Memorable Moments & Personal Anecdotes
I was hired to play for Aretha Franklin at a Fashion Show in the early 90's, where she only sang 1 song, “Happy Birthday”.
When General Colin Powell came to NYC, I was hired to play solo piano at a dinner in his honor.
New Years Eve 1987 at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City, Sal Richards was the headlining entertainer, and many of the entertainers performing in town came by to celebrate bringing in the New Year and all appeared on stage at the same time with us. (including Buddy Greco, Rita Moreno, Gloria Loring, Fred Travelena, Peter Allen, The Rockettes & others).
While performing at Resorts International Hotel in Atlantic City, I was approached by an Elvis impersonator in full costume who said he recognized me and asked me if we had worked together in the past. I told him we had not, but that he looked familiar. (Of course he looked familiar, he looked like Elvis, but he didn't get it).
The great jazz pianist Jaki Byard (who I took lessons from in the mid 1970's) was working at a jazz club in Manhattan and I was there to see him. While taking a break he called me over and brought me to a front table, where he introduced me to the (Dave) Brubeck family, and told them I was a great piano player. It was quite exciting for an 18 year old.
In the early 90's, I was working with entertainer Scott Record, who on this one particular day was appearing with Andy Williams at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Scott did his usual really great show. The military people threw us an "after show" cocktail party, where we had the chance to just mingle with the military brass. 2 gentlemen approached me, to tell me how much they wanted to meet me, and that they really enjoyed the show. I thanked them, and then they said "By the way, I'm Neil Armstrong, and this is Alan Shepard".
It was funny. They wanted to meet me! I’m just a musician, these guys fly in outer space.
I once drove 6 hours in a driving snowstorm to get to a show gig. When the other musicians arrived, we were all exhausted after the treacherous ride (which in good weather would have taken much less time), but expected the rehearsal to be quick, since we were regular players for this entertainer. We were rehearsing her opening number while she was running lighting cues with the techs in the lighting booth, when she yelled to us that "the band's energy is not matching the lighting!” She was very serious about it. We all knew her to be crazy, but this confirmed it.
I'm not going to tell you who it was.
In my early days of working, I had to lie about my age plenty of times to be able to work in certain places. I was 15 years old playing piano in a resort hotel that had a day camp. It was no surprise that even all of the counselors were older than me. One night, while playing for comedian Vic Arnell, he turned around, looked at the band and me at the piano and said "It's nice of the day camp to let you out to play the piano".
When I was 15 years old, I was hired to play for entertainer Tiny Tim in a bar. I really wasn't old enough to even be in a bar, but nobody said anything. When the band took a break, I went to the bar to order a Coke. I really was young looking, the bartender asked me if I wanted a scoop of ice cream in it.
A singer who had recorded an album came to me to transcribe an arrangement from that album for her to use in her live show. This arrangement that she originally sang to was just for that recording session, and she didn't own it, and couldn't take it after the session. It was a standard tune, a very easy transcribe. I delivered the arrangement. She went to do a show later that week with a trio that consisted of piano, drums and tenor sax. She called me up the next day to complain, and was very serious when she said that my arrangement didn't sound "powerful enough".
Of course it had nothing to do with the makeup of the band, it had to be all my fault.
Entertainer Shecky Greene was especially liked and respected by musicians, a very generous guy as well. He knew that I loved to eat pizza, and while I would be running a rehearsal with the musicians for his show, he would go out and buy pizza pies for the band to eat during a rehearsal break. One day, we were flying from Chicago to Los Angeles and we just got in our first class seats when he told me he'd be right back and got off the plane. I was getting nervous as take-off time was approaching and they were just about to close the cabin door, when he comes running in with a pizza pie that he bought in the terminal. We were eating it as the plane took off, and soon after that the flight attendant brought me the healthy low-fat meal I ordered in advance.
I’d like to tell this story about Julius LaRosa, legendary singer who passed away on May 12th, 2016.
I was Julius’ pianist/conductor for over 20 years. We worked all the major venues over that period of time, in and out of the country. He was a very simple man, to him (and most of his generation) the older ways were always better, the latest electronics and gadgets were way over his head and never something that he could get into. His son worked at one of the top electronics store in NYC and got him a cellphone right around the time of the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster. 5 days after that tragedy, we had a job at the Mountaineer Casino in West Virginia. There were still no planes flying in or out of the NYC airports, so we had to make the 8+ hour trip by car. We went together, I was driving, and he said that he was going to call his house from his new cellphone and make sure that everything was OK. I was watching the road and didn’t see what he was doing, but he said to me that he wasn’t getting a dial tone. I said to him that cellphones don’t get a dial tone. I looked over, and he had his wireless kitchen telephone with him, not his cellphone, and he couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t call his house.
Entertainer Sal Richards and I were on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship for 3 days. We had to get off on a day that the ship didn't dock, so we ended up climbing down a rope off the side of the ship and got into a little boat to take us to shore. Traveling with Sal is always an adventure. If he sat next to me on the plane, he'd put my tray table down so he could put his drink on it and have all the room to move around, while I would be cramped. Once, we were on a very crowded flight, with very little room for carry-on luggage. Sometimes you just have to get your bag in the first available spot you see, even if it's not near your seat. Well, I was sitting on the plane a few rows behind Sal and I got on the plane a minute or so before him, and stored my carry-on bag in an overhead bin near his seat. When he got on the plane and near his seat and saw there was no place to put his bag, he noticed my bag, and yelled to me to remove it. What a guy!
If any of this sounds like he's not a good guy, that couldn't be further from the truth. He’s a great guy.
You'll see me in his movie "Mr Laughs: A look Behind the Curtain" (available at Amazon.com).
I have enough stories to fill another page. Check back soon. Plenty more to come!