Friday, March 25, 2016

Trummy Young - and More Gerald Wilson

I joined the Disneyland Band in 1982, and stuck it out until 1994. The band was legendary in many ways, but internally it was a hotbed for practical jokes. One of our favorite targets was our drummer, Joe, who seemed to take it very well when he was the recipient of such frivolity.

One memorable, long-running gag began when Show Services delivered a new gong for Joe to use when we did a show calling for that sound. But Joe drove everyone crazy, testing out different mallets and sounds within the confines of the band room, which was sacrosanct. Band members used it for reading, study, napping; it was personal time and time for recovery from the rigor of performing. After Joe had been asked numerous to "cool it" with the gong, one of the band members (who shall remain anonymous) took it upon himself to "confiscate" the gong and remove it from the room. He took it upstairs, where wardrobe ladies were happy to be in on the joke and secrete it among the costumes.

When Joe was otherwise occupied (like taking a nap), the gong would magically reappear, the bashing of which would wake him up, but not quickly enough for him to catch the perpetrator. Once, when he was at a convention in Las Vegas, band members called his hotel, had him paged, and gonged him over the phone,

Disneyland hosted the "Circus At Disneyland," featuring acts from Ringling Brothers, including the turn-of-the-century wagon pulled by six magnificent Percheron horses. The band rode in the wagon and played appropriate circus-related music. The highlight, though, after the Human Cannonball, was Ricky Wallenda, tight-wire walking over Main Street. The anonymous gong thief talked Ricky into bashing the gong at the beginning of his show. The band was playing below, and Joe remarked, "Hey, he's got my gong!"

The coup de gras occurred when the band was taking their daily cruise on the Mark Twain on the Rivers of America. The band spent part of their day in "break down groups," splitting up the big band into smaller units. One was called the Frontierland Brass, and the members wore 1800s western garb: cavalry uniforms, sheriff's outfit with badge, etc. -- and one lone Indian. The one who shall remain anonymous hung back as the band assembled to march to the river, and then changed into his Indian outfit. He had access to a car, and drove himself and the gong to Videopolis, which conveniently abutted the Indian village on the river. He situated himself among the animatronic Indians and waited for the riverboat to arrive, with the band sitting on the prow. As the boat passed by, the analog Indian slowly raised his arm, and bashed the gong into the silence, just as the band stopped playing. As the boat disappeared around the bend, so did the Indian, and the gong was never heard again.

Super Nova

What better title to honor an important person in my distant past -- Nova Hudson. Nova was the proprietor of the Midway Restaurant, a favorite hang for music majors of my era at Tennessee Tech, namely the early to mid '60s. I don't know, and never asked, where the restaurant name came from, but it was located adjacent to the Tech campus, behind the women's dorms and a short walk across the street from the music department. Ignoring its rather pedestrian title, we simply referred to it as "Nova's."

What made the Midway unique, at least in the eyes of the musicians from Tech, was that Nova was a music lover, and as such, had jazz recordings on the juke box. Each booth had its own coin-operated controller, so you could sit and pump nickels into the remote box, with its flip-around menus, and pick your favorites. I remember that her offerings included Dave Brubeck; memory doesn't serve up much else, but it was the time when "Take Five" was a big hit, so it included tracks from that album. Nova loved to hang around and talk music with us, unfortunately to the point of boredom sometimes, so rather than be rude, we had a secret weapon. Nova seemed unable to tap her foot to "Blue Rondo Ala Turk," so we would drop in a quarter and opt for five plays of that arrangement in 9/8 meter, each bar repeating 2/8-2/8-2/8-3/8, relentlessly attacking the sensibilities of any decent Tennessean who loved a good two-and-four feel. About halfway through the second playing, Nova would surrender and disappear into the kitchen, presumably to help her husband, Pop.

Nova had the last laugh, even though she was probably more disgusted than anthing else. She approached our table one day and announced a "sad day in music:" Jack Teagarden had passed. We were too naive and unknowledgable to be very impressed, and she just turned around and went into her kitchen refuge. Of course we should have been embarrassed that we either didn't know enough about who Jack Teagarden was, or his stature and importance in the world of jazz history and trombone playing. Now, of course, we do, and that just elevates Nova into superstardom in our memories, that she was even privy to that kind of knowledge in our little world, our mountain town of 3,000 residents and our school of some 2,000 students, and our tiny music department of 23 majors. As it turns out, Nova's brother was Tommy Thomas, drummer on Don McNeill's Breakfast Club out of Chicago, for twenty years. No wonder Nova knew about music and jazz! Tommy taught at Tech for a year or two after his retirement, then moved on to Florida. Much later, he moved back to Cookeville and rode his bicycle around and played drums for other older folks until he was about 100.

Nova and her Midway Restaurant invoke happy memories of my time at Tech, of which there were many.

Capital Pun-ishment

I'm fond of a good joke, but I find a great pun irresistible. One of my favorites concerns Roy Rogers going for a ride on Trigger. Roy had gotten a new wardrobe, and was particularly proud of his spiffy boots. As he was riding through an arroyo, he was leaped upon by a puma that tore his boots to shreds. He escaped and returned home, where he told Dale what happened, grabbed his rifle, and headed out seeking retribution. He found and dispatched the lion and returned home. When Dale saw him ride in with the couger over his saddle, she sang (apologies to Glenn Miller--oh, maybe not), "Pardon me, Roy, is that the cat who chewed your new shoes?"

My nephew Nonda and I have been exchanging stories of this ilk since he was a wee lad, one of the earliest of which dealt with toilet paper and...well, we won't go there. But I fear he has had the last word. His tale:

Ghandi walked all over India, preaching peace and love, and since he was barefoot or wore very thin sandals, the bottoms of his feet became very tough. As he grew older and his health started to fail, he ate lots of curry to try to slow the aging process, which gave him bad breath. So he became a -- wait for it --

-- Super-calloused-fragile-mystic-hexed-by-halitosis. Take that, Mary Poppins!