Our man on alto and soprano saxophones was the distinguished Steve Wilson. (Hopefully, you already read my interview of Wilson in an earlier post. It's quite extensive...) This was pretty much the core group for years, with some variations, depending on scheduling. Sometimes we would have Stefon Harris or Steve Nelson on vibes, sometimes we would have Vincent Herring on alto, occasionally Carl Allen would sub on drums. But Williams, White, Wilson, and Colligan was the norm. Lenny would always say he thought it was a great mix of age groups; Buster is mid 60's, Lenny was late 50's at the time, Steve is mid to late 40's , and yours truly mid to late 30's. Oftentimes nowadays you see either an entire band of young cats or an entire band of older cats. Unless someone can give me a good example, I think it's rare to have that kind of mix.
I'm trying to set the stage for what I think is kind of a funny story. Hopefully it's at least as funny as your average Reader's Digest anecdote, or maybe some story about the 40's that your Grandma tells every Christmas. ("And would you believe that I ended up with an overcooked turkey? And in those days, we couldn't get turkeys so often because of the war, so sometimes we would eat bologna on pumpernickel bread...." " Ha ha ha, that's hilarious, Grandma....")Anyway, this was a tour of the U.K., and we were finally at the last gig of the tour. We were in a small club in Edinburgh, Scotland. This was also a radio broadcast for the BBC, although the piano was pretty sub-standard and the sound in general was not ideal (as is often the case in these small clubs). This was the second set of the gig; the first set had been pretty exhausting as usual, but in a good way. Our sets always seemed to be quite epic, as if we were trying to best ourselves every time out of the gate.
So we began the second set, and the second tune was "The Wind Of An Immortal Soul". This tune has basically an AAB form, where the A sections are in 4/4 and the B sneaks into 3/4. Sometimes, we would obscure the 3/4 with various forms of musical trickery. On this night, however, during my solo, we had a rare rhythmic miscommunication. During the B section, something happened where I just couldn't hear what was happening with anything:rhythm, form, harmony, you name it. Plus, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I was half in the bag at that point. (That's a old slang terminology for excessive alcohol consumption. Hey, we were in Scotland. Did you know that they don't call it Scotch in Scotland, they call it whiskey? Boy, I sure did!)
|"Use the Force...to get acting work!"|
I really started to sweat: however, I figured eventually I would figure out where I was in the song. Time stood still, and I started to have serious doubts about my musical career. Visions of law school crossed my mind as I flailed away at the keys. My head was down even further, my eyes closed. This is it, I told myself, I'm done, washed up, I'm fired, this is my last gig with this band. And then all of a sudden, a cheer rang out from the audience. It seemed that my ploy had actually worked! I tricked them into thinking I was having a keyboard revelation only by a commitment to conviction. I'm telling you, the crowd went nuts! And then, Buster played a single note signaling the B section, and the world rushed back and I could finally breathe again. I neatly wrapped up my solo and we moved on to the next song amidst wild applause and adulation. (Keep in mind that this was recorded for the BBC, so a recording of this is out there somewhere...oy vey...)
I looked up, rather sheepishly, and looked at Steve Wilson, who yelled across the bandstand, "Whatever you're smoking, I want some!" Of course, after the set, Lenny White's comment was something to the effect of, "I really thought that George had snapped and we were going to take him to the hospital after that solo!"