job, and therefore a right to live where he is living. It is complicated to travel from one city to another for this reason."
"In our country," I said, "it is so easy to go from one place to another that the government has a department called the Bureau of Missing Persons, just to help people find other people who have gotten lost."
This delighted him.
He wanted to know if I had anything from the States to sell him.
"Nylon, anything made of nylon?" he asked.
We had been warned not to make a any deals of this kind because of the black market laws. Besides, I hadn't brought any clothing I was willing to part with. I gave him some Benny Goodman buttons and a postcard view of the New York City skyline.
It was in Kiev that Benny hired a Soviet crew to shoot some film for him. They covered our concerts and shot some footage at a rehearsal of the local radio station orchestra when Benny dropped by to play a little Mozart with them. Benny wanted us to spend our free time during the day acting out life in Kiev for the benefit of the cameras. He couldn't understand why we felt it was an imposition to ask us to get on a bus and go around the city like a bunch of movie extras, helping his crew get footage. He assured us we'd be paid if he ever made commercial use of the film, but that was only part of our objection. We valued our free time and didn't feel like donating it to Benny.
Everyone in the band had brought some sort of camera, from Brownies to Leicas, and several of us had 8mm movie cameras. Joe Wilder had a photographer's traveling case filled with professional quality equipment, including a 200mm telephoto lens for his Hasselblad. Whenever he put this long lens on his camera, he attracted such a crowd of interested Russians wanting to examine it that he found it difficult to take any pictures with it.
The Russian photographers covering our tour were envious of the quality of Joe's equipment. One of them offered to take some pictures of the band with his Hasselblad. He shot up four rolls of Joe's film, then insisted on developing it himself. Later, when Joe asked him about the pictures, he said,
"Nothing came out."
Joe had his doubts.
As Joe was leaving the hotel in Sochi one morning on his way to the seashore, he passed Benny Goodman. Benny eyed the cameras and lenses hanging around Joe's neck.
"Joe, are you working for anyone?"
"What do you mean?" asked Joe.
"Are you taking pictures for some magazine?"
"No," Joe replied, "just for myself."
"Oh," said Benny, "I thought if you were selling your pictures to somebody, I should get a cut."
"You just never stop, do you Benny?" said Joe.
John Frosk was taking pictures in Kiev. As he focused on a building marked "Tsentr Kulturny" (Cultural Center), he noticed some people standing behind one of the pillars in front of the building. He zoomed in on them to have a closer look and discovered that it was Zoot Sims and Willie Dennis, toking on Willie's hash pipe. John laughed so hard he spoiled the picture.
Telephone calls to the States were expensive and frustrating, but most of us called home at least once. Transatlantic calls had to be placed in the hotel lobby, where there would usually be one operator who spoke English. After ordering your call, you had to go back to your room and wait for it to be put through. The wait could be from half an hour on up, and you were trapped in your room until the phone rang. If you tried to call the operator, you always got one that didn't speak English, and if you walked back down to the lobby to see what was happening, the phone might ring while you were out of the room.
During our last week in Moscow, several of us called home. It cost fourteen dollars a minute for a call to New York. When a call finally went through, the operator at the Warsaw Hotel would leave her line open. No amount of pleading could convince her to hang up. The voice at the other end of the line was faint enough without the added interference of background noise from the hotel lobby coming through the operator's phone.
Benny called one last rehearsal in Moscow and ran over a lot of the new charts we hadn't been using. On the concerts, he went right back to the tunes from his old book. The mainstays of the program were Bugle Call Rag, One O'Clock Jump, Don't Be That Way, Bach Goes to Town, and the small group numbers. The only modern arrangements we played during the last week were Tom Newsom's Titter Pipes, featuring Zoot Sims and Phil Woods, and Joya Sherrill's set.
Several parties were given for us that week. Stan Wayman gave one at the Time-Life office, and there was a picnic with real hot dogs at America House, where the single men who worked at the U.S. Embassy lived. Sam Jaffe of ABC-TV set up a jam session one evening at a Russian youth club, and Zoot, Phil, Joe Newman, John Bunch, Mel Lewis and I went over and played for a while. We found out later that they hadn't told any of the other guys about it, and there were some hard feelings.
The fanciest party was given at the U.S. Embassy on July 4th. We received engraved invitations, and were given a great welcome. There was quite a flutter at the party when several limousines arrived bearing Premier Kruschev and his entourage on a surprise visit. He said, "Congratulations on the anniversary of your revolution," and shook hands with each of us. Of course, we knew his face from television and newspaper photographs, but in person I was struck by the intensity of his coloring. His skin was surprisingly pink and his eyes a deep clear blue. He looked like a wheat farmer dressed for church.
After greeting us, Kruschev had a little chat with Benny out in the garden, to the delight of the reporters. Kruschev's comments about our music had been reported in various ways back home, depending on the publication. Newsweek quoted him as having said, at the first concert,
"I enjoyed it, but I don't dance very well, so I don't understand it."
The Associated Press stringer and the Time and Life reporters only used single phrases from this statement -- "I don't understand it." "I don't dance." -- making him sound brusque and insulting.
The New York Times covered his visit to the July 4th party. They reported the following exchange with Benny:
Benny: Ah, a new jazz fan!
Nikita: No, I don't like Goodman music. I like good music. I am not a jazz fan. I like real music. I don't understand jazz. I don't mean just yours. I don't even understand our own.
Benny: It takes a little time to understand it.
Nikita: Good music should appeal at once...it shouldn't take time.
(Both men agreed that they liked Mozart.)
Nikita: And yet you play this bad music.
Benny: We grew up with it.
Nikita: There are people and people in the United States. You can't say they all like jazz. Some like good music, too.
One afternoon Teddy Wilson asked me to come up to his room. He dug an electric hair clipper out of his suitcase and said,
"I want you to cut my hair."
I told him I’d never cut hair before.
"It's easy," he said. "I'd do it myself, but they don't have a good mirror here."
Teddy sat down and wrapped a towel around his shoulders. I walked around him, trimming carefully until I got the hang of the clipper. It was a little like trimming a hedge. By the time I got Teddy looking presentable, a couple of the other guys had wandered in. I wound up doing Phil, Zoot, Turk and a couple of others. Then I gave myself a trim, a fairly easy job since I was wearing my hair very short in those days.
When I walked into the dining room that night I got a round of applause from the band. I guess we had been starting to look pretty scruffy. Willie Dennis said he wished I had learned to cut hair a little sooner. In the States he visited his barber frequently to keep his hair and his slender moustache looking sharp. He had tried a couple of Russian barbers and wasn't too happy with the results.
I was glad that Joe Newman had brought a small portable radio with a short-wave band. We could pick up the Voice of America stations in Germany when they weren't being jammed. The Russians usually let the music come through. The buzzing noise of the jamming would begin when the western news programs came on.
After a few weeks without news broadcasts, we began to realize what news junkies we were. Unable to read a newspaper or to watch television reports, we felt very cut off. The English language papers in Russia were hopeless. There were whole pages of generalities with no facts. As imperfect as our press often seems, it is still wonderfully free compared to places where the press is state controlled.
Jay Finegold had been nagging us for weeks about the contracts Benny wanted us to sign. A few guys had signed them, and he used whatever leverage he could devise to get the rest of the signatures. Joe Wilder's trunk became a focus of his attention.
We had been warned that the laundry service would be poor and dry-cleaning nonexistent in Russia, so most of us had brought suitcases full of extra clothes and drip-dry shirts, but Joe Wilder had the largest single piece of luggage, a steamer trunk filled with the dapper suits and neckties he always wears. Jay told Joe that Benny was going to charge him for overweight baggage if he didn't sign his contract.
Besides being a flawless musician, Joe Wilder is courteous, cooperative, and sweet-natured. He was delighted to be hired for the tour and was ready to do a professional job, and he couldn't believe the way Benny was treating us. Joe never uses profanity. His strongest adjective is "blamed," his most violent epithet "shoot!" If he quotes someone who uses strong language, he'll say something like,
"He said to get the F out of here!"
But Joe said the secret word in Tblisi when Jay told him that Benny was going to charge him for his luggage. It was the last straw. He indignantly refused to ride on the bus with Benny that night. He walked from the hotel to the concert hall, a distance of two or three miles.
During the last week in Moscow, Jay told Wilder that Benny wanted him to give all the lead parts he'd been playing to John Frosk, since Joe was going to Sweden after the tour and wouldn't be available for any work in the States. Then, on stage one night, Benny acted surprised that Joe wasn't playing lead on Bach Goes to Town. Before one of the last concerts, Benny called Joe into his dressing room. He said,
"I just wanted you to know that I think you're a fine musician."
Joe wasn't having any.
"As miserable as you've made life for me and the rest of the guys on this tour, do you expect me to be complimented?" he asked.
Benny received an invitation for the band to do a week of concerts in Warsaw on the way home. We were curious about Poland, and we could have used the extra money, but nobody wanted to go with Benny. Jim Maxwell called his wife and told her to send him a telegram saying there was an emergency at home and he was needed. The telegram she sent said:
"COME HOME AT ONCE. THE DOG DIED. THE CAT DIED. EVERYBODY DIED."
We knew there were many jazz fans in Poland, and that we would be well received there, but another week with Benny was too much to bear. We had been counting the days until we would be free. We all refused the job, and the last few days were marked by a considerable amount of surliness from Benny and his staff. There was no mention of the triumphal tour of the U.S. that had been proposed before we left. We heard that Benny planned to fly to England. Joe Newman and Joe Wilder were going to Sweden. John Bunch and Wayne Andre were stopping off in Paris. The rest of us were heading home.
During the last week, Finegold and Zuckerman got tough about the contracts. They told us if we didn't sign, we wouldn't get our final paychecks. Before the afternoon concert on the last day, Benny called a meeting, at which we explained to him that the options in the contract were our main objection. They would tie us up for months with no reciprocal obligation on his part. He seemed to understand, and we played the afternoon concert hoping we had straightened things out.
Joe Wilder and Joe Newman were trying to get their flight information from Muriel. They were to fly from Moscow to Stockholm to meet their wives, and wanted to let them know when to expect them, but Muriel didn't get them the information. Before the evening concert she repeated her ultimatum. No contracts, no paychecks. We talked it over and decided that the only remedy was to refuse to play the last concert until we got paid.
At curtain time that night we were ready to play but wouldn't go onstage without the checks. Muriel and Jay conferred, and told us that all they really needed was the first page of the contracts, the agreement on wages, in order to satisfy the paperwork required by the State Department. We conferred, and agreed to sign only that part. The other clauses were crossed out, the contracts were signed, and the paychecks were distributed as we were going onstage, twenty minutes late. Joe Wilder looked at his check and discovered that a couple of hundred dollars had been deducted for "excess baggage charges." He told Benny he wanted his check corrected.
"Come on and play. We'll talk about it later."
Joe was adamant. He stayed backstage, and we played the last concert without him.
The New York Times reported the strike that delayed the concert but didn't explain the reason for it. The story said:
"Band members had shown signs of being disgruntled through a good part of the tour. They complained that Mr. Goodman had picked old tunes that did not represent modern jazz. Mr. Goodman contended that such music would `fall on its face' in the Soviet Union."
We didn't exactly go out in a blaze of glory. We just wanted to get the last concert over with and go home. We started one tune twice. Benny was standing next to Gene Allen at the left side of the bandstand when he counted off Bach Goes to Town. He did it so quietly that we didn't hear it over on our side of the band. Only Gene and Jimmy Knepper and a couple of others near Benny came in. The rest of us started a few beats later.
Benny stopped the band and yelled,
"Let's get on the goddamned ball!"
Mel Lewis yelled,
"Let's have a goddamned beat-off!"
So Benny stomped it off loudly, and Mel yelled,
During the fugue section on that number, where Mel usually played his high-hats, Benny waved him out. So Mel folded his arms and didn't come back in until the final chord, letting the arrangement slowly settle under its own weight.
When Benny started bugging Turk about something, Mel told him,
"Leave the rhythm section alone. Go over and bug Gene Allen."
"Whose band is this, anyway?" Benny asked.
Mel said, "The State Department's!"
On the last morning in Moscow, as we were boarding the bus for the airport, a clerk ran out and asked us to wait. Then a maid came down with a pair of worn out sneakers and some other garbage that Phil Woods had abandoned in his room. She presented the package to Phil as if she were restoring a lost child to its mother. The bus rolled away. When it was too late to turn back, Zoot remembered a bottle of pepper vodka that had been given him by a fan. He had left it in the room he and Phil had been sharing. It wasn't among the things the maid had returned. Maybe she thought it was a tip.
David Maxwell had been in a bit of a quandary about his position with the tour. Jimmy had advised him to lie low, be diplomatic and avoid confrontations with Benny. Since Benny had denied that he was the band boy and was making Jimmy pay for his trip, David wasn't sure what to do when Benny ordered him to carry his luggage. At the Moscow airport Benny told David to take his suitcase. David said,
"I can't. I have Joya's things."
He pointed to a pile of her luggage, with a camera case lying on top. Goodman knocked the camera to the floor and stalked away.
Joe Wilder decided to try one last time to get Benny to refund the baggage charge before he caught his plane to Stockholm. Benny said that such things were in Jay's department, and not his concern. Joe called him a schmuck, and said,
"If we weren't here for the State Department, I'd jump on you and beat your brains out!"
Muriel squawked, "How dare you speak to Mr. Goodman that way!"
Joe had a full head of steam.
"If it weren't for shame," he told Muriel, "I'd break your broom so you couldn't fly out of here!"
Joe told me later that he wasn't proud of that remark, and had apologized to Muriel when he ran into her a few years later.
"But I was really disgusted with Benny," he said, "and I still am."
We had gone through all the passport formalities at Moscow Airport and our bags were piled on a baggage cart in the customs area. Two men in military uniforms came out of an office. Our interpreters explained that they were going to do a spot check rather than open all the suitcases.
They picked out four bags, belonging to Joya Sherrill, Teddy Wilson, John Frosk and me. They poked around among our clothing and souvenirs and from my suitcase extracted one of a dozen magazines of film I had shot with my movie camera. I had an old Bell and Howell that used metal film magazines rather than the reel film used by all the other 8mm movie cameras on the tour. They must have looked suspiciously high-tech to the Russians. Then they pulled out a half-dozen 35mm film cans in which I had been collecting sand samples for my dad.
"And what are these?" asked the inspectors.
All my film and the sand samples were gathered up and I was ushered into a private office where a military officer interrogated me. I had Felix, the interpreter, explain to him that my dad was an amateur geologist who had a small sample of sand from each place in the United States that he had visited. It gave him pleasure to examine them under a microscope. I knew he'd be thrilled to have sand samples from the Soviet Union, so I had saved some of the 35mm film cans that Stan Wayman was throwing away, and would scoop up a little sand wherever I went, scribbling the location it was taken from on a little slip of paper and stuffing it in each can with the sample: "beach at Sochi," "hilltop in Tblisi," "roadside in Tashkent," "bank of the Neva," "beach on the Dnieper," "flower bed in the Kremlin."
As I explained, I could see I wasn't convincing the officer. He was clearly thinking,
"What kind of fool do you think I am?"
He told me he would keep the sand samples and the film, and I was free to go. I protested. I had been scrupulous about asking permission whenever I took pictures, and had been careful to not point my camera at any prohibited subjects such as bridges, factories and airports. The officer said,
"If your pictures are harmless, they will be returned to you."
I groaned. They use the Agfacolor system in Russia, and this was Kodak film.
"Can't you have the film processed by your embassy in New York, and examined there?" I asked. "I'm afraid it will be ruined, and I will have no record of my trip and no pictures of my Russian friends."
The officer frowned.
"Do you think we are so backward here that we cannot develop film properly?"
Before we left New York, a stupid editorial in the Daily News had suggested the planting of spies in the orchestra. I guess the Russians had decided that I was the one. I hated leaving everything, but I was afraid that if I stayed to argue and became separated from the band, I might find myself in a real nightmare. Souvenirs of the trip weren't worth it. Stifling an idiot impulse to grab everything and run for the plane, I left the film and the sand on the officer's desk. I took my suitcase and boarded the plane where the rest of the group was waiting.
As we took off, I remembered that I also had a Minox camera with me. I had found it about a year earlier on the Staten Island Ferry, and was carrying it in my bass case. I had taken very few pictures with it in Russia, since I was having so much fun with my movie camera. If they had found it, I really would have had some explaining to do. A subminiature camera originally designed for German spies, the Minox would have been proof positive to the investigators that I was an agent.
In 1972 Thad Jones and Mel Lewis took the band they were co-leading to Russia. Jimmy Knepper and Jerry Dodgion were also members of that band. They met Felix, the interpreter who had seen me through the ordeal at Moscow airport. He had since been hired by Time magazine and had visited New York a few years after the Goodman tour. He had tried to look some of us up through Benny's office but had been told they didn't know how to reach us. Anyone in Goodman's office could have looked us up in the Local 802 directory, or even lent him a copy.
Felix asked Mel to send me his apologies. He had tried to get my film back for me and discovered that, exactly as I had feared, all the film had been spoiled. Felix told Mel,
"I could understand them ruining one or two reels, but all twelve?"
He got nothing but shrugs when he remonstrated with the authorities.
He also said that one of the sand samples I had collected, the one from the beach at Sochi, had shown traces of radioactivity. This was a new discovery which indicated the possible presence of valuable mineral deposits nearby. Felix told them,
"You should be giving this man a medal, instead of ruining his film!"
We arrived back at Idlewild on July 11. Willie Dennis discovered his flight bag had been sliced open and his cigarettes and whisky stolen. The customs officer told him,
"Take it up with the Russian Embassy."
As we collected our bags and headed for the exit, John Frosk said to Zoot,
"Let's check in and play some cards."
Outside customs, we were met by Jack Lewis, who was producing records for Colpix at the time.
"You've got a record date tomorrow morning at Webster Hall," he told us.
Jack knew that the tour had been taped for an RCA album. He was out to steal a march on Benny. It took George Avakian a lot of time to edit the tapes of the tour, and the RCA album Benny Goodman in Moscow wasn't released until seven months later. The Colpix album Jazz Mission to Moscow was out two weeks after we got home.
Jack's date was done with a slightly smaller band than Benny's. Al Cohn had written six arrangements for two trumpets, one trombone, for saxes and three rhythm. Since some of the band members weren't back in New York yet, Jack used two musicians who hadn't been on the tour, Marky Markowitz and Eddie Costa. The others were Jim Maxwell, Willie Dennis, Zoot Sims, Phil Woods, Jerry Dodgion, Gene Allen, Mel Lewis and me. I think it was Eddie's last jazz date. A few weeks later he was driving home after drinking all night at the Half Note and the Village Vanguard, and died in a crash on the West Side Highway. Willie Dennis also died in a car crash in 1965, in Central Park.
On the Colpix record, the exuberance that resulted from the absence of Benny's heavy hand is quite evident. Phil played the clarinet solo on Al's amusing arrangement of Let's Dance, Benny's theme. Zoot was in rare form, and Eddie contributed some wonderful choruses. We were all eager to play, and we enjoyed the date thoroughly. And I got paid for being on this album.
After the date, Mel dropped by the Metropole and ran into Gene Krupa. Gene gave him a hug and kissed him on the cheek.
"That's for me," he said. He kissed Mel's other cheek. "That's for Davey," then a third kiss, "and that's for Big Sid. I hear you really gave it to the Old Man." (Dave Tough and Sid Catlett, like Krupa, had served time behind the drums with Goodman.)
Mel asked Gene why he had put up with Benny for so many years.
"It was the best job around," said Gene. "Wherever we would go from there would have been down, both in money and in prestige."
It turned out to be a good thing we hadn't signed the contracts with all those options on our services. Benny's only booking right after the tour was a week at Freedomland, the amusement park that tried to be the Bronx's answer to Disneyland. It only stayed in business a couple of years. Teddy Wilson, Turk Van Lake and Gene Allen were the only members of the tour band that took the job. Benny had to put together a whole new band.
Howard Klein gave their opening night at Freedomland a poor review in the New York Times. After praising some of the individual soloists, he noted a lack of "force and drive" in the band. He commented,
"The playing, although solidly professional, had a commercial ring that somehow did not support Mr. Goodman's monarchic claims."
I ran into Turk toward the end of that week and asked him how the job was going.
"I'm not there anymore," he said.
I asked what had happened. On the second night at Freedomland, Benny had waved Turk out in the middle of one tune. Turk started to play again on the next one, and Benny waved him out again. He didn't let him play at all for the rest of the concert. Turk came to work the next night and was again waved out on every tune. He got Benny to one side at intermission and asked what was wrong. Benny said,
"You look tired, kid. Why don't you take the night off?"
"If I'm not going to play, I may as well take the whole gig off," said Turk.
"I guess you're right, Pops."
Turk was still mystified.
"Benny, what was it about my playing that you didn't like?"
Benny studied the ceiling. His right hand gripped an imaginary guitar pick and made a few tentative strokes in the air.
"Hand didn't look right," he said.
A week or so later, I got a call from a guy named Joe Valerio. He said he worked for Radio Liberty, a private station that broadcast into the Soviet Union from transmitters in the West. He wanted to know if I had the names and addresses of any Soviet musicians who might like to have musical supplies sent to them. I said I did, but asked why they wanted to do this. Valerio said it was good public relations. They would prepare packages of music, strings, bridges, reeds, records, etc. to be sent in my name. The Soviet Union would only accept packages from individuals, not organizations.
I gave them a list of things to send, including the Colpix album, Ray Brown's bass instruction book, transcriptions of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie solos, and strings, reeds and drumheads, along with the names and addresses of the musicians I had met on the tour. Valerio also asked me to drop by his office to record an interview for broadcast to Russia.
I went to the midtown address he gave me and found a door marked "Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty." I went into a large, expensive looking waiting room and gave my name to a secretary. While I waited, I looked at a photo display that showed huge radio towers in West Germany with a description of the powerful transmitters they had there. Valerio came out and took me into a modern radio studio where Turk Van Lake was also waiting. An engineer set us up to tape the interviews.
"Who pays for all this?" I asked.
"A group of wealthy Russian immigrants who want to counteract Soviet propaganda about the West," said Valerio.
A few years later I read in the New York Times that Radio Liberty was funded by the CIA.
On the tape I talked about our trip without mentioning our problems with Benny. I spoke a brief greeting that I had memorized in Russian to my friends in the Soviet Union. I don't know if all the packages they sent in my name got through, but I did receive a letter from Konstantin Nosov in Leningrad, thanking me for the records and music books. Sometime later a package arrived from him containing some painted plaster figurines of traditional Russian folk characters. We corresponded for a while, and then I stopped hearing from him. I don't know whether he stopped writing, or if his letters just stopped getting through.
After he returned to New York, Joe Wilder made a complaint to Local 802 about the money Benny had withheld from his salary. Officials at the local said it had happened outside their jurisdiction. They sent him to the national office of the American Federation of Musicians, where he filed charges against Benny.
The day before the hearing was scheduled, Joe got a call from a secretary at the AFM. She said,
"Mr. Goodman is willing to forget the whole thing."
Joe reminded her that he was the one making the complaint, and insisted on seeing it through as a matter of principle.
At the hearing Joe produced a receipt from the post office in Seattle proving he had sent home everything over his allotted forty-four pounds when Jay had first complained that his baggage was overweight. Nothing had been weighed after Seattle. Goodman and his staff had just assumed he was still overweight, and had used it as a pretext to harass him.
At the hearing, Benny told Joe,
"In all my years in the music business, you're the first one to take me to the union."
"That's because I'm not afraid of you," said Joe.
Joe told me he knew musicians who had been pressured into doing what Benny wanted through Benny's influence with their other employers, especially in television. He said he wasn't doing any work that Benny could interfere with, and he certainly didn't ever want to be in his band again.
The AFM officers reprimanded Joe, saying he should have played the last concert and then brought his grievance to the union. They didn't require Benny to refund his money, and Joe never got it.
George Avakian told me he spoke to Benny a year before his death about the hours of tapes that he still had from the Russian tour.
"You should rerelease that album with additional material," he told Benny. "There's enough there for a three record set. Especially the Joya Sherrill stuff, some of which is by arrangers who weren't otherwise represented on the tour."
Benny seemed to agree that it was a good idea. George felt encouraged.
"I'm glad to see you've changed your mind about Joya," he said. "You remember you wouldn't let me use any of her numbers on the album."
"Oh, really?" said Benny.
George never did get Benny to begin that project.
In March, 1985, I was playing in a snowstorm in front of New York's City Hall with a group of Local 802 musicians who were protesting a discriminatory clause in the city's cabaret law. The guitarist was Bucky Pizzarelli.
"Are you still talking to the Old Man?" he asked.
"I guess so," I told him. "I haven't seen him for twenty years."
I had run into Benny once after the tour, at the New York Playboy Club, where I was working with the house band. Jay had called me once or twice after that for jobs with Benny that I hadn't taken.
"Well," said Bucky, "why don't you come and do this gig with us down in Jersey? Urbie Green will be on it."
"How has Benny been acting lately?"
"Fine," said Bucky. "No problems."
I hadn't been playing much jazz that winter, so I decided, what the hell.
"Okay, I'll do it."
Bucky gave me the address for a rehearsal, at the apartment of a wealthy friend of Benny's on East 57th Street. At the rehearsal, Benny was as cheerful and rosy as Father Christmas.
"Nice to see you, Bill," he said as we shook hands. "I've been reading your little column in the union paper."
We set up to play. Urbie Green hadn't come in for the rehearsal. We had Bucky, myself, Chuck Riggs on drums, Benny Aronov on piano, and Randy Sandke on cornet. Bucky had also brought along his son John and tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, a Rutgers student from Rhode Island whom Bucky wanted Benny to hear. We ran over a few tunes and took a break for drinks and hors d'oeuvres that our host had provided. Then Harry sat in for a tune, and played very well. It was a lovely, musical afternoon, and Benny sounded great. We all left smiling.
The job was at a restaurant near Atlantic City. A wealthy automobile dealer was having a wedding reception. A club date band was there to provide dance music. Urbie Green arrived, and we set up the bandstand. We were then given a nice dinner. We played the first set without Benny. After a break, Benny joined us for a set, and that was the job. The music was excellent and there was no hassle whatsoever. It couldn't have been more different from my experience with him in Russia.
For several months before his death, Benny rehearsed and played a few jobs with a new band, using a lot of the good young players around New York. He found them through Loren Schoenberg, who was doing some archival work for Benny. Loren had a rehearsal band, and when Benny decided to reactivate, he hired Loren and his band. Later he fired Loren, keeping his band. He turned it into the same sort of band he had started out with, using the old arrangements.
Some of the musicians who were on that band told me that Benny was up to his old tricks, firing people right and left, moving parts around in the sections, being hard on everyone. But they also said he gave them a lot of insights into the music. He understood those arrangements well and knew how to make them work.
Benny's eccentricities were the topic of most conversations with his new sidemusicians. They told how, at one rehearsal at the SIR studios, Benny asked where the men's room was. On hearing it was up a flight of stairs, he said,
"Oh, that's too far."
Then, in mixed company, he proceeded to urinate in the studio trash barrel.
On another occasion, he disapproved of the quality of the catered spread of cold cuts and salad that had been laid out for the band. He took a mouthful of soda and sprayed it over everything on the table, rendering it truly inedible.
The old "King of Swing" was sending one last generation of musicians into the world with a brand new collection of Benny Goodman stories.