There Were Big Stars At This LA Party, But I Didn’t Shine So Brightly
(Sidebar: I knew a lot of the guys in Lawrence Welk's band, in particular the lead alto saxophonist Skeets Herfurta first call in Hollywood for years. He often regaled us with with many stories about all the cats he worked with. Welk insisted, especially on his weekly TV show, that everyone smiled continuously, whether they were playing or not. It was not the easiest thing to do with a sax stuck in your mouth, but it was the best paying gig in townso, smiled they did.)
Back to the nightmare: I just wanted out of there. I wanted to be anywhere but there, but Fritz insisted that I stay on the stand with the sax hanging around my necknot to play, or make any attempt to, but make it look like there was nine men on the bandstand ... because that's what was paid for! Occasionally, I would make a grab for my clarinet but dude had eyes in the back of his head: NEIN! NEIN!! And it went on like this for two or three sets, with me hitting one of the bars at every break and popping bennies just to keep cognitively in the game.
Johnny Rivers hadn't started yet. People were still arriving, and most were getting settled and were partaking in social lubricants. I found myself in the house near the front door, where Polly was greeting the arrivals. I'm about three-quarters in the bag by nowsitting in a chair with my glass of vodka, contemplating the great questions that life seems to hand us on occasion: Like, where am I going to sleep tonight? Like that. I happen to look up toward the entrance, and I see Steve Allen and his wife Jayne Meadows walking into the house, saying their hellos to all. I look at Steve and I remember that Steve is not only a musician of sorts (my old friend Terry Gibbs' combo did his TV show), but also a general all-around bon vivant. I take another swallow, swishing the ice cube around the hexagonal glass, sigh deeply, start to nod ... and fucking exploded! Mind, body, every nerve that was still firing: Steve freaking Allen played Benny Goodman in the movie, "The Benny Goodman Story." He even worked with Benny, learning how to play just enough clarinet to make the movie while Benny played the soundtrack. This man knew about clarinets, and clarinet players.
This is what I remember: I had rushed up to him and I asked him if I could have five minutes of his time in the next room, and that I was a great jazz clarinetist, and I wanted him to hear me play and onand on! Upon seeing me in my gig suit, he said: "Well, you're in the band, aren't you?" I said, yes, and he said: "Well, when you fellows start to play, then I'll hear you play the clarinet. Right?" I said, and I'll never forget the look on his face when I said it: THEY WON'T LET ME. He quickly took Jayne's arm and led her out on to the beach to join the normal folks. Time stopped for me. I had a moment of great clarity (the pills were coming on), and I realized what I said and how I said itand how it must have sounded. There came a great welling up from within mea visceral firestorm fueled by the thoughts that I'm going to make something good happen this night. No more Mr. Nice Guy and, like that, I was in my attack mode!!
Back up on the stand, the band's playing and I'm swaying. People are now dancing, and I have a plan. Here come Steve and Jayne, slow dancing. They get within five feet or so of the bandstand and I (with great panache ) go: "Psst, Steve! Over here!" He looks, sees it's me, grimaces. I make a grab for my clarinet, and ol' Fritz senses something, starts to turn and (still smiling) yells "zaxa " before I elbow the cat off the fucking stand. I then run up to the mic with my clarinet. The song being played was "Stardust," a tune I knew. I put that horn up to my lips to play. (Stop! Freeze frame!: OK, some points here. Remember, the whole affair was being held on the beach. The tide had been steadily coming up since I arrived, night had descended as had a fine mist. My clarinet had been out in the open for three hours and the reed, a thin piece of bamboo, was thoroughly soaked and warpedenough to make it unplayable.) When I got to play, nothing comes out. I blow harder, only emitting a little squeak! Now, I'm pissed and going all out: SAWAK! ERRRGAAAA! ITCHHH!