The year was 1987. The telephone rang, and a voice with a French accent said ‘My name is Louis Mazetier, I live in Paris and am staying in London for a short while and wondered if you are performing anywhere in the next couple of days – I’d like to come along and listen, I play piano myself’. I informed him that I was playing for a party of friends the following night in south west London. He said he would like to come along and I gave him the address.The following evening I showed up at the gig. The host, who had only been married a few weeks, led me to his ‘pride and joy’ – a newly acquired secondhand piano. My jaw dropped as I was confronted with a spinet-type instrument that had 56 keys instead of the usual 88. The keys were depressed (and so was I). At least seven of the notes didn’t work and the rest were out of tune with each other. ‘What do you think’ I was asked. ‘Well it’s not exactly a Steinway’ I said ‘but I’ll have a go’. The host had previously told the guests about the marvellous instrument he had acquired and to make matters worse he had also sung my praises. The show had to go on. I played for about an hour and was about to ask if anybody had an axe, when the door bell rang.. In walked this dapper guy. ‘I’m Louis’ he said and sat down for a drink while I struggled away at the 56ers. After my apologies for the state of the piano, he enthusiastically took over and amazed me with his great renditions of some Stride classics. That spinet was the start of a beautiful friendship – I understand it is now being used to support ash trays and pint glasses!
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Pianist Rich Siegel got a brunch gig at a luxury hotel in Jersey, but when he arrived he found the piano was so badly out of tune, it was unplayable. The food manager was unimpressed when Rich told him the piano was so far gone it was impossible to play. ‘Just play jazz’ said the manager, ‘forget the classical stuff’.
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Clarinetist Goff Dubber tells the story of the bandleader who telephoned him one Saturday afternoon and asked him if he was working that night. ‘I’m afraid so’ said Goff. ‘Damn’ said the leader ‘I’m desperate – you were my last hope’.
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‘Empress of the Blues’ BESSIE SMITH died in 1937 after a bad car crash. Although about seven thousand people attended her funeral, her grave went unmarked until 1970 when singer Janis Joplin and Bessie’s ex-cleaner financed a headstone. It read ‘THE GREATEST BLUES SINGER IN THE WORLD, WILL NEVER STOP SINGING’.
‘The Voice of Jazz’ BILLIE HOLIDAY was named Eleanora but later adopted the name Billie after her then favourite film star, Miss Billie Dove. At the age of 43 she was living alone in New York with her Chihuahua which she habitually fed from a baby’s bottle (she had wanted to adopt a child but because of all her problems, had been refused). In 1959 Billie collapsed and was taken to hospital where, as she lay dying, was charged with possession of narcotics.
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Final word from Lu Watters: ‘Approach tunes boldly with a wild spirit of recklessness, so essential to our kind of music. In other words this spontaneity, this willingness to take chances, is what keeps the music in a constant mood of creativity, and keeps it from falling into the trap of staleness.