Night People – Nothing Rhymes with Silver

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

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The Black and White of Jazz – Miles

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’.

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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.

‘Taint What you Smoke, It’s the Way That you Smoke it

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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! “

 

How I met the The Fab Four

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”.

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