Tom Sez...

Distant Drums 

I never met Neil Peart. Never even heard him play, since we worked different sides of the street. But over the years I’ve lost so many friends who also happened to be excellent drummers that I might have some understanding of how his friends and co-workers feel. 

I’d like to take this moment to remember some of the fine drummers who crossed my path along the way, and send a quick shout out to them, wherever they are: 

•Jack Gilfoy 

•Stan Gage 

•John Von Ohlen 

•Dennis St. John 

•Carlos Vega 

•John Guerin 

•Jeff Porcaro 

ªEarl Palmer 

•Hal Blaine 

•Willis Kirk 

•Killer Ray Appleton 

•Vince Charles 

I hope I haven’t left anyone out who should have been included. I already feel a bit like Spinal Tap.

Diane's Keaton's birthday (and me) 

Today is Diane Keaton’s birthday, so I’m wishing her a happy one, and I’ll tell you the story about Diane and me. 

By 1974, I was pretty busy with studio work, which I enjoyed, so I turned down most other type gigs for a while. Then I received a call to work a week at the Ice House, a club in Pasadena, accompanying a singer named Diane Keaton. Artie Butler had played for her in New York, but wasn’t available for LA, so I somehow got the call. 

I accepted enthusiastically. For one thing, I remembered a time when I had turned down playing for Bernadette Peters, because I thought they meant Roberta Peters, and feared the music would be too difficult and operatic for me. I didn’t want to make that mistake again. 

Diane didn’t want to drive on the freeway, so she asked if she could come to our house through Coldwater Canyon and then ride with me to Pasadena. No problem, I said, and so on the first day she drove up to our little cul-de-sac home, which we later sold to Dorothy Lamour and her husband, but that’s another story altogether, so forget I metioned it. 

In a case of life imitating art imitating life, Diane pulled up in front of the house and drove directly into a trash can, a scene identical to one which appeared a few years later in Annie Hall, causing my wife and I more laughter than most others in the theater. 

We hopped into my car and headed for Pasadena. Diane was the opening act for Pat Paulsen, a comedian (and briefly a satirical presidential candidate), whose career was at its peak, meaning that the Ice House was packed with people who had come to see him. 

Diane was doing a set of standard ballads, the kind I had played on dance jobs and in night clubs in Indiana for a many years, so it was easy and comfortable to play for her. She was not a belter, but a gentle performer of great songs, and that was just fine with me, and she was happy with my no-frills accompaniment. 

Between sets, "our" dressing room was occupied by Paulsen’s people, and Diane was not anxious to hang around the club being asked what Woody Allen was really like. (Diane had done a couple of films with Woody by that point, but was not at her full movie-star fame level, so she was not the main attraction at the Ice House.) 

She thought it would be a good idea to hop in my car and drive around Pasadena, so we did just that, and whenever we saw something interesting, I would pull over and she would hop out and snap some photos. 

This became the routine each night of the week, a pleasant, friendly gig for both of us. My wife enjoyed Diane, too, and vice versa. When the week ended, we stayed in touch, and she left for Europe to film “Love and Death” with Woody. 

Some time later, after she got back to LA, she came to the Troubador to hear Tom Hensley’s Biggest and Best Band Ever Yet (see separate Facebook page about that silliness), and afterward we visited, and she told me, “Hensley, I always knew you were crazy, but now I know—you’re crazy!” 

And that was it. I haven’t heard from her since. I hope she wasn’t offended by my big band’s deconstruction of music she loved, but I think it was more a case of her taking the full-time job of being a movie star and me becoming busy spending forty years on the road playing for Neil Diamond. I did try sending her a message through her agency, unsuccessfully. When her photography began to appear in museum exhibitions, I wondered if any of her work shot from my car was contained in her shows, but assumed that her Pasadena studies were not deemed relevant, and that our Ice House week had been long-forgotten. 

Then last year, while rummaging through my archives, I found a very sweet and intelligent hand-written letter, several pages long, she had written us, describing life on the set in Europe. It made me wish we had stayed in touch, and that I could have sent her my PBI newsletters from the road, which I know she would have enjoyed. But forty years had gone by without a reply from me, and what kind of jerk does something like that? And I didn't actually hae a return address, since my letter had come from the set somewhere in Europe.

I also made note of the fact that my first touring gig, in 1963, was a summer of state fair shows where I played for Buster Keaton. Yes, that Buster Keaton. 

For a while I wondered if I should seek out some rehearsal piano for Michael Keaton, in order to complete the legendary Keaton trifecta. But then I realized that Michael Keaton’s real name in Michael Douglas, and Diane Keaton’e real name is Diane Hall, and my real name is irrelevant, so I abandoned all thought about the trifecta, settling in its place for the memory of Dick Cavett’s caption for a photo of Aristotle Onassis considering purchasing the former residence of Buster Keaton: Aristotle contemplating the home of Buster. 

So Diane, if you happen to come across this, give me a shout and we can catch up. And, by the way, did you ever take a picture of me? I had to use the computer to jimmy up the fake one of us above. You look great, me not so much.

Another Birthday Behind Bars 

Phil Spector's birthday today is not a happy one, one might guess. I did a bunch of recording sessions for Phil back in the day, and mostly enjoyed a lot of things about them: the cast of characters who would turn up made the dates entertaining, the music was sometimes unexpectedly wonderful, and Phil was mostly nice to the musicians, except when he wasn't. 

I've dined on stories about my Spector dates for years. I remember when we did an album with Leonard Cohen. We were at a studio in Glendale, and when we had a rare opportunity for a break, I stepped out the front door onto Glenoaks Avenue. Leonard Cohen was sitting on the curb, with heis feet in the gutter. I said to him a phrase which was always appropriate at a Spector date: "Are you all right?" Without looking up, he replied, "What in the world am I doing here?" I found myself asking that same question.

I  usually conclude by mentioning that I eventually told my wife that I wasn't going to accept any more of Phil's gigs, because the presence of guns worried me. I said: "There's going to be an ugly scene eventually, and I don't want to be around when it happens."

A few years later, there was, and I wasn't.

Looking at the photos that came on line today, I realized that, for Phil, the real punishment turned out to be not the years in prison, but  having all those photos of him in the newspapaers without his favorite wig.

Happy Birthday, David B. 

Today was David Baker’s birthday, and everyone who knew him is posting a picture of themselves in his company, so I’ll join the party. When he passed away, I posted this: 

You can find plenty online describing his greatness, his kindness, his generosity, and how much he was liked and loved; but I’d like to add a few cents from my experience. 

I met David when I was in high school, and was fortunate enough to hang around with a crop of other young would-be jazzers, many of whom were in the IU Music School. 

At the time, jazz was forbidden there. I mean literally. This was long before the jazz program became a beacon of the school. We bebop punks would get together in groups of 4 or 5 or maybe 6, and jam in the practice rooms at East Hall, an old postwar quonset hut complex located where the IU opera theater now stands. 

It was a big deal whenever one of the better players would be present, such as Larry Ridley or Joe Hunt or Al Kiger, but especially David Baker, whose trombone playing was already highly respected by many. These were important times, but the guy in charge of the practice rooms was unimpressed, and would regularly come around and shoo away any of us who were caught playing jazz, David included. He laughed, regarding it as sport. 

Whenever we were kicked out we would, like a cluster of ants, quickly reassemble in another room some distance away in the building, where we would resume jamming until we were discovered again. 

At some point, I decided to start my own group, and got a few like-minded horn players, bass and drums to sign on, although I was still in high school. But I didn’t have any charts for us to play. 

I told David about my situation, and he said “I’ve got a seven-piece book. Why don’t you copy the charts in it and use that?” 

Mind you, this was long before copy machines, digital cameras, or the other tools of today’s trade. I had to copy each part by hand, not an easy task, but eventually I got it done. 

We played our charts for dances and parties, and sometimes in small concerts at my high school. University High School was a quite progressive institution (to prove it, consider this: I got a diploma!) Only once did we run afoul of a teacher, a gentleman who asked that we not announce the title of David’s composition, “Dog Fashion.” from the stage. I didn’t know why he objected to that title back then. 

A couple of decades later, I was in LA and starting to get paid for writing charts, affording me the luxury of using a copyist. My copyist pointed out a few little peculiarities in my manuscript, which I realized were artifacts of having learned arranging mostly by painstakingly copying David Baker’s charts. 

After David’s passing, when I read people who praised David’s generosity, the four horn library popped into my mind. 

Another random memory: When I had the house band at the Embers in Indianapolis, musicians who came to town with the acts would inevitably ask about David. I remember driving Bassist Herb Mickman, who was working with pianist Peter Nero at the time, over to David’s house, so he could take a lesson while he was in town. 

A few years ago, my wife and I were in Bloomington to visit relatives, and we made a nostalgia visit to the IU campus. We walked around the music school (Sarah was a graduate in Voice there) and we passed a room with David’s name on the door. I shyly knocked, and David opened the door wide. The room was quite large, and he was teaching a class at the time. 

I started to apologize for disturbing him, but he pulled us inside, and introduced me to the class, as if I was a big deal. I think that moment was probably my coolest moment ever. 

No matter how well you knew David, or how casually you knew him, he made you feel like a close friend, and that brand of genius is rare and blessed.

Take THAT, Ferrari 

We made it to the screening of Ford V Ferrari the other night, and I’m happy to report that my minuscule  contributions to the soundtrack music did not ruin the movie at all. Films nowadays are such a free-for-all battle for your attention between dialogue, sound effects and music, and, yes, picture—I’m always rooting for the music, naturally—that I am happy to testify that I heard the cues on which I had contributed a bit, and everything worked together quite well. Oh yes, sometimes all those automotive noises can make you feel like they’re beating on your eardrums with rubber hoses, but that can happen even in a film about butterflies these days. 

Actually, my only complaint with the music is that there were a few cues on which I wished I had been able to play, because it sounded like the Muzoids were having such big fun. 

The trend toward lengthy movies continues, with F V F clocking in at over 2½  hours. The photo here is a simulation of the line for the men’s room afterward. 

Here’s a pull quote, in case their publicist needs one: 

“Ford V Ferrari includes the finest use of Italian expletives since Breaking Away.” 

(Afterward, I did hear an audience member lamenting the lack of subtitles during the scene in which Mr. Ferrari expressed his displeasure about race results. Spoiler alert: oops, too late.