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A Swiftian Moment 

On October of 2014, we did a short promotional trip to New York and London, making some TV appearances to promote an upcoming tour set to take place the following year. 

On October 3rd, we flew to London to do a couple of tunes on the Ken Bruce Show for BBC radio, followed a couple of days later by a bit on Graham Norton's Show. The other guests on that show were to be John Cleese and Taylor Swift. 

I settled into my place at my keyboard and soon Ms. Swift arrived at the studio. She walked directly in fron my station at the keyboard on her way to the desk where Mr. Norton was planted. I remember feeling somewhat intimidated by the sheer length of her legs, which were longer than my attention span. Which, in turn, led me to a moment of reflective inspiration. 

If Graham Norton really wanted to have some fun with his guests, I conjectured, he would be well-served to have Mr. Cleese teach Ms. Swift how to do his epic “Ministry of Silly Walks” bit. It seemed that this could be the greatest piece of business involving the use of legs east of the Rockettes. 

I continued to imagine that scenario for most of the time we were doing the show, but there was no one to whom I could float my suggestion, and I saw little likelihood that anyone would care to react to a crazy idea from the piano player, so I swallowed my thought and played my part. (I did, however, manage to grab a photo of myself seated on the show’s set, which sharp-eyed viewers might be able to recognize on the cover of my “Jazz Time” album.)

But to this day, whenever I look at the video of our appearance on the Graham Norton Show, I stubbornly cling to my vision of Taylor Swift’s impressive legs in the Cleese pose pictured here. You’ll have to do the same, because it's never going to happen.

Memories of Old Glory 

I have a lot of July 4th memories from my 40 years of touring with Neil Diamond. There was 1976, when I was still a new guy on the band, when we played for the grand opening of the Aladdin Theater of the Performing Arts in Las Vegas. It was the country’s bicentennial, and on the 4th we gathered on the roof of the Jockey Club, where we were staying, to observe fireworks emanating from Caesar’s Palace up the street. And we gathered in Mr. Diamond’s suite for the wedding of Richard and Tina Bennett. 

A decade later, we performed at what was called Liberty Weekend, celebrating the grand re-opening of the Statue of Liberty, which had been closed for remodeling. 

The Statue of Liberty and the Bennetts’ marriage, by the way, have outlasted the Aladdin Theater, which was imploded in 1998. 

But right now I’m thinking about the 4th of July, 2009. The country was in a better place then. We had a properly-elected president, one we could believe and believe in, and we didn’t have to be ashamed of a country which holds children in concentration camps. 

In 2009, I was in Boston with our band, to play with the Boston Pops for a concert that was televised live with the wonderful Craig Ferguson as presenter. 

I got to chat with Mr. Ferguson, and we talked about our then-recent concert in Glasgow, Scotland, his home town. 

I told him it had rained heavily as we played at the Hampden Park stadium but the audience, attired in umbrellas and trash-bag raincoats, seemed not to care, perhaps because they were drinking so heartily that night. 

“That’s what they do there,” he told me. “It wasn’t until I left Glasgow that I realized I was an alcoholic.” 

Ten years later, becoming an alcoholic seems like a rational decision in a country that has become a caricature of itself, and is ruled by a tyrant who spends tax dollars to turn a once-inspiring celebration into a partisan rally for himself. 

So today, I think I’ll find a video of that 2009 4th of July, and pretend for a little while that everything since 2016 has been wiped clean.

Size is or isn't everything 

This photograph shows our audience at a show we did at Glastonbury in 2008. I'm stating that for the record before D. Trump claims it to be the crowd at one of his rallies. These people are lively and happy and don't want to cause anybody any trouble.

We did have some trouble that day, however. There was some kind of an audio mishap between the stage, the sound boards and the BBC, which was carrying it all. It resulted in several minutes of silence from many of us, while the drums continued, creating a nice solo moment for Ronnie Tutt and King Errisson, which has to be regarded as a net gain.

It makes me think about how much I enjoyed playing with those rascals for so many years. I don't want to say I get nostalgic for the tour, but last night I went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. When the light came on, I did twenty minutes.

Unlike Mr. Trump, I'll add some honest details. The size of our audience was increased due to some other acts on the show, including Kings of Leon, Jay-Z, Amy Winehouse, James Blunt, Crowded House, Martha Wainwright, Leonard Cohen, John Mayer, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Gilbert O'Sullivan—all of these on our stage (The Pyramid Stage) alone, along with others, probably including your favorite.

I had time to wander around the grounds a bit, and people seemed to be having a really good time. Then I had a chance to climb up to the area above the stage and watch the stage and John Mayer's band from above. If I could attend this way, I might attend more of the giant festival events, but otherwise I steer clear, leaving more room for others who enjoy crowds more than I do.

Thus Endeth Jazz Appreciation Month 

After landing in Louisville, and settling in at the downtown Louisville Marriott, the first thing on the agenda of some Touroids was getting out of Louisville. Getting out of the whole damned state of Kentucky, in fact, and heading across a big bridge into the next-door state of Indiana, and the charming little town of New Albany. The lure was a performance by a jazz musician born and raised and still living in New Albany. His name is Jamey Aebersold, and he is legendary in the jazz world, and beyond, as a great performer, writer and educator. An official NEA  Jazz Master, in fact, and those are not in abundance.  

Mr. Aebersold was playing with a snappy quartet in a refurbished old building, the River City Winery, in a sprused-up old downtown. There was quite a crowd in the room when the first Uberload of Muzoids arrived, and even more so when a second car dumped its load of Hollywood Horns (without their horns, sadly).  

Upon arrival, each Touroid was issued a copy of the Jazz Handbook, published by Jamey Aebersold Jazz, chock full of practice suggestions, tips and tricks, and the secrets of improvisation.  

A quote: “Everyone has the ability to improvise from the youngest child to the senior citizen. You have to have desire and set aside time to work at it until moving your fingers becomes automatic and the distance between your mind and fingers grows smaller and smaller to where you think an idea and your fingers are already playing it. It’s not magic. If it is, then magi equals hard work and perseverance. When asked, ‘What is the greatest obstacle to enlightenment?’ the Buddha replied, ‘Laziness.’ I agree!”  

Part of Jamey’s successful business model is his jazz play along CD/music packages, which are used all over the world for training by amateurs and professionals alike.  

One of the things I specifically wanted to ask him was the correct pronunciation of the name of another  jazz legend, Lee Konitz, with whom I played a gig in Louisville 50 years ago, so I could drop his name in a pathetic attempt to enhance my paltry jazz cred.  

Jamey gave me the correct pronunciation (KOE-nitz), and also told me that Mr. Konitz, now age 90, uses his playalong disks to practice scat singing.  

Before his group's downbeat, Jamey walked into the audience, and gave each visiting Touroid a 25-cent piece. Yes, a quarter. Not, as you might think, so they could call someone who cared. Instead, he said, “Look at these closely.” And those who did, and whose Codger Vision was working acceptably, could read the inscription of the name Duke Ellington on the back of the coin. A genuine Duke coin.

As I said, the Hollywood Horns arrived disarmed, so intimidated were they by Jamey's credentials, and there was to be no jamming for them, despite our urging. But both our keyboard dudes, who feared no jam, sat in for a tune each, and acquitted themselves without embarrassment on an unfamiliar instrument. “Acquitted” is the appropriate word, too, because the Muzoids were joined by my nephew, Mike Hensley, who had driven to New Albany from Madison, Indiana, where he is a judge, holding the same seat once occupied by his father, the late “Honest” Joe Hensley, who was the talented one in my family, with 21 novels published as well as 100 short stories,. My grand total, on the other hand, is—let’s see...exactly, uh, none. Unless you count thirty years of this PBI crap. But that’s another story, or perhaps dozens of them. Further deponent sayeth naught.  

After the jazz gig shut down (a little after nine), several Muzoids were driven back to the hotel by Judge Mike. On a street corner on the way to his car, they stopped to look at a music store. It was closed, obviously, or Richard Bennett would have been inside guitar shopping, but outside was a weatherbeaten upright piano, and I stopped to play a few bars for the invisible crowd on the street.  

The evening was wrapped up nicely by Judge Mike's action-packed drive through the Louisville street grid’s closings, impending destruction and random one-way direction changes. Eventually, we arrived at the hotel, which is why you’re reading this.  

Footnote 2019: A few days after our lovely evening in New Albany, Jamey Aebersold emailed me that he had just been informed by the management of the River City Winery that his group’s services would no longer be required. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the music business sucks, as does one no-longer-hip establishment in Southern Indiana where being a certified NEA Jazz Legend is insufficient credentials for a gig. If you were planning to go there to hear one, never mind. Jazz Appreciation Month is officially over.

Norton Futilities 

Back in 2014, we did a pre-tour tour, promoting the tour that was coming up the following year. We went to New York and to London, doing TV appearances, including one on the Graham Norton show. 

If you want to hear my boss sing or me play on this clip, save your time. The version on YouTube has been stripped of our performance. I don’t know if that’s because of music clearance issues. my appearance being too frightening, or some other reason, but I won’t be hurt if you skip watching it all. 

I saw it all, however, from my vantage point at the keyboard, and there’s a little detail I’d like to share. When we arrived at the studio for rehearsal I was sitting at my station as Taylor Swift walked across the stage in front of me, and I had what I thought was a brilliant idea: the producers should arrange to have John Cleese teach Taylor Swift how to do the ministry of silly walks bit for which Cleese is known. Cleese may not be able to stretch enough to do those moves these days, but Ms. Swift is well-equipped to kill with that routine using those legs which are undeniably long. 

Of course, there was no one to whom I could make my wee suggestion, and I was tasked with playing the piano (which, let me repeat, you will hear none of here), and not brainstorming schtick, so a chance for a great laugh was lost to history. 

One other thing: you may think that Neil and Taylor Swift are both pretty well-known internationally, but the clear star in the room, as far as the audience was concerned, was Kevin Pieterson, the cricket player. To me, Cricket was just a character played by Connie Stevens on Hawaiian Eye. In an odd coincidence, Connie Stevens once attended a party at our house, although I don't remember why.

I also note that if you delve deeply into the comments below the Graham Norton video (never a good idea, actually), many viewers were most focused in John Cleese’s crotch and Neil’s ears, neither of which I noticed.

Mitigating factor: I best reward I got out from this appearance was a colorful snapshot (not the one above) I shot of the guest seating area on stage. I later used it on the cover of my Jazz Time CD, thinking no one would ever recognize it. I was wrong about that--a surprising number of people did.

Four Years Ago in Boston 

Wait--it wasn't Boston. It was across the bridge in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I'm hanging out in a cute little club/art gallery called the Lilypad where the moment captured in this photo occurred. I was uncharacteristically  sitting in with some serious jazzers, most notably a drummer with whom I had played many years before, back in Indiana. Drummer Joe Hunt is now on the faculty of the New England Conservatory, but when I met him he was playing around Bloomington, shortly before heading east to meet up with George Russell, and acquire his own solid jazz credentials by playing in Russell's sextet. Joe is still quite amazing, both his playing and the fact that he appears to be the exact same age as when I first met him. I believe the fine bass player with whom we're jamming is Bob Nieske. (Note the placement of the Exit sign. We really didn't want anyone to leave while we were playing. But don't worry—Joe is set up to double on fire extinguisher.) Just another tour memory.

Airing of the Green 

This is a the day when we like to look back at our many visits to Ireland over the years. We did a lot of memorable shows there, met a lot of special people, and lingered post-tour multiple times to ramble around the countryside. 

We had tremendous audiences in Dublin, enthusiastic and ready to party. Irish audiences always clapped and sang along, even on songs where it was unexpected. I never thought of “I Am…I Said” as an audience participation number, but they made it one. 

Among the fine friends we made over the years, I’d like to mention Michael Devine, who always provided our transportation in Ireland. Mick, as he is known, drove our vocalist every time we came to town—except once. That was the year he had to send a sub due to a previous commitment to attend a wedding in Taos, New Mexico. He was especially needed at the wedding because he was to give away the bride, a young actress named Julia Roberts. His absence was excused. 

Our original Irish promoter, the late Jim Aiken, set the bar for how our rowdy bunch should be treated when we blew into town, and during every trip to Dublin, his name was brought up reverently.

Another friend from Dublin was a woman named Grainne O’Driscoll. When we met, she was working in advertising, putting together commercials for Guinness. When we returned a few years later, she had made a big transition into operating her own Pilates studio, and therefore went from toasting us to stretching us. 

There were lots of other people we met, sometimes at dinner in a restaurant or at a pub or someplace even more unlikely. We think of all of them on this day, even the ones whose names we can’t remember. We love you all.

A Big Thumbs up for Women 

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and I found myself looking back at a couple of my first gigs when I arrived in Los Angeles, both of them with remarkable women. 

The first was at a club called the Ruddy Duck, quite near where we now live, playing Hammond B3 organ with the Mary Kaye Trio. Mary came from a royal musical family in Hawaii and Las Vegas, where she was a giant star in the early days. 

I wasn’t really an organist, but I managed to cover it, and it was great to have a steady gig. Serious players sometimes came by to sit in. I remember guitarist Mundell Lowe joining us one evening, and Herb Jeffries came by to sing with us on occasion. 

My other memory for Women's Day is my first LA touring gig, as pianist and musical director for Helen Reddy. “Musical director,” meant that I was the only musician on the premises. Helen, her husband Jeff Wald, and I would fly to a city, rent a car and drive to the venue. The first gig was for an auto race in Charlotte, and Jeff was upset when he found that Helen was expected to kiss the winner of the race.

In those days. Helen envisioned her career as somewhat like Joni Mitchell’s: an introspective singer/songwriter. Jeff had other ideas, and he prevailed, to her financial benefit. One crossroads I remember is when he persuaded her to shave her armpits in order to secure her first TV deal with NBC. 

I eventually put together her first band, and it was a pretty good one. Mike Warren on guitar (he later played with Donna Summer at the peak of her career); Michael Berkowitz on drums (he later moved to NY and became the king of Broadway, playing for Liza Minelli, Marvin Hamlisch, and an entire zoo of others); the late Jack Conrad on bass (he later wrote hit songs for the Babys and others); and assorted saxophonists (I remember Ronnie Starr and Richie Kamuca, to name two). Jack Conrad was pleased when Helen offered to write lyrics for one of his songs, which she eventually recorded as "Summer of '71." Jack was less pleased when he discovered that her lyric for the chorus began "We're out of our mescaline minds," insuring, in those days, that there would be no big payday for radio performances of the song.

This photo shows Helen with my my wife Sarah and myself. It was taken in Amsterdam on a tour back in the early 1970s. A couple of decades later, Alan Lindgren and I were scoring a film called "Thanksgiving Day," and found that the script included a scene in which the star, Mary Tyler Moore, was driving her car while its radio played "I Am Woman," which advanced the plot. Helen's people's price to license the record was too high for the film's budget, so we redid it with Sarah doing the vocal, beautifully and convincingly. It was a natural choice, since Sarah sat through many performances of it in the early days, and we did “I Am Woman” at every show. I actually produced an early version of the song for Helen, but producer Joe Wissert was later brought in and he did a faster, rockier version of it, which deservedly became the hit everyone knows. (I actually preferred another song we cut at the time, “Don’t you Mess With a Woman,” which illustrates my commercial judgment.) 

I eventually had an inevitable falling-out with Jeff and moved on, but by then I had established my studio career and was happy to stay in town for a while. 

Some years later, I joined up with Helen and Jeff to do a show which was recorded as a 2-disk set at the London Palladium. Afterwards, I was asked to send a quote for a plaque honoring Helen at the Palladium. My contribution included this: 

“When we began to rehearse, I went to her house, and she served me delicious peanut butter sandwiches. I’ll always be thankful to Helen for introducing me to the wonders of Laura Scudder crunchy peanut butter.” 

Helen is in poor health these days, but she is not languishing. An “I Am Woman” movie is lurking, made in Australia and soon to appear here. Her life is a great yarn, and hopefully the movie will be heaps of fun, although it would be far better if it had bonus narration by her band, since our tales would liven it up. 

Full disclosure: My main memory of my time with Helen is the night of our first show at the Bitter End in New York. On the opening tune, a splinter from the piano’s black keys went under my thumbnail, causing so much pain that I had to play the rest of the show with my thumb elevated in hitchhiking position. I was really happy for that show to end. Punch line: afterwards, a couple of the club’s beautiful waitresses extracted the splinter and nursed my hand back to health in time for the second show.

Grammy, How I Love Ya 

I apparently enjoyed watching the Grammys last night a lot more than others, but sometimes I’m easy to please. 

I first went to the Grammy awards in the early 1970s, when I was new in town and happy to be part of the scene, to arrive in a limo and walk on a red carpet, even if nobody knew or cared who I was, particularly me. It was held at the Shrine Auditorium then, and much more intimate than it is now. The after-party was at the Ambassador Hotel, and my wife and I got to dance to Count Basie and his band, and I remember than much more than who won that year. 

Then, a few years ago, we played on the show with Neil. It was at Staples, and they rushed us in and out, on and off, and my only real memory is of looking out at the audience and seeing Paul McCartney sitting in the front section looking at me (how could he look at anything else?) and thinking that was cool. Further, deponent sayeth naught. 

I loved the opening of last night’s show, and enjoyed more of the performances than I expected. 

My biggest memory jolt came from seeing Diana Ross celebrating her 75th birthday. I flashed back to a recording session I did in 1981. 

By then, I’d been touring for five years, and my sessions had declined, so I was happy to be recording, particularly for an artist I’d never worked with before, Lionel Richie. I figured I was there because the arranger was the late Gene Page, a wonderful and talented gentleman who seemed to like the way I played ballads, and called me frequently for sessions with Motown artists that I might otherwise never have had the chance to work with. 

When we finished a final take after a few hours, I dawdled on the way out, stopping in the control room before leaving, where the folks in charge were playing the song loudly on big monitors and holding a phone up to the speakers. That’s what you did in those days, before digital hookups made the process far more efficient. 

The song was “Endless Love,” and they were playing it for Diana Ross in New York, determining whether it was in the best key for her, since she would be singing along with the track. Apparently it was. 

There’s a Wikipedia entry about the song that lists different personnel than those in the studio that day (except for drummer Ed Greene, who was always on Gene’s dates), so perhaps there’s more to the story than I know, but I know what I saw, heard. and played back then. 

It was great to hear Diana last night, still killing it in her distinctive way.

First Bass 

With all the nonsense coming out of the White House these days, the only people I can talk to who make sense are musicians.So I had lunch yesterday with Alan Lindgren and Larry Brown. We three collaborated on a few albums, under the name the Joy Circuit, back around the turn of the century. And of course Alan was there for almost all of my 40 years with Neil Diamond. One conversation topic that came up was Reinie Press. Alan declared that Reinie was the finest bass player he'd ever played with. 

"Everything," he said, "his sound, his intonation, his reading, his improvising. Reinie was the perfect bassist." I couldn't disagree, and neither could Larry. There are lots of fine bassists in LA, but Reinie stood alone.

Here's how I met Reinie: In 1970, I had just moved to Los Angeles from Indiana, and I was trying to become established in my new home town, trying to be a working musician (yes, that's an oxymoron). One way to do that was to substitute for other, busier musicians on occasions when they needed a night off. 

One such subbing gig for me was for sitting in for a fine pianist named Byron Olsen, who was then playing keyboards in the onstage band for the musical “Hair” at the Aquarius Theatre in Hollywood. 

When I arrived for my first run-through visit, I met the bassist and conductor for the Hair band, a genial young man named Reinie Press. The two of us were destined later to become busy in the studios, and we did record dates together many times. One day early on, he invited my and my wife to lunch so we could meet his new wife. Linda, it turned out, had met Reinie when she was in the cast of Hair. We enjoyed a lunch at Art’s Delicatessen, got acquainted over a lengthy afternoon chat and put each other in our address books. 

By 1975, I was a pretty busy studio dude, and after recording a couple of albums with Neil Diamond,  I was invited to meet with Neil to talk about joining his touring band. I knew a couple of others in the band—the leader and drummer, Dennis St. John, was an early acquaintance, I had worked a bit with Richard Bennett and King Errisson. 

I wan't sure if I wanted to go on the road, and asked some of my studio pals. They told me I shouldn't do it, that I would lose all my studio work. But I was foolhardy, and said yes. (It turned out they were right—I did eventually lose my studio work. But, eventually, so did they, and I was still in the comfort of a very happy family band.)

When I got to the first rehearsal at a studio on the Paramount film lot, I was happy to find that Linda and Reinie were there as well. The band was great, the music was exemplary, the audiences were ultra-friendly, and we all spent a jolly 40 years on the road together. 

Linda somehow became pregnant during one tour, and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl they named Daisy. Daisy grew up on the road, and was “home-schooled,” mostly on tour, with an entire band of Auntie Mam types to give her life lessons as only musicians can give. As she got older, she took on various lobs on tour, including as my intern for my somewhat daily newsletter, the PBI, a task which she did expertly. 

Daisy and I  bonded even more due to our shared interest in new music. That is a term for classical music with added fun,

Years later, and with many adventures in between, Daisy Graduated from the Manhattan School of Music, and established herself in New York as a bold interpreter of experimental classical music in the US and Europe and the principal singer at Brooklyn's famed "House of Yes." 

Reinie and Linda retired from touring just before our 2015 tour, and although we missed having the Presses to kick around, I found myself working with Daisy on a very special project. The result of that project is about to, as they like to say these days, drop. I’ll be posting a lot about that very soon.