Backstage at Birdland


All musicians have gigs that are, for one reason or another, more memorable that others. This is a list of performances that stand out in my memory for good reasons. Maybe I will add a list of the all-time worst gigs! (That list may take a while to compile. Stay tuned!) Here they are.

  1. Reggie Workman Legacy Ensemble at Lincoln Center- Damrosch Park 1999

    First, the atmosphere was electric, maybe 5 or 6,000 people. I went there the year before to see Sonny Rollins and that was an event. Second, the music. John Coltrane's Africa Brass performedby a large ensemble and choir, transcribed by Charles Tolliver. Third, I remember sitting up on the stage, looking east at a full moon over the Manhattan skyline, and thinking "Wow, here I am in NYC playing some of the greatest music in the world, in front of an appreaciative audience and working with the hero of my teen years, Charles Tolliver."

    Actually this project has had several great performances including a rapturous thing at All Soul's Church on a rainy day in Washington, DC (later broadcast on NPR) and a memorable performance in a Philiadelphia church with both Alice and Ravi Coltrane.

  2. Steve Turre and Sanctified Shells at the North Sea Jazz Festival 1998

    This was the next to the last gig on a six-week US and European tour. The band was tight and payed an amazing 10 PM set. The rhythm section Leon Pendarvis (p), Charles Fambrough (b), and Gene Jackson (d) had locked Fort Knox. Yeow!!! Of the major festivals, North Sea is definately the best hang.

    This tour included some other amazing moments, including a bizarre gig in Milan where we were booked to play a private party for the owners of a club that was not yet opened. also the club was not yet finished! We arrived for soundcheck at a building with not only no doors, but no front wall either. Jack hammers right up until the downbeat. Another hit that stands out was playing at Yoshi's in Oakland on New Year's Eve 1999/2000 live on NPR.

  3. Frank Lacy Vibe Tribe at the Atlanta Jazz Festival

    Is it because of I played the gig on a borrowed tuba that was barely functional? Is it because we were playing "out" music in front of a "downhome" crowd? (This was before they moved the festival to Piedmont Park.) Is it because we had a midnight rehearsal in the festival hotel ballroom the night before the hit? I know it was because it was the first time I played Frank's amazingly original music. It was also my first exposure to the controlled(?) chaos that is Frank Lacy. It was a great night.

  4. Jimmy Heath Jazz Orchestra South Street Seaport 1996?

    Okay. Jimmy Heath's music and arrangements are fabulous. Everyone knows that. Jimmy is a wonderful person. Everyone knows that. And the band had great players: Jerome Richardson, Danny Bank, Bill Milliken, Virgil Jones and what a rhythm section Tony Parrone, Sir Roland Hanna, Ben Brown, and Albert "Tootie" Heath! But for me it was the trombone section. Slide Hampton, Benny Powell, Britt Woodman and me! Yes, yes, yes.....

  5. DC Youth Orchestra, International Festival of Youth Orchestras, Aberdeen, Scotland, August 10, 1974

    yeah part of the glow is that I was young and it has a magic from the wonder of youth. But to paraphrase Bill Murray in Ghostbusters, We same, we saw, we kicked ass! I have a tape. We sounded amazing. We played the Saint-Saens Cello Concerto, The American in Paris and Gustav Mahler's Symphony #5. On the tape we got a 10 minute standing ovation. I had a cold sore and before the concert and at the interval (as they say over there) I used copious amounts of Listerene to numb it. I will never forget the goosebumps and rush we all felt at the end of that concert wile we were receiving that 10 minute adulation form an audience that had a lot of our peers form other orchestras. I also will never for get the low g I played near the end ( 11 bars after rehearsal number 33, if you have the score.) That had to be the most powerful note I ever played. ( I looked at the score, and I can see why it was so powerful!!!) The tape bears me out on this too.

    We had a number of other cool moments with the DCYO, far too many to recount here. But among them were a performance of the last two movements of that same Mahler 5th at the National Cathederal in Washington, DC. I can remember the echo from the last note in that huge building. And also a performance at St Mary's College in southern Maryland of Aaron Copeland's A Lincoln Portrait with Copeland himself performing the narration. We never did finish it, because twice the power was knocked out by lightning!

  6. McKinley Tech Marching Band Mardi Gras 1974 New Orleans also Detroit Lions Preseason Football at RFK Stadium

    The McKinley Tech Marching Band was a undersized organization, maybe 40 pieces. But pound for pound, and led by the great Peter D. Ford, Jr., we had a band packed with talent. A memorable trip to Mardi Gras where we took first place in the parade that mattered to us the most, the Krewe of Zulu Parade. Let's see, we played "Standing on the Verge of Getting it On," "Skin Tight," "Mighty, Mighty," as well as some fine Scott Joplin for the folks down there.

    My first gig with the band was playing at halftime for a preseason game between the Redskins and Lions in the summer of 1973 at RFK Stadium. The thing I remember best was singing "Slippin' into Darkness" with the fellas on the bus ride back to school. Here's to my man Ted Jones!!

  7. Univeristy of Pittsburgh Jazz Ensemble juvenile detention Spring 1977

    Under the direction of Nathan Davis, the University of Pittsburgh Jazz Ensemble went on a ten-day tour of the south including a performance at Birmingham Southern College (where I saw a girl who's image I will never forget) and a week in New Orleans. I rashly, and unauthorizedly, took a week off from my electrical engineering studies at nearby Carnegie Mellon and had the time of my life. The gig in question, at juvenile facility, was one of the last ones we did in New Orleans, and was the third gig we did in the same day. As I recall, we were extremely tight and precise that day playing for the youthful offenders some of whom, it being New Orleans, were excellent musicians themselves. And speaking of juvenile facilities, we were bunked in an empty blockhouse at the Milne Boys Home,where Louis Armstrong got his first music instruction. By the way, the Pitt Jazz Band was no stranger to prisons--we later played a gig at the Western State Penitentary. We had with us that day the great drummer J. C. Moses. Every inmate from the gate all the way to the auditorium seemed to know J.C.!!

  8. Mingus Big band (first Time)

    The first time I played Sue Mingus's Mingus Big Band was nerve-racking and frightening. I played lead trombone in a section with the great Britt Woodman and the amazing Dave Taylor. I love that Mingus music!! To this day, I am one of the few people to have played all three trombone books in the Mingus Big Band.

  9. Aretha Franklin

    The old Capital Centre in Landover, MD. Got to play in the band backing the great Aretha Franklin under the direction of the legendary H. B. Barnum. We were last on a bill that included Kool and the Gang, Sister Sledge, Patrice Rushen, and Frankie Beverly and Maze. Due to circumstances beyond my control, it was like the longest day of my life starting with rehearsal with the core band at 10 am through hitting the stage with Aretha after 1 AM later that night. It was fun though. One thing, we were sitting in a dressing room with juice, fruit, and other snacks having a fine old time when the Queen of Soul herself appears in the doorway. "Miss Franklin," Peter Ford said with a bit of a bow. She mumbled a greeting and disappeared as quickly as she had arrived. A couple of minutes later some guy rousts us and sends us down the hall to the Washington Capitals (hockey team) locker room, where there was at least beer.

  10. Gladys Knight-- my first same day reading big time call.

    My very first gut-wrenching produce-or-go-home gig. Gladys Knight and the Pips at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC. She had a hit record rght after this gig and started to work larger venues, but this was six cozy shows at the Warner, that featured a latenight dressing room visit by the night owl himself, Mayor Marion Barry. This was my first time with the traveling show routine. You rehearse the morning (or in this case afternoon) of the show. They play the very trickest numbers. If you don't sight-read them very well, by showtime someone else will be in your seat. I played the shows!