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, jeweled 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 met were very good jazz players. 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 made that trip.
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 hair 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?"
Benny said, "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 next 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
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, four 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.
Benny nodded. "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.
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.
To Russia, Part 3