BOHP_2005-05-19_AVega Chapter 12
FB: You know, you were talking about putting together baseball bands when you had the big band? AV: Like I said, I was working the 123 then, that was after I finished the Hi-Hat and Storyville. I got bookings for my trio and we used to do half hours. Instead of doing half hours, I remember the other group was an accordion group, I didn't want to listen to them, so I said let's do forty. In fact, even later on, there was one group where we said keep playing until I get back, the other guy says I'll do the same thing to him. But we were doing forties, I must have started the forty minute set. Between sets, I'd grab something, the live guy at the bar would say let's take a ride up to the stable. I'd go up there and talk to Herb and Varty and Joe Gordon, Johnny Neves -- they're all baseball, you know, love to play. I'd say we got a softball game with Woody Herman's band tomorrow, or some other band. The next day I'd pick up a couple of them, Herb would pick up a couple or whatever and we'd end up having a nice game. FB: Great. Just one of those sandlot fields? AV: Yeah the field there across from Mass General, I remember that was one field we used. Most of the time that was available. The Woody Herman band, they had a band to play, a team to play all the time with Chubby Jackson, all those guys, they loved to play. So that was fun and they gave us a chance to mix with some of the other musicians. FB: What would you say are some of the things that prepared you best for your career? The things that you did in your life that helped you... AV: I guess, like we said, the early training and playing in different keys. And also, I just touched on the fact that when my wife said, when I decided not to travel, I knew I had to play all kinds of music. So when I did have those couple of weeks off, I could work the Savoy which was a big dixieland spot up the street from the Hi-Hat. While I was there playing alone, something would happen, the piano player would have to leave sickness or death in the family or an argument with the band leader. I'd end up working with Lee Castle and Bud Freeman, their group or another band, Max Kaminsky. And then I hear some other piano players like Willie “The Lion” Smith with the big cigar and some of those other players. FB: Real old traditionalists. AV: So I kept up with that stuff. FB: He taught Duke Ellington. AV: Yeah I know; that's unbelievable. You know he had the cigar in his mouth. So I heard these people and I kept up with that. And also I could do a week at the Park Plaza, what was it? That was the Statler Hotel. They had the room there, the Terrace Room? FB: Swan Terrace? AV: Yeah, something like that. So I ended up working with Victor Lombardo there which meant I had to play that corny stuff. In fact, when I went in there the guy said, “Hey, we understand you worked the Hi-Hat, let's have a jam session.” I said, What! OK.” So after we hang around for an hour, half hour, we went in the room. I remember the next night Victor Lombardo says to me, “Why don't you play some of that jazz, I hear you're a good jazz player? I said, “Are you kidding? You're playing Mississippi Mud with a tuba, I said, I don't feel like playing Thelonious Monk or whoever I was playing. You know you go with the flow, you can't be a Thelonious Monk in a Lombardo band. Some guys try to do it, but that's why I had to play all styles, so I could do a gig like that. FB: Did you have a pretty thriving weekend wedding business too? AV: Yeah, that was the other thing. In the weekends in those days, I didn't do too many because I was working all the time, but if I had some time off I'd take off. But Sunday afternoons I didn't work the Hi-Hat. they had afternoon sessions, but the band didn't play together, they were truly jam sessions, mixed everybody up. Every club, like the Italian American Club in Watertown, some other club in different cities, had jam sessions. The reason for that is that was before NFL football. See now that killed it, people stay home and watch football or they go to the games. Those days that wasn't on TV. So I'd get [trombonist] J.C. Higginbotham and [trumpeter] Dick Wetmore who were in town at the time, two horns, my trio and we'd work a few hours in the afternoon. FB: They tried to relaunch that at the place in Revere? AV: Well Revere did it, The Caravan on Saturday, which makes a little more sense because Sunday is still, you can't do nothing on Sunday because the football is too strong. In the afternoon especially you know the Patriots are on at one o'clock most of the time, there’s always a good football game. Before they got to be champs, they had all one o'clock games. But in those days we had a jam session every Sunday. We'd be going all kinds of jazz, swing, bebop, “Saints Go Marching In” and the guys would be walking around the room, the whole bit you know.