Those of you who have read my novel “Nothing Rhymes With Silver” will know that my eponymous hero, jazz pianist Jake Silver, knew only night people – like most jazz musicians.
‘Night People’ only come out at night, You rarely see them in the daytime because once the first rays of the sun start to steal their night sky from them, they stub out their last cigarette and hurry to their beds. During the day they may appear to go through the normal activities of the nine-to-fivers, but that is just a shabby charade. It is only in the darkness, when the night has cast its mantle of magical mystery that they come to life.
Daytime is for squares – shop workers and dog walkers: but once the night has come, night people – just like superman, shed their civvies to reveal themselves as they really are: sharp, hip, characters, buzzing with the vibe that digs jazz, pot, and booze – and sex. If you are a man, you’ll be trying to make it with chicks that have long legs, big boobs and high shapely arses. If you are a woman, well, as Jake discovers in my book, the older ones seek to rediscover their youth in the arms of young, slim men with dark eyes and thick hair, whilst young gals dig guys of 35 or so whose faces have that look which says ‘I’ve been there and I know all the answers’, and in whose arms (and beds) they feel safe.
But as Jake also found out, as you will too if you read my book: whether young or old, all the broads dig jazz musicians.
Jake led a band in an expensive, plush Johannesburg night club – just as I did. And just like me, Jake played solo jazz piano in many late-night watering holes in London and New York City.
And so, Jake and I offer you a glimpse of night people as we saw them in the very expensive night clubs in Johannesburg in the late 1950s and in one or other of the hang-out bars in London or New York City then – and now. Some things never change.
In the early 1960s, Ciro’s was the flashiest and most expensive night club not only in Johannesburg, but probably in the entire southern hemisphere. And the people who frequented it were the flashiest and wealthiest South Africa had to offer.
All of Jo’burg’s glitterati made their way down its wide curving staircase into this basement of all the earthly delights money could offer. And so did newspaper reporters to see if there was any scandal they could pick up for their morning edition.
And there was always plenty of that! It was a crazy, amoral, bejewelled paradise – for night people at any rate. We all knew that a couple of hundred thousand people couldn’t live high on the hog forever at the expense of the twelve million or so black South Africans, forced to live in conditions of semi-slavery.
It had to end: but when? Nobody knew. So life was lived – especially among the rich – like there was going to be no tomorrow. It was like being a passenger on the Titanic except that you knew it was going to hit the iceberg. So the message was: let us have a ball, die young and make beautiful corpses!
It was a wild place where the good times rolled like never before. I have a thousand stories I could tell to prove that.
I remember one midnight, when Joanna and Milly let us call them, wives of two very seriously rich men came into the club together but minus husbands. I won’t give their names in deference to their heirs who are still probably around.
They took a table right over in the quietest corner of the club. Both were in their mid-thirties I would guess. Milly, the shorter of the two was a slim brunette her hair as always, done in a Pompadour fashion piled on top of her head I guess to make her appear taller than she was. She also wore ornate glasses, the frames and the lenses being the same colour as her green silk cocktail dress, whilst Joanna, three inches taller, her rich blonde hair falling about her shoulders, was flashing her curvaceous body though a figure-hugging black ankle-length creation with a split up one side reaching almost to her panty line.
As we were very busy that night, I took no notice of them, until about an hour later, when my tenor sax man who was standing to play his solo turned to attract my attention and, having done so pointed his horn in the direction of the two wives.
I looked round at them from my Steinway piano, to see Milly kissing and licking Joanna’s long neck. I also noticed that her bejewelled right hand had disappeared through the split in Joanna’s dress.
Was I shocked? No!
Having been leading the band for the previous six months I reckon I had seen everything that man and woman can get up to. So I was not shocked.
But I was worried in case a member of the press was in the club. That kind of story can create all kinds of trouble when Hubby stops making more and more money for a minute to read the papers.
So I immediately called over Freddy Piccelo the Italian head waiter, to point out what was going on and suggest he fiddles with their table cloth in such a way to ensure that nobody will be able to see what they were doing.
“Why should I do that”? Freddie asked.
“Because they are lesbians, that’s why” I said.
His face creased into a wry. knowing smile: “Don’t be silly” he said. “They have been coming here for years. I know them well. They are not lesbians. They’re Jewish.”
And he hurried away.
Night people? I will tell you much more later when we get know one another better.
And how about checking out my novel about Jake Silver, which is based on some of my wilder experiences playing the clubs back in the day.
Here is the link both to the kindle edition and the physical 2 book saga – let me know how much you enjoy reading it by posting comments on Amazon or indeed here on my blog.
Just click on one of the links below and hit the buy button!
Kindle edition: Nothing Rhymes with Silver – Kindle edition
Paperback book 1: Nothing Rhymes with Silver – Paperback 1
Paperback book 2: Nothing Rhymes with Silver – Paperback 2
To the jazz cognoscenti, Miles Davis’s peak playing years were when he was playing with Charlie Parker right up to when he made the series of recordings collated under the title “Birth of the Cool”.
In those days, he was known only to the true jazz lovers. It was only when his chops packed up and he spent most of his time blowing basically a load of meaningless nonsense that he became popular with the masses. He did it by surrounding himself with some great players like Coltrane and Herbie Hancock, and Keith Jarrett etc.. But he also added a thunderous rhythm section giving his group a pop music sound.
I remember going to see Miles and his group here in London with famous comedian Bill Oddie. Bill loved it – as did the ecstatic audience.
To me, it sounded more like Dunkirk with a rhythm section! Miles would come to the front mike and blow three or four high D’s followed by a couple of meaningful arpeggios and then go back to wandering around the stage as if he was looking for something. If it was inspiration he was looking for, he never found it! Keith Jarret, when you could hear him through bombs being dropped in this rhythmic air raid, was by far the most creative player.
A couple of years later, I founded London’s only jazz radio station, Jazz FM.
Apart from running the station, I had to cover other areas of jazz, such as: judging young jazz musician’s competitions, or lecturing about the who and the why of jazz to 14 and 15 year old kids in schools up and down the country.
Somewhere near the end of March 1990 I got a letter from a big time jazz association, whose several thousand members had voted for Miles Davis as the jazz musician who had done more than anyone in the cause of promoting of jazz. I was asked if I would collect the award on Miles’s behalf, who was back in the States and in poor health.
This society had gone to tremendous trouble to come up with a suitable present for the great man. After months of research and several conversations with those close to Miles, they had gone to the very exclusive Getzen company in Wisconsin, who make only the finest hand crafted trumpets, and who on the strict instructions from, I believe, Red Rodney, a wonderful trumpet man and an ex-Charlie Parker sideman who knew Miles very well, had made a bespoke trumpet of the very highest quality, together with a special mouthpiece that would make Miles Davis a very happy man.
Inside the very expensive leather trumpet case was a pouch containing an ornate certificate saying ‘Awarded to Miles Davis and received by Dave Lee, Jazz FM’s Founder and Director of Music’.
I agreed to accept the trumpet and was sent a first class railway return to Birmingham (in England, not Alabama), and after a magnificent lunch I made a speech to the several hundred members present.
My speech contained at least as many corny clichés as the smarmiest politician.
“I am sure if Miles Davis were here today he would feel deeply honoured by this magnificent gift, together with the well-deserved recognition of his great contribution to jazz……. etc, etc.”
Then I gave a brief history of his work. (I did not say that Dizzy Gillespie was extremely unimpressed with his playing, telling me that he could name ten trumpet men all of whom who would blow him out of the room). The gig was to eulogise, so I eulogised and that was it.
Now it was my task get the horn over to Miles in the States. Once back in my office I phoned George Wien in New York City. He was a very important guy who promoted the famous Newport Jazz Festival. He gave me Miles’s home telephone number.
“Yeah?” I immediately recognised Miles’s gruff, hoarse voice.
“Miles” I said. “My name is Dave Lee, the founder of Jazz FM radio here in London……… “and I went on explaining to him about the award, finally asking him for an address to send the trumpet.
After a very long pause, he asked “Are you British?”
“Yes, I am British”
Another long pause, and then: “Are you a white boy?”
“Yep” I replied, “I am white”
“Well” Miles said: “I’ll tell you what you can do with the trumpet, white boy. You can shove it straight up your white arse!”
I was going to ask “Does that include the mouthpiece as well?” But he had slammed down telephone before I could say another word.
When I first met Hank Shaw he was in his early twenties and was one of our finest jazz trumpet men.
Hank was an eternal innocent. He had no enemies and seemed to like everybody. He didn’t drink, but he did smoke considerable quantities of pot – because just a few drags of the magic weed allowed him to be transported from this cruel world into that special land out there in space heaven, where Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro and Charlie Parker were always wailing the blues.
A typical (although invented) example of Hank’s disassociation with the cruel realities of life would be:
The scene: the band room of a London jazz club. Hank is just about to lead his worthy little group of beboppers on to the stage when the owner of the club comes in.
Owner to Hank: “I have just heard. They have dropped an atom bomb on Manchester. There must be an awful lot of deaths although they haven’t given the figures yet. What do you think we ought to do?”
Hank: “ That’s bad news man….bad, bad news. I mean….. like I had a gig up there next Saturday…… I guess that’ll be cancelled,,,,,,,(turning to the band) yeah……..hey, listen, let’s start with Cherokee in B flat.”
Hank was sweet and inoffensive but could be easily intimidated by men in serious suits who were firmly attached to the hard realities of life. One such was Tommy Kinsman.
Tommy had a band agency. He was also an up market toff whose public school upbringing got him most of the high-paying aristocratic gigs. He would supply these hoorays with whatever music they needed, be it a piano tinkler to give atmosphere to a private party or a full size dance orchestra for some important ball. The word was that he would charge £50 per musician but give them only £10
He also got the royal gigs. Whenever there was action at the Palace or some royal castle, Kinsman got the gig. For these he would always appear in person to lead his band and of course, hobnob with his fellow Hooray Henries.
As Ronnie Scott explained it to me; there was – or maybe still is – one night in the year when a special party is thrown for the domestic staff of Buckingham Palace, and where members of the Royal Family become the servants. This is a very big occasion. Tommy Kinsman’s number one orchestra – chosen as much for their ability to keep their mouths closed as to what goes on, just as much as their ability to play, was, as ever, to provide the music. Tommy hated jazz and he hated jazz musicians, whom he saw as uncouth animals. But because he had been informed that Princess Margaret, a big jazz lover, was going to be present, he hired Ronnie Scott and Kenny Baker, jazz trumpeter and all round virtuoso, in addition to his normal band.
But for some reason or other, on the very day of the royal gig, Kenny became unavailable, and on Ronnie’s recommendation Hank Shaw was rushed in as the chosen replacement, which is why at 12 noon of the day of the gig, Hank was sitting in Tommy Kinsman’s office.
“Now listen Shaw” said Kinsman haughtily. , “I don’t normally hire you damned jazz chappies. Frankly, I don’t think you people know how to act in civilised company”
Hank, totally intimidated by this up-market big-shot started to shrink down in his chair.
“Have you ever met a member of our Royal family, Mister Shaw?”
“Er, no,” said Hank
“Okay. Well, thankfully, the chances are, even though they will be present, they won’t bother to speak to you. But just in case they do I am going to tell you how you reply to them. Raising his voice, he said “You are never to speak to a member of the Royal Family unless they speak to you first, and then you reply as follows….”
…..Hank was now about as far away from his world of jazz as he had ever been. He was on the verge of getting up and running as far and as fast as he could. But this was a £30 gig. In those days if you even got five pounds for a jazz gig, it was big money. £30 pounds was fortune – enough not only to pay off the debt to his drug supplier but buy another whole weeks-supply as well.
“……..to the Queen you bow your head and say ‘yes your Majesty’. If it is one of the Princes you also bow your head and say, ‘Yes your Royal Highness’. If Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret speaks to you..” etc. etc.
Tommy Kinsman, now having frightened him to the roots of his innermost soul ended up in a voice of quiet sinister threat: “I know all about you jazz players, Shaw. So unless spoken to, SPEAK TO NO-ONE. Do you understand?”
“Oh yes sir. I won’t speak to a soul”
“Good” said Kinsman. “Because if you embarrass me in front of the Royal Family, (now pointing his long finger at him), you will never work again in this country. Do you understand?”
Kinsman then wrote his pass into the Palace and told him to be there in an evening suit with black tie at 7.30 pm.
And so there was Hank sitting in the brass section, reading his fourth trumpet parts without speaking to a soul –except Ronnie Scott, whom he spoke to only sparingly in case Kinsman fired him, or had him flung into a dungeon in the Tower of London or somewhere.
As ever, it was a very lavish affair with the footmen continually bringing masses of booze to the band room .
By one o’clock in the morning everybody was pretty well smashed with booze, including the band– and it sounded like it! Only Hank was stone cold sober, reading his trumpet parts carefully, saying a word to no-one.
Came the 1.30 am band break and Hank, seeing the whole band, including Tommy Kinsman, boozed up to the eyeballs, and all having a great time, thought ‘the gig ends in about half an hour. Nobody will notice if I just sneak off for a little smoke’.
For Hank to go to a gig without a joint was like a gangster going on a hit without his automatic. It was unthinkable. And so he went to the men’s room, locked the door and lit up. 5 minutes later, pleasantly stoned, he made his way back to the band room.
As he turned the corner which led to the band room he all but bumped into Her Majesty who was coming round the corner from the opposite direction. She had just come from the band room after thanking the musicians.
“Oh, you are one of the musicians” she said to him. “Have you everything you require?”.
Hank’s stoned out mind instantly skidded into panic mode. Here was the actual Queen of England! Oh God! He knew he must use the right words or be banished forever by Tommy Kinsman. But what was it he had to say and do? His mind had frozen stiff. The strain and desperation must have caused his mind to regress back to when his mother read him fairy stories about queens and knights in armour and such.
“Have you got everything you require,” the Queen had asked? Ronnie Scott, who was on his way to the men’s room to warn Hank that the Queen was about, saw he was too late. All he could do was watch how Hank reacted to the Queen’s question.
He suddenly flung himself down on the ground, raised himself on one knee. his other leg stretched out behind him, his arms spread out on either side like a bird in flight, his nose nearly touching the carpeted floor. Then he said very loudly:
“Yes – O Queen”
The Queen walked straight passed him so we never knew if she cracked up laughing.
I know I would have. Ronnie Scott who told me that story most certainly did.
Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London’s Soho is probably the most famous jazz club in the world. But before Ronnie settled down to became a responsible business man, he was one of Britain’s finest jazz musicians.
I go further: he was considered by the likes of Duke Ellington and Count Basie to be one of the top tenor sax players in the world.
But back in the 1950’s, before he became a sober, down-to-earth jazz club owner, Ronnie was a wild, tearaway. Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” was a choirboy by comparison.. It was smoke–everything-drink-everything- snort-everything and even inject everything – kind of life. It was all-night jam sessions either with other musicians – or with women.
Ronnie’s best friend was Charlie Short, a superb bass player (he became a featured bass man in the Ted Heath band) who was as wild as Ronnie. When high, which was most of the time, Charlie had a way of dreaming up crazy fantasies which would percolate through his highly charged up brain into fact. Amazingly, he possessed the kind of personality that was capable of persuading others around him to actually go along with these wild mental excursions of his.
For example playing a gig with a local band in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, he suddenly dreamed up the notion that there was buried treasure under the sand of Cowes beach. And he managed to convince the band he was gigging with for the night.
So that at one o’clock of a Sunday morning, had you been walking your dog along the prom or something, you would have been greeted with the sight of seven guys with dinner jackets off, bow ties akimbo, madly digging holes in the beach while Charlie was marching up and down busily engaged in assessing the angle his shadow as it fell across the beach in the bright moonlight, which was somehow an integral factor to this crazy search for the cache of pirate gold Doubloons he felt sure – but for one night only – was buried beneath the Isle’s golden sand.
In those days, Ronnie rode around on a huge, very powerful Norton International motor bike. It was after giving his pal Charlie a lift on the pillion of this noisy monster that the idea hit Charlie.
The next day he called on Ronnie at his little flat, and as they proceeded to get high on some fine Mexico Green, Charlie presented his latest idea.
Ronnie must enter the Isle of Man TT motor cycle race.
He told Ronnie he was sure he would win because even though he would be up against some of the finest motor cyclists in the world, Ronnie had a secret that would guarantee him victory. The secret was a handful of uppers followed by smoking a joint of Bechuhana Gold, which Charlie assured Ronnie would afford him the perfect high for winning the race.
The way he saw it, these other cyclists were just a bunch of squares. “Their cornball minds will only work at a normal rate,” he explained to Ronnie. He went on to explain, that Ronnie’s mind, on the other hand, charged up with this mind- dazzling intake of pills plus Bechuhana’s finest would be racing twice as fast as all the others in the race.
“You’ll be able to control your bike at speeds these squares would never imagine. Treacherous corners, difficult turns: man, they will be as nothing to you because of your super speed mind. “Man, you cannot lose” he assured Ronnie. “We are set to make a fortune. You’ll be world famous”.
Ronnie fell for it.
And that is how, on the Isle of Man, on the day of the famous TT race, with all the world’s finest racing motor cyclists, there, on the back row stood ‘R. Scott, from Great Britain’. Standing next to him in a clean, white overall was his ‘engineer’ Mr Charles Short.
Ten minutes before the race was scheduled to start, chief engineer Mr Short asked R. Scott from Great Britain if he could see him privately. They found a spot out of sight of the riders and officials where Mr Short ‘engineered’ the brain of R. Scott from Great Britain, with a handful of uppers plus a joint of Bechuhana gold and a swig of whiskey to help the medicine go down. Ronnie returned to his bike stoned out of his skull.
Now all the bikes were busy revving their engines prior to the starting flag.
The way Ronnie told it to me: “The flag came down and we were off. In a very short time I was whizzing along at a dazzling speed. I knew I was ahead of everybody. There wasn’t another racer in sight. ‘Christ, I’ve done it’ I thought . Charlie was right. Wow”.
He went on: “I swung the bike round a bend to see a guy with a flag waving me down. As I got off my bike I said to him, “Phew, that was one hell of a race. Have I won”?
“No” the official said. “You have been disqualified for not having exceeded 35 miles an hour! “
In the 1960’s how many people do you think there were in the entire world who had never heard of the Beatles? A half dozen cave dwellers maybe? – And me.
I confess I was too busy listening to, and learning from, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, Errol Garner, and Dizzy Gillespie to bother with pop groups. To me, pop groups were just a bunch of musically illiterate kids banging away for the entertainment of an equally musically illiterate bunch of kids.
I was also very busy with my own career. At that time I was doing three TV shows a week in Wales, composing the music for the Revue ‘New Cranks’ and doing solo piano broadcasts on the BBC.
It was while I was in the middle of recording a solo piano programme for the BBC that one of their major producers, Dennis Maine Wilson, came into the studio. Dennis was of middling height – a thin, balding man of around 60 years of age.
The moment I had finished whatever it was I was playing, he shouted up to the producer in the production suite, “Can I borrow Dave for a couple of minutes? It will only be a couple of minutes I promise”.
My producer spoke back over the studio PA, “I’ll give you five minutes but that is all.
As we went up the stairs to the studio above, Dennis was explaining: “I’ve got this pop group upstairs and their manager wants to make sure everything is okay for tomorrow night. We’ve got this big show to do and I want to get all the balances right at this rehearsal. And by the way Dave, like most of these damned pop groups, I don’t think their guitars are in tune.
In the studio, Dennis introduced me to this shaggy haired quartet. He said, “I’ve brought Dave Lee up from the studio downstairs to help me get you boys in tune. Dave is a famous pianist”. Then he introduced me to them: “This is George, this is John and this is Paul and over there” (he pointed to the drummer), “that is Ringo – that is your name isn’t it?” Ringo nodded.
Whilst shaking their hands I explained that I am here only for a very short time. “Dennis wants me to check your tuning, so give me a chord in E please. I banged out the chord of E major on the studio piano in case they were too musically illiterate to know what I meant.
I was wrong. Not only did they know what I meant but to my surprise they seemed a nice refined bunch of guys.
Later, in the BBC canteen after my recording I was joined by Dennis, who thanked me for fine-tuning the guitars. (In actual fact, all I had done was tell John Lennon one string was a bit sharp – which he probably knew anyway. After all, this was only a rough run through to give the producer some idea of the kind of music to expect so there was no need to be meticulous).
As he sipped his coffee, Dennis said to me, “You know, I’ve produced symphony concerts, comedy shows, and serious political programmes. I never thought I would be lumbered with this pop music stuff” Then he added, “But you know Dave, I understand this bunch has a successful record out and apparently they are considered to be something really special”. Shaking his head he said ruefully he said: “Whatever happened to good music eh? Even now I’ve got to go back to discuss with their manager the order of the numbers they are going bang out, and. he’s not coming back until 9 o’clock so I’ll be here half the bloody night!”
Not ever having heard them, I asked him the name of the group.
He said, “They call themselves The Beatles. They spell it B-E-A-T-L-E-S, not like the insect” Then he asked me “David, you should know, are they really better than the all the other pop groups? They are supposed to be y’know”.
I replied as honestly as I could: “ I don’t know” I said. I’ve never heard them – or of them for that matter. But,” I added, “I suppose they are no better or worse than all these other groups”.
I was to learn just how wrong I was that very night. Over dinner, I mentioned the affair and in a joking way I said to my 12 year-old pop-music-loving daughter, Laura “You and your pop music. I had to tune the guitars of a pop group today. The Beatles – ha.”
Her knife and fork fell from her hands as she said “Did you say The Beatles?”
“Yes” I said. “Why? Are they important?”
She stared at me in astonishment. “Important? Daddy they’re only more important than the Queen of England that’s all”
And so I phoned Dennis Maine Wilson to ask if I and my daughter could come to the actual recording of the show.
This was how, on December 18th 1963, Laura and I were the only visitors sitting in the empty Lower Regent Street BBC theatre – apart from Brian Epstein, their manager, who was sitting next to Laura, as we listened and watched the Beatles record their Christmas show “From Us to You”.
At one point John’s guitar string broke and he gave me his guitar to tune the string in. As I handed him back his tuned guitar he offered the broken string to Laura – which she took with great pleasure. She still has it today, all these years later, as well as the autographs she got at the end of the recording.
They were very good to her. As I was talking with Ringo about the drumming genius of Buddy Rich, Laura was talking away with John Lennon.
As we left I remember them shouting “’Bye Dave, bye Laura”. My daughter clutched my hand and whispered to me, “They called me Laura”.
Danny Kay was a Hollywood superstar. He had been a star on Broadway before making it big in the movies. His performances in “The Court Jester”, “Hans Christian Andersen” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” rocketed him into superstardom.
He really was a brilliantly funny comedian, a good singer and dancer – in fact everything a Hollywood funny man should be.
So it was quite a surprise when he came to Johannesburg to do his stage show. And like every other famous personality who ever visited the golden city, he came to Ciro’s night club where I was pianist/band leader.
It was my belief that when a big star came into the club we should never make a big deal out of it. I always thought that he or she is there to relax out of the glare of the spotlight.
After the first shock of surprise at seeing this famous film star, I was in for an even bigger one. About an hour after he had arrived, Danny suddenly climbed up on to our little stage to stand behind me as I was playing. He put his hands on my shoulders as he bent down to whisper in my ear “You play good piano”. When we had finished the number, he said to me “Do you know ‘Ballin’ the Jack?”
This was an old jazz tune, composed by Jelly-Roll Morton (who, by the way, claimed he invented jazz, but was unknown outside his native New Orleans). Danny Kaye must have heard it somehow and his recording of it became a big hit.
As I started to play it, he moved from behind me to front and centre on the stage and grabbing the microphone, to the delight of the audience, sang it and even did a crazy little dance while I played an instrumental chorus.
After that we became friends – especially after I had persuaded a surgeon friend of mine to allow him to assist in an operation – something he had always wanted to do. He told me it was his life-long wish to be a surgeon, but his family was too poor to pay for any special schooling.
As Ciro’s club closed on Sundays and of course, he was not on stage that night, Danny, myself and two other friends went to The Stork Club, the only club which stayed open on Sundays.
Danny regaled us with a hundred tales about various incidents in his life – some sad, but, because he was a brilliant impersonator and a natural comedian, most of them hilariously funny.
The Stork club had a pretty 20 year-old gal, in a figure-hugging dress who would wander around the club taking pictures of the guests, many of whom would pay good money for the photos.
We were having a great time. Danny was doing a very funny impersonation of a German film producer and the ham-fisted way he tried to date Marlene Dietrich, when this sweet kid took a photo of him. Danny did not stop his very funny saga, as the camera flashed. He went on with it as he got out of his seat and went round the table to where the little camera gal was standing.
What happened then occurred at lightning speed. He grabbed the girl’s camera and threw it hard down on the floor, smashing it in pieces. Then his left hand flashed out to grab her hair and with his other hand, thwack, thwack, he hit her hard round the face first with his open hand and then the back of it. Still holding her hair he then pushed the semi-dazed little chick down on to a chair.
Taking his seat again, he explained in the frozen silence that followed, “She made a mistake” he said. “She thought she was taking a picture of Danny Kaye. She wasn’t. Because Danny Kaye exists only on the stage or in a movie. The moment he leaves the stage, Danny Kaye evaporates and becomes the guy he really is: Danny Kaminsky. That’s me folk. The tough kid from ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ in New York. And no-one takes pictures of Danny Kaminsky without first asking”.
Turning to the girl photographer – who was now crying – he peeled off £100 (the equivalent of £1,000 today) which he gave her, saying, “If you want to take a shot of Danny Kaye come to the theatre tomorrow. Right now I am Danny Kaminsky and he don’t like people taking his photo”.
The party broke up pretty quickly after that.
In subsequent conversations with him, I found him to be a very complicated guy: deeply frustrated by having been too poor to follow his deeply-held wish to become a surgeon: a man who loved children and gave a lot of his time – and money – to helping them. But a rough, tough guy and someone unable to rid himself of the violence and the gang warfare he grew up with on the mean streets of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ in New York City.
So when you fall about laughing at Danny Kaye in say, ‘The Court Jester’, remember – you are watching a non-existent person: a figment of the imagination of tough, street-wise, but brilliantly talented Danny Kaminsky.