Thursday, July 25, 2013

Page Turner to the Starz, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series (of three posts) we met our dramatis personae, the Page Turner (WLB, aka me), Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, the fiddler, John Cerminaro, the horn players, Cecile Licad, the pianist, and others. We followed their activities during the morning and early afternoon of Wednesday, January 6, 1993, while recording the first movement of the Brahams Horn Trio. We rejoin them as they break for lunch.
Day One, Lunch

The piano tech suggests we eat at Holmes and Watson. WLB leads the way since he lives in Troy. It's a bright day so I put on my so-cool prescription shades. Now, once we get there, how to jockey so I'm sitting near Nadja – they're six of us. On the way over Karen (producer) serves up some remark making reference to KY jelly.

We get to Holmes and pull two tables together near the entrance. I'm sitting across from Nadja (fiddler) and Cecile (pianist) and next to John (horn player). "It's a Wonderful World" is playing on the sound system. Nadja remarks: Louis Armstrong. Miscellaneous chatter, including talk about all the beers available at Holmes and their world tour of beers. Nadja wonders whether they have San Miguel, the most popular beer in the Philippines. They don't. Nadja remarks that the roaches in the palace in the Manila were huge. WLB mentions the large roaches in the steam tunnels under the Johns Hopkins campus (says nothing about sitting in the bathtub in Baltimore and killing roaches with his fingers as they crawled out of the wall for a swim).

I'm asked what I'd recommend since I've eaten her before. Though I do have definite preferences I quickly decline making recommendations, "Oh, I don't know. Haven't eaten here in awhile" even as I'm debating whether to get a Forbidden Problem, a Scrower's Special or perhaps a Baskerville (the sandwiches are named after Holmes stories). John orders a "Forbidden Problem" – ahah! – and so do I. Karen orders a Reuben (I forget what H&W calls it). Cecile considers the chili, but Nadja suggests that the after-effects might interfere with recording. Cecile orders something less reactive. After some worry over whether it will be good, Nadja orders a Baskerville (roast pork). She mentions that Pat's in Philadelphia has the best Philly steak sandwiches and that it's in her contract that, when she performs in Philadelphia, she gets as many Philly steaks from Pat's as she wants. (I don't know whether this is whenever she's in Philly in general or specific to her current series of dates with the Philadelphia Symphony.) There's some place in South Philly that makes the best Italian sausage and she's gonna bring back ten pounds of it and put it in her freezer, which is pretty big. It'll last awhile, unless she has guests. At Nadja's suggestion we order a plate of appetizers to share around. The piano tech, but no one else, orders beer. John takes a Tylenol to reduce the swelling in his lips.

Appetizers arrive. We eat. Sandwiches arrive. We eat. Nadja is quite pleased about her roast pork. I'm asked about the contents of my sandwich: turkey, bacon, cheese, tomato. Some chat about where're they're staying – Karen & the musicians at the Marriot Residence Inn, the piano tech at the Super 66 – and what to do after the recording. My fantasy is that, tomorrow, Thursday, I can somehow get them interested in coming to a local jam session where, surprise surprise, I star every once in awhile. Aside from the fact that they're probably leaving right after the recording session, I haven't the foggiest idea about how to bring this about.

A good meal was had by all. Cecile resists desert. John notes that he has some wonderful truffles back in the hall. Cecile smiles.

Back to Work

Back at the hall (c. 3:30 or 4) we commence work on the second movement. John breaks out the truffles. We all agree that they are gooood. Cecile's need for desert is satisfied. The truffle box and lid are on the piano. The little Beast (from Beauty and the…) figure is lying around. WLB notices it and seats it in the lid of the truffle box so Beast can "see" Cecile. As she gets ready to play, she notices her Beast and removes him to the floor.

Gotta warm the French horn. Stage hand and WLB are talking with John. He notes that Phil Farkas, one of the great old horn players, just died. That's too bad. Nadja rotates her violin in front of a space heater "just like a pig on a spit." Radiators clank and so Dave, the stagehand, tries to quiet them. He covers one with the piano cover. The clanking dies down, though returning to abort a take or two.

Essentially the same routine as with the first movement. Run-through and then come back to patch. We cruise on through, page by page by page, my confidence growing with each successful turn and then, I turn the page, glance through the music to see what's coming and, damn! there's a da capo. That means that we go back to the beginning of the movement and start over. But where in that pile of pages is the first page of this movment? I hadn't planned for this and so don't have any easy way to turn back the 5 or 10 pages involved. I should have brought some paper clips. So, we hit the da capo and Cecile knows the music well enough that she isn't thrown while I futz around making the turn. To my credit, however, the futzing was silent. Some more ear-to-ear grinning.

After the run-through the musicians go up to the control room to listen. As after the 1st movement run-through I wonder whether it would be appropriate for me to go up a listen as well, though I certainly have to artistic stake or say, or whether I should I stay down on stage, alone. I'm sure that if I go up no one will say anything. So, I make the same decision I made before. I stay down on stage and think my thoughts while the players listen to their work. I figure it's my job to stay as unobtrussive as possible and, also, to act as a psychological buffer by virtue of my interested silence. I'd long observed that I could affect to mood of a social situation simply by doing nothing, but doing that nothing with intensity, interest, and sympathy.

They come back to do some patching. Cecile, as she sits down, smiling, speaking in her soft baritone: Are you a piano player. WLB: No, trumpet. She's now seated and we're into the patching. Not so much as with the first movement.


Karen wants to do another complete run-through on the 1st movement. John's not sure he can do it and even if he can, the effort would threaten tomorrow's work. It's really a 3-day piece as far as he's concerned. So we're done. 4:30. People mill around, putting instruments away. Chatting. John tells of some premier horn player who's at the end of his career. He's just performed a horn concerto, with more clams than he can bear. As soon as he gets back stage he throws his horn against the wall. End of career.

Nadja (to Cecile with others looking on): You know someone who's done that.
Cecile: Who?
Nadja: Don't you remember? We'd played the Franck sonata and I'd broken a string. When I got off the stage I grabbed the strings and pulled them and broke the neck.


Karen, scratching Nadja's shoulders while Nadja knelt at her violin case: You must have been a terror before I knew you.


John's buzzing his lips on the trombone mouthpiece. He tells me the idea is that this helps distribute the lactic acid more widely through his lip and facial muscles. It's like this: The muscles get energy from chemical reactions. Lactic acid is one of the end-products of these reactions. Lactic acid is a poison. (This much I already knew.) So, you want to disperse it as much as possible to minimize its effect on the lip. The cup of the French horn mouthpiece is fairly small, say an inch in diameter while the bass trombone mouthpiece is over an inch and a half. So, by buzzing on this larger mouthpiece John was hoping to stimulate circulation in a larger facial area and get the blood to carry some of the lactic acid away from the crucial center of his embouchure. Maybe it works. But I probably won't try it myself; I'm not that meticulous/fussy.

WLB goes up to the control room to get the story for tomorrow. The piano tech has been reading The Mists of Avalon. Cecile notes that her husband read it and liked it. Nadja likes it, it tells the story of King Arthur's court from a woman's point of view. The same author's done something similar for the Trojan War (Robert Graves maintained that the Homer who wrote the Odyssey was female while the Homer who wrote Iliad was male). Nadja liked that one too.

Some chatter – initiated by the piano tech – about a recoding session in this hall where a disciple of the late Glen Gould's made thousands of takes in recording a Beethoven sonata so he could splice just the right bits and pieces together to get exactly the performance he wanted. People were amazed and perplexed at the labor. Cecile remarked that you couldn't take such a thing with you on the road, you can't play it that way. What's on the final recording is artificial.

We start tomorrow at 10AM. We'll do the 4th and the then 3rd movements.

Karen decided to take a DAT deck back to the Marriott and listen to the day's work. So Tom puts one in a carrying case for her. He's going to stick around and catalogue the day's work.

Karen starts down the stairs, putting me in one of those minor awkward situations feminism has created. I have nothing in my hands. Karen has a substantial purse in one hand and the DAT deck in the other. The sensible thing would be for me to carry the DAT deck. I'm no Sampson, but I'm certainly stronger than Karen is. However, if I do the sensible thing, which, alas, is also chivalrous, and offer to carry the DAT, will she make think I'm being chauvinist rather than sensible? So I let her ask me to carry her purse. Fine. The DAT is still a bit much. She asks Tom whether the carrying case is really necessary. It is. Tom offers to carry the DAT. Offer accepted. I return her purse.

I walk home. I made it through the session without getting lost once. Sure, there was that da capo thing. But I didn't once lose my place. A successful day.

Diz Has Died

Get home. Eat a bit. Put on my Martian anthropologist’s cape and type some notes about the day.

Check in with Service 21 – a daily e-mail project I'm involved with. (Remember, this is 1993, before the web. But lots of people did have email). And watching the TV news. Rudolph Nureyev and Dizzy Gillespie died.


Dizzy was one of my heroes. Over 20 years ago I was at a workshop he gave in Baltimore. He told us some things and then we all got to play a few choruses with his rhythm section. As he walked by us before playing, he smiled at me, pointing at my chest. I was wearing a sweatshirt on which a very dear woman had appliquéd a trumpet (she put "Zarathustra" on the back, which is the name I had given to my trumpet). I knew I should have given Diz a thumbs up, but I didn't. The playing started and I patiently waited my turn. Finally, my turn. I was doing fine, particularly pleased about how I stretched those drag triplets across the boundary between the first and second chorus. Diz cut me off in mid-solo just as I was really cranking. He stopped everything. It was time for a break. I was pissed and frustrated. What'd I do? His bass player came up to me and said I shouldn't think anything of it. My playing was fine. His piano player, Mike Longo, said the same. So why'd Diz cut me off?

At the concert that night Diz was superb. On "Olinga" the spirit hit him and he went out. When it was over I went back stage to shake his hand. And I did. I was the last one that night and just barely got to him before he got away.

Then only two years ago I opened the show for him with a group I’d been playing for awhile, the Afro-Eurasian Connection. It was an afternoon show out of doors in Albany's Washington Park. The crowd loved us. Diz stayed in his trailer. But his sidemen heard us and they were impressed. As I came off the stage one of them leaned back an inch and gave me that "and what planet are you from?" look. The Albany folks didn't know there was anything like us in the area. We got a good review.

And now Diz was dead. I quickly wrote a short appreciation and e-mailed it off to Service 21 so I would appear tomorrow (Thursday). Then I went off to rehearsal with the Afro-Eurasian Connection. As I walked in, Ade was just coming up from the basement. (Ade, aka Eddie, you’ll recall, is the one who got me the page-turning gig.)

WLB: Diz is dead man.
Ade: What?
WLB: Diz is dead.
Ade: No. When'd he die?
WLB: Just today.

Ade and I drank some rum and played "A Night in Tunisia" in memory of Diz.

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