Guitarist Stan Ayeroff Shares His Thoughts On Arranging
By Thomas Amoriello Jr.
Reprinted from Jazz Guitar Today
Standards make up a significant part of Stan Ayeroff's repertoire. In this exclusive interview, Stan shares his thoughts on arranging.
The California native created popular arrangements published by Warner Brothers that have occupied the shelves of many public and personal music libraries thus inspiring countless guitarists to study jazz, boss nova, classical and other hybrid fingerstyles.
JGT: You are known among guitarists for your fingerstyle arrangements of standards. These books were quite popular in the community. Looking back, what was that time of your life like when you were organizing and editing this work for publication?
I was on the road as the guitarist in singer Vikki Carr's rhythm section. We picked up an orchestra with strings and horns wherever we performed. We went from Santiago, Chile to Vienna, Austria. It was a good way to see the world. I contacted Warner Bros. Publications and offered to create books for them from songs in their catalog. The first was Play It Again, Stan - As Time Goes By and 24 Great Standards for Solo Guitar. It was published in 1983. I had also started my first steady solo guitar gig at Bullock's Wilshire Tea Room at the top of a historical art deco building. That's when I really developed my solo guitar repertoire. I wrote a book or two a year for Warner Bros. over the next five years. I was teaching, arranging and composing for my band "Dr. Jazz", playing gigs and some sessions as well as occasionally going out on the road. Amongst all that I wrote the books.
JGT: Were these arrangements a part of your repertoire as a gigging solo guitarist?
When I wrote the books for Warner Bros. Publications it was with the understanding that all the songs would be from the Warner Bros. Music catalog. I got to choose the songs from their catalog but I couldn't use anything that was outside it. Only a few of the songs from the books were in my repertoire. I did the arrangements for the books and then incorporated them into my repertoire. Eventually, I knew a lot of songs in many styles and played tons of solo guitar gigs, 5-7 gigs a week for many years. There was a lot of work at the time for a solo guitarist and only a handful of musicians who could do the job. We all knew each other and would sub out our steady gigs when we were double-booked. I've had several interesting moments playing for the composers of songs in my repertoire. I love Randy Newman and my favorite song of his is "Marie". I played it and his head shot up in disbelief that someone would be playing his song on a solo guitar. He came up to me and said "So you know how to play "You Go to My Head". Paul Simon and I just spent an afternoon trying to figure out how to play it". A man introduced himself after I had played "Killing Me Softly" and said, "I'm Charles Fox, I wrote the song you just played". I had an Aunt Bea who had hung out with Duke Ellington's band in her younger days. A guy came up to me and said he was a friend of my Aunt Bea and that he wrote the words to "Prelude to A Kiss" which I had just played. It was Irving Gordon. The next year Irving's song "Unforgettable" became a huge hit when it was recorded by Natalie Cole as a duet with her late father, Nat "King" Cole. I played "Moon River" for Henry Mancini who came up to me afterward to tell me he liked my interpretation. I had a brunch gig at The Hotel Bel-Air for many years. After playing "Cavatina" from the movie The Deer Hunter a man approached me. I'd seen the movie in England, which was emotional as a yank in a foreign country and had done an arrangement of it for Warner Bros. He said his name was Michael Cimino and he was the director of The Deer Hunter. He thanked me for playing the song. An amusing incident occurred after I had played "Suicide Is Painless", the theme from Mash. I saw someone acknowledging a crowd as if people were looking at him. Nobody was and I hadn't noticed him. It was Alan Alda who thought I was playing the theme for him, I wasn't. More recently an elderly woman asked me if I knew "When You Wish Upon A Star". I said I could probably give it a shot. She said great, my father wrote it. She went on to tell me she used to lay on the floor under her father's piano when Cole Porter would come over and play his songs. You never know who might be listening.
JGT: Two of your books are dedicated to the works of early jazz guitar pioneers Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. Please tell Jazz Guitar Today readers how you came to know their music and your thoughts on the contributions of these icons to the jazz guitar and the genre overall.
I was aware of Charlie Christian pretty early on as a teenager. I had read that Wes Montgomery started out by memorizing Charlie Christian solos. There was one album available, the one on Columbia records. I liked him a lot. I read the liner notes and had an awareness of his importance as the first great electric guitarist. I was introduced to Django later on. I went to the California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts) as a composition major in the initial class of 1970. The dean of the music school was Mel Powell. Mel had been Benny Goodman's boy wonder pianist and arranger in the 1940's. He gave up the jazz world and became a classical composer and educator. There was a record in the Cal Arts music library entitled Paris 1945 - Django Reinhardt and The American All Stars. It was Django accompanied by a number of musicians who were over in Europe as members of Glenn Miller's Army Airforce Band. Mel was the pianist. When I listened to the record I thought this is the stuff I'm hearing in my head, but he's doing it. The next year I joined The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. The leader of the group was Rick Elfman, Danny's older brother. Rick gave me a reel to reel tape of Django and The Hot Club of France. I think the first song I heard was "Georgia On My Mind". Rick asked me to arrange "After You've Gone", the version with Freddy Taylor as the vocalist. It has a great solo and I started really diving deep into Django's music. I had a student who was a fine acoustic guitarist but wanted to learn some theory. His name was Peter Lang and he was a recording artist on Takoma Records, John Fahey's label. Peter suggested me to do the lead sheets that Takoma used for copyright purposes. Guitar Player Magazine was starting a publishing wing and their first book was on John Fahey. I was hired to do the transcriptions for the book. By then I had done a number of Django transcriptions and thought they would make a good book with transcriptions and an analysis of the music. I sold the book to Guitar Player. Unfortunately, their publishing venture went bust and the book, though completed, never saw publication. I sent the manuscript to the Music Sales Corporation in New York and they agreed to publish it as is for their Jazz Masters series. It was first published in 1978. I believe it was the first serious book on Django in the US at the time. I went on to write books on Charlie Christian and Benny Goodman for Music Sales. Many years later I was contacted by Bill Bay of Mel Bay Publications to write even more in-depth books on Django and Charlie which I did.
I think Django was a genius. I don't use the term loosely. Like another musician I would call a genius, Ray Charles, Django overcame a severe physical handicap, the loss of two fingers on his left hand, to create a unique, creative style that still resonates today. It's been interesting to witness the growth in popularity of Django and Gypsy Jazz all over the world. I think that rockers, shredders, as well as Western Swing and bluegrass musicians relate to Django's exciting playing. Many who say they don't like jazz like Django. Django is a uniquely important musician. A whole style of music, Gypsy Jazz, is based on the music of one man, Django Reinhardt.
Charlie Christian is a different story. A brilliant musician who unfortunately died at a young age, Charlie was in on the development of bebop and is considered the father of the electric guitar. It's hard to imagine the impact he must have had - hearing an electric guitar for the first time - and it's Charlie Christian! It must have been mind-blowing. Charlie showed the way for all the great jazz guitarists of the 1950's like Barney Kessel, Jimmy Raney, Herb Ellis, Tal Farlow, Wes Montgomery, Howard Roberts, Kenny Burrell and many others. His playing was more idiomatic, what he played fit easier on the guitar than Django's unique style. He was easier to copy. I would liken it to Clapton and Hendrix. Clapton was easier to copy, Hendrix was more unique. Because Charlie and Eric were easier to copy, their impact became somewhat lost in the proliferation of those who copied them. Their initial impact was blunted. Reflecting back, I know that their impact was just as great at the time. Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian are the fathers of jazz guitar and both had a great impact on musicians of the time. Their music still sounds fabulous to this day.
Do you have any advice or recommended approach you can offer an aspiring guitarist when it comes to creating their own unique arrangements?
I've done hundreds of solo guitar arrangements. It's always a challenge. I view it like solving a puzzle. The song will be in a specific key, have a melody with a range of notes from the lowest to the highest and a set of chord changes as the accompaniment. Those are the ideas you have to address.
I would suggest anyone who would like to get into solo jazz guitar learn to read music - at least to the point where you can read a basic lead sheet. The guitar is a transposing instrument (it sounds an octave lower than written) so the next step is to learn to transpose up an octave. You want to try and get the melody on the first and second strings so that there's room underneath for some accompaniment harmony and a bass line. That means that if you see a written middle C below the staff you wouldn't play it on the third fret of the 5th string, you'd play it on the 1stfret of the 2nd string - an octave higher. It would still sound like middle C. It's a skill, like typing - you see a letter and respond with a finger on a typewriter key. After a while you don't think about it. Over time it becomes automatic.
Then you have to pick a key. This takes further transposing skills. When I start working on a song I attempt to play it in the original key. If it doesn't work out I transpose it into a different key. A lot of standards are in the flat keys of Eb and Ab. In Eb you lose an awful lot of your low E string. Transposing up a half step to the key of E allows the full use of that open string. You also get the bass notes of the progression I to IV with the open strings E and A. Transposing down a half step from Eb puts you in the key of D. This gives you the open bass strings for the common IIm7, V7, I progression - E, A and D. Going from Ab to A gains a lot of open strings. The common chord progression I, IV, V would have the open bass strings A, D and E. These keys also make it easier to find and play idiomatic open string chord voicings. These are unique voicings that incorporate open strings. Close voicings and clusters are easy on piano but difficult on guitar. Voicings that use open strings are a good solution. There are exceptions, particularly songs that have bridges that lay well on the guitar. An example is "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square". The main part is in Eb, but the bridge is in G. It works well in the original key.
Eventually you will have to transpose into more distant keys. I play many songs in the key of C. That can lead to tricky transpositions. It's a great mental exercise to be able to transpose on the spot in your head. This can happen frequently working with singers. You have to play things in different keys until you find one that suits their vocal range. Finding the best key for a song is like casting the right actors in a film, it's more than half the battle.
You have to know a lot of chord voicings. Ted Greene's Chord Chemistry was very helpful in showing me what was possible on the guitar. It's an overwhelming book, but If you take it slow and are selective, you will discover some really cool chord voicings that might open your mind to new possibilities. Since then I've mainly learned by necessity. The bass note is here, the melody's on top and I need these notes to fill in the harmony. I find it fun and fulfilling to come up with a creative solution to a tricky problem. Again, it's like solving a puzzle.
I also suggest learning some classical pieces. Using classical right-hand technique will allow you to play more like a piano player. I learned "While You're Young" off a Wes Montgomery album. I believe it's his only solo guitar piece. His block chord voicings can be played by a thumb or a pick, the notes of the chords are contiguous. This works for some pieces, or at times within a piece that uses all your right-hand fingers. Playing fingerstyle allows you to skip strings. You can play a bass note on the 6th string, the melody on the 1st or 2nd string and fill in the harmony or some counterpoint on the 3rd and 4th strings using all your fingers except the pinky (which was used by a few like Laurindo Almeida). There are many right-hand studies and exercises. I try to play a few classical pieces to warm up. I start with "Etude #5" in Bm by Fernando Sor. It's from the book of 20 Etudes by Fernando Sor edited by Andres Segovia. I then go on to Bach's "Prelude in D minor". It has a consistent right-hand pattern throughout and is the first classical piece I learned how to play. I read somewhere that before he went on tour, the guitarist John Williams would play Villa-Lobos "Etude #1" over and over to get his right-hand in shape. It's one of my warm up pieces. The last one is "Etude #17" by Fernando Sor, also from the Segovia book. This is a beautifully composed etude that is great for the right-hand. After playing these pieces I am usually ready to go.
Once I have the key it's time to look at reharmonization. This is the secret knowledge of the jazz world. Reading from the original sheet music or The Real Book is not what good jazz musicians are playing. I now like to find my own set of chord changes for a song, but when I was starting out I'd listen to a good singer with a good arrangement. You can't go wrong with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee or Rosemary Clooney. They're all very musical singers who had respect for the melody and used top notch arrangers. I'd listen to the singers for their phrasing and variations from the written melody and check the chord substitutions the arrangers used. I learned a lot about harmony, creating intros and endings and coming up with great counter lines from arrangers like Claus Ogerman, Don Sebesky, Nelson Riddle, Johnny Mandel, Gil Evans and others.
Arranging has so many possibilities. You can change the mood - play a fast song slow or a slow song fast. You can change the feel - play it as a rhumba or a bossa. Reharmonize it in your own way. You can compose a cool intro and ending and interludes between sections. You can modulate at some point. These are all devices in the arranger's toolkit.
Last, you should know how to get a good sound out of the guitar. This means finding the best string to play a note or phrase on, how to finger a chord to get a certain note or notes to sustain, how to voice a chord that so it resonates with the guitar.
These are things I learned along the way. Basically, I just started doing it - a lot. Fortunately, I had a knowledge of harmony, some classical technique, and I was a composer. It's been a very rewarding journey that I'm still on, finding new tools and concepts and making my guitar sound good.
JGT: How are you doing during this time of Covid?
My wife is a classical musician (bassoon and contrabassoon) who plays in several orchestras. Over the course of a weekend in mid-March both of us had all of our work canceled. Our son lives nearby and does our shopping and errands for us. We are very fortunate compared to the pain and stress that so many have suffered. I started going through boxes of memorabilia I hadn't looked at in decades and started posting things of interest for my Facebook friends. I hadn't posted anything before. Music has been a great source of solace for me during the pandemic and I started recording live solo guitar videos. This is something I've meant to do for many years but never got around to doing. I've recorded about 70 videos at this point. I also set up a new website and YouTube Music Channel to be able to share my music during this challenging time. We can all use some comfort and I hope my music can provide that to others.
January 13, 2021
Instrumental Rock 'n Roll Music
I was lucky to grow up in the heyday of Instrumental Rock 'n Roll music. The instrumental records I heard on the radio caught my attention - in a way that a lot of songs with vocals didn't. It took me many years, probably until Dylan and The Beatles, to really start noticing the lyrics to a song. I did memorize the lyrics to "El Paso" and "On Broadway"; I liked their stories. But it was the melody of the song along with the instrumental accompaniment that I liked the most.
The records mainly featured guitars and drums with some sax thrown in. Duane Eddy with "Rebel Rouser" and Link Wray with "Rumble" became guitar heroes, Cozy Cole's "Topsy II" and Sandy Nelson's "Teen Beat"
and "Let There Be Drums" were drum solo showcases. "Tequila" by The Champs and "Harlem Nocturne" by The Viscounts featured the saxophone. Even Bongo Drums, associated with the Beatniks, had their hit with Preston Epps "Bongo Rock". Bill Doggett's "Honky Tonk" had great guitar and sax solos and Santo and Johnny's "Sleepwalk" was the slow song of the era.
"Rebel Rouser" sounded lean and tough with that low, twangy sound that Duane Eddy perfected. The studio he recorded in didn't have an echo chamber. His producer, Lee Hazelwood, bought a 2,000-gallon water storage tank, stuck a mic in it, and used it as an echo chamber. Lee later wrote and produced "These Boots Were Made for Walking'", a classic production for Nancy Sinatra.
"Rumble" sounded dangerous. Guitarist Link Wray sliced his speakers with a switchblade knife to get the first distorted, fuzzy guitar sound. It's a sound that has been chased by thousands of guitarists over the years, but Link was the first. Its title and vibe were inspired by West Side Story which had just opened on Broadway.
harkened back to the swing era. Drummer Cozy Cole had played with Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway and Raymond Scott, three musicians I came to really enjoy and admire. All three of these musicians were associated with the cartoons I watched as a kid. Louis' "You Rascal You" and Cab's "Old Man of the Mountain" were used in Betty Boop cartoons and Raymond Scott's music was adapted by Carl Stalling for over 120 Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and other Warner Bros. cartoons. I wrote a composition "in the style of Raymond Scott" for a music library.
"Teen Beat" and "Let There Be Drums" I remember for the irony of drummer Sandy Nelson losing his right foot and part of his leg in a motorcycle accident. It didn't stop him and he performed and recorded for years afterward.
"Tequila" just had a real fun vibe. The melody, rhythm and sax playing were all great.
It was a lot of fun for an 8-year-old kid to burst out yelling "Tequila!" whenever the song was played on the radio.
"Harlem Nocturne" featured the tenor sax. It was sexy - even to a kid. It was a favorite of strippers everywhere and I can see why. The last note of the first phrase of the melody ends on a major seventh. This creates a minor/major 7th chord, one of the spiciest and dissonant chords there is. It's one of my favorites.
The word beatnik was derived from Jack Kerouac's novel, The Beat Generation. The stereotypical image was a beatnik playing a bongo drum. Marlon Brando and James Dean, both rebels without a cause, each played bongo drums. Preston Epps cashed in with "Bongo Rock".
"Honky Tonk Pt.1 and Pt.2" was one of the best records of the era. It had great guitar work by Billy Butler and funky, soulful tenor sax playing by Clifford Scott. It's funny that the leader is organist Bill Doggett. He's only featured on the last chord of Honky Tonk part two. It became the foundation of Bill "Honky Tonk" Doggett's long career. The Billy Butler riff that starts the song is one of the first riffs that I, and thousands like me, learned to play on guitar.
"Sleepwalk" by Santo and Johnny had the melody played on a steel guitar whose sweeping glissandos had a mournful quality. It was the slow song of the period where you might hold a girl in your arms and dance slow. That was a scary and at the same time, awesome feeling for a young boy.
Not all the instrumental songs of this era were recorded in the United States. "Telstar" by The Tornados was composed and produced by the brilliant, psychotic studio innovator, Joe Meek.
"Stranger on The Shore" featured the silky, smooth clarinet of Mr. Acker Bilk. Both songs, originally recorded in England, hit #1 on the charts in the USA. "Apache", one of the best instrumental records of its time, was recorded by the Danish guitarist Jorgen Ingmann. He was influenced by the guitarist and recording innovator, Les Paul. The "Swinging Shepard Blues" was by the Canadian Moe Kaufman. It was one of the first jazz songs I heard.
My First Guitars
My first guitar was a Kay archtop. I started out playing with a pick studying Mel Bay Volume One for Plectrum Guitar. After a year I got a Guild Cordoba A-50 Archtop with a Kent pickup and a Kent amplifier. It's hard to describe how exciting it was to play an electric guitar for the first time. I picked the guitar over here but the sound came out over there - so cool. My parents got divorced in 1963 and my sister and I went to live with our dad. We gave up our lovely house in Westwood and moved into a two-bedroom apartment. My sister had her own room and I shared a bedroom with my father. Electric guitars were a rarity in those days and even though I had a very small amp the neighbors would complain about "the racket". It's funny, as a kid and an adolescent and into my 20's I wanted to play as loud as I possibly could. I still have some great electric guitars and like to play jump blues and swing on them, but I mainly play a classical guitar and am drawn more to acoustic music. But I still remember the thrill of playing my first electric guitar.
The Bonnevilles - My First Band
While I could pretty quickly play guitar beyond my years, my friends and I still sounded like 10-year-old boys when we tried to sing. But all you needed were two guitars, one rhythm and one lead, to make "Walk Don't Run" sound pretty good. I hooked up with a kid at school, Barry Dubin, who also played guitar.
We started playing songs like "Bulldog" by The Fireballs and "Raunchy" by Bill Justis & His Orchestra. We broadened our repertoire to include "Apache" by the Danish guitarist Jorgen Ingman, "Mr. Moto" by The Bel-Airs, and "Let's Go" by The Routers.
After a few years we added a drummer, Barry Dorfman, and formed a band called "The Bonnevilles".
I took the logo, which was a Les Paul guitar just like mine, from The String Twisters card. I used to go to Pacific Ocean Park (POP) during the summer. In 1963 they had a Battle of The Bands. The String Twisters won and got the gig to play all summer long. They were a really good band and I picked up a lot by watching them. It only cost $5.00 for an all-day-ticket so I went often that summer.
In the early 1960's, a few years after Barry and I started playing guitars together, the sound of the music changed. The instrumental rock music I'd fallen in love with transitioned into surf music. This came about with the rise in popularity of surfing in California, where I grew up.
I went on a couple of "surf outs" with some of my friends. These were overnight surfing trips organized by older surfers for younger kids. I would paddle around for a while but never caught a wave. I've never stood up on a surfboard. I remember being dropped off after the weekend trip and stepping into a hot shower. My feet, which felt frozen, slowly came back to life with a delightful, tingling sensation. I did own a skateboard, the original 1963 Makaha. The wheels on the Makaha would stop suddenly if a pebble or small object got caught in the wheel. The board would stop short but the skater would go flying through the air. That happened to me many times with bloody knees and elbows being the result. No one wore helmets or elbow or knee pads at the time.
Dick Dale and The Deltones
Released in September, 1961, Dick Dale and The Deltones "Let's Go Trippin" is considered the first instrumental surf song. It was a regional hit. Surf music became known for its reverb drenched guitar instrumentals that emulated the sound of crashing waves. There was also vocal Surf Music, which was created and developed by Brian Wilson for The Beach Boys. Dick Dale's take on The Beach Boys was "They were surfing sounds [with] surfing lyrics. In other words, the music wasn't surfing music. The words made them surfing songs...That was the difference... the real surfing music is instrumental."
The most famous surf song was Dick Dale and The Deltones' recording of "Miserlou".
Dick was of Lebanese descent and used this Middle Eastern melody to rise to the top of the heap. He became known as "The King of The Surf Guitar". Middle Eastern string instruments, such as the oud, use a lot of right hand tremelo technique (rapidly alternating up and down picking). That's what Dick Dale did on "Miserlou". Only he played it on an upside-down Fender Stratocaster (he was left handed) plugged into a Fender reverb unit into a Fender Dual Showman amplifier. He was loud and exciting.
Some of my early guitar heroes began putting out records of albums they had previously recorded repackaged with a new cover, new title and surf and ocean sound effects. Two of them that I bought were "Freddie King Goes Surfing" and "Duane Eddy Goes Surfing".
It was a huge store that had demonstration booths where you could listen to records. They also sold TVs and sheet music and there was a music store, Fife and Nichols, right in the middle. I would listen to records, hang out playing the guitars and ask lots of questions. I got to know Seymour Drugan, who ran Fife and Nichols. Seymour was a guitarist and he took a liking to me. He showed me how to play "Corcavado", which I still play today.
Barry and I asked our parents for equipment that would enable us to get this new "Surf" sound. This meant a solid body guitar that wouldn't feedback when played loud, and an amp with built-in reverb. The reverb was all important, you couldn't play "dry". Barry got a Fender Jazzmaster and a Fender Vibroverb amp. I went to Fife and Nichols and Seymour, being a jazz guy, suggested I get a Gibson Les Paul Standard and a Gibson Maestro Amp instead of a Fender. That allowed Barry and me to have different sounds distinct from one another.
I loved the hard-shell case with its plush lining. I remember I went to sleep that night with the guitar next to me in my bed. I was really excited to own that guitar.
Barry and I started adding more surf songs to our repertoire. By then we had added a new drummer, Randy Hoffman, and another guitar player, Tony Muhl. We played "Pipeline" by The Chantays, "Surfbeat" by Dick Dale, "Surf Rider" by The Lively Ones, and of course, "Wipe Out" by The Surfaris. Wipe Out's opening sound was made by shaking the amp and having the reverb tank freak out. Great fun.
The Teen-Age Fair
The highlight of the career of The Bonneviles was playing in The
Battle of The Bands for the 1964 Teen Age Fair. It was held at the world-famous Hollywood Palladium. I remember playing "Miserlou" for the judges of The Battle of The Bands. My right arm tensed up so much from nervousness that I had a hell of time getting through the song. It was hard to keep in time with all the up and down picking that was required. We got to make a recording for the Battle of The Bands compilation album, even if we didn't win anything.
We also got to see Dick Dale and The Deltones, the headliners, in their prime. They were awesome.
Then The Beatles came on The Ed Sullivan Show and everything changed.
January 6, 2021
Learning to Play Guitar
I was 9 years old and inside the Do Re Mi Record store, when I looked up on the wall and spotted Duane Eddy's Have Twangy Guitar Will Travel. The cover showed a cool-looking' dude with a jellyroll haircut, leaning back and glancing down at his right hand as he picked his beautiful, enticing electric guitar. The image was superimposed over a fire engine red background. It captured my attention and imagination. I wondered how great it would be to look like the epidemy of cool and play an instrument that looked like it would be worth the effort to learn. My mother saw my wild enthusiasm and bought me the record. On the way home, I asked her for guitar lessons.
Bud and Mel
Songbook Studios was just down the street from Do Re Mi. The owner, Bud Hassler, played woodwinds, violin, piano, guitar and who knows what. Bud gave me my first guitar lessons. My first music book was Mel Bay Volume One for plectrum guitar. My mom wanted something to do while I was in my lesson so she took up the ukulele. While her ukulele lessons ended after a few months, I kept on going.
In 1978, after the publication of my first book, I attended the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show in Anaheim California to meet my New York publisher, the Music Sales Corporation. Walking around the hall I saw Mel Bay Publications had a booth and sure enough, there was Mel Bay. I introduced myself and we talked about how we both were not fans of guitar tablature (none of the books I have written have tab) and also how I started out on the original Mel Bay Volume One. When I used the book, it was written so you started on the 6th or low E string. This was a stretch and challenge for the budding guitarist and I'm sure it weeded out some who didn't want to make the commitment to learning something so difficult. The book was later revised to start on the first or high E string, which is much easier to start with (Mel wasn't a fan of this but economica ruled). I'm glad I learned the way I did. I liked the sound of those low strings, it's where Duane Eddy played.
Around 1985 I was reading a biography of Bix Beiderbecke when out popped the name Bud Hassler. Turns out Bud had played woodwinds in the Frankie Trumbauer Orchestra with the legendary trumpeter. He'd also played violin in the St. Louis Symphony and was the one who took Bix to classical concerts and afterwards answered his musical questions. Bix went on to compose and record some beautiful classically influenced solo piano pieces, the most famous being "In A Mist". My band, Dr. Jazz, was performing my partner Jan's arrangement of "In A Mist" at the same time I was reading the book. I got really excited. I "knew" who Mr. Hassler was, what his historical importance was. I could tell him I became a professional musician and that I knew who Bix Beiderbecke was. Songbook Studios was directly across the street
from The Apple Pan, a legendary burger joint. I loved stopping in there after my guitar lesson with my mom. You got to know the guys behind the counter when you were regulars. When I decided to visit Bud over 25 years had passed. I knew Songbook Studios was still open but not if Mr. Hassler would be there. I was excited when I saw him come out from the back of the store. But sometimes things just don't pan
out the way you imagine them. I wanted to tell Bud how cool it was he'd played with Bix and that I was a musician but he'd have none of it. He just wasn't interested. He mumbled "Ayeroff, oh yes, furniture, appliances". It was a big disappointment at the time. I have a much more nuanced understanding since I've gained more life experience. I still honor the man. He started me out on my musical journey, and it's still a good one to be on. I popped my head into The Apple Pan on the way to my car and eerily, the counterman I got to know as a kid was still behind the counter wearing his soda jerk paper hat. Except that he had aged 25 years. Kind of spooked me.
In 2001, after having written 10 music books for Music Sales and Warner Bros. Publications, I received a call from Bill Bay, Mel's son. He wanted me to write another book on Django Reinhardt for Mel Bay Publications. I went on to also write another book on Charlie Christian for them. It really was a great full circle experience. They were located in Missouri and I enjoyed dealing with them as an author. Straight ahead guys.
After around 6 months of guitar lessons Bud thought I was ready for a new teacher so he turned me over to Wally Ferris who taught the more advanced students. I don't remember much about Wally, other than I thought he was a nice guy. I would ask him how to play some songs I
liked that were on the radio and he would write them out for me. I remember asking for "The Green Leaves of Summer" by The Brothers Four which was written for the 1960 movie, The Alamo starring John Wayne.
I was a big fan of Disney's Davy Crockett TV show and had a Coonskin Cap and a Flintlock Rifle as a kid. There'd even been a hit song, "The Ballad of Davey Crockett". There was a scene where Colonel William Travis, the commander of The Alamo, takes out his sword and draws a
line in the sand. Surrounded by the overwhelming forces of the Mexican General Santa Ana, he asks for volunteers to cross over the line and join him to stay and fight. Only one man chooses to surrender. Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and the others stay and fight to the end. That scene made quite an impression. Years later, I was playing in San Antonio Texas with singer Vikki Carr and I drove past the Alamo in a limousine. It was much smaller than I had imagined as a kid.
The Power of Music
I learned to read music and some of the songs were okay. I remember liking "Beautiful Dreamer" by Stephen Foster and "Santa Lucia" which had a good simple solo guitar arrangement. My mother's favorite song was "Fascination". Though written in 1905, the song was used in the 1957 movie Love in The Afternoon starring Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn. The hit version of the song was by Jane Morgan. Gives you an idea of what was in the mind of a 1950's housewife.
One day I discovered the power of music. I had done something to upset my mother and she was getting ready to punish me (yes, hangers were used in those days). I ran into my room, grabbed my guitar, pulled out the sheet music to "Fascination" and started to play. My mother couldn't stay mad at me and I got off easy that time. I thought, this music stuff is pretty powerful.
After Wally, I got another teacher who was a real character, Jack Flanagan. He had flame red hair, wore little Windsor glasses and had a waxed handlebar mustache. He showed me how to play the song "More" from the rather bizarre 1962 documentary film Mondo Cane. It was the first chord solo arrangement that I played. He also showed me a cool way to play "Summertime" which I still use today.
But after a few years I wasn't any closer to playing the music that excited me. I wanted to play Rock 'n' Roll, so I quit. I was still into sports and that's where I put my energy.
My Big Bang Moment
One day my sister, who was four years older than me, brought home a friend from High School. His name was Kenny Fukamoto and he played guitar too. I still had my guitar lying around and Kenny picked it up and started playing. When I asked who taught him to play he said "I just figure things out listening to records". That was the Big Bang moment that led me into a life in music. I might not have picked my guitar back up if not for that day. Thank you, Kenny and Loretta.
When I realized that I could figure out the music I wanted to play on my own by listening to records, I went nuts. I spent hours and hours dropping the needle on records trying to figure things out. When there was a scratch, I put a nickel on the tonearm so it would power through the scratches. The first song I figured out was "The Lonely One" by Duane Eddy. It was on the Have Twangy Guitar Will Travel record that had inspired me to take up the guitar in the first place.
Attempting to figure out music just by listening to it was fun for me. It was like solving a puzzle. What's he doing there, what note is that, what chord is he playing? I had a good ear and infinite concentration to go over and over something until I could figure it out.
After I had built up a little repertoire I decided the next step would be to find someone to play with. At the time there weren't many guitar players in my school. The popular kids were the sports guys, the cheerleaders and student body officers. A major change happened later in the 60's when artists, poets, musicians and eccentrics of all kinds became attractive and cool. And, the sports and student government folks began to seem "out of it". I rode that wave.
December 30, 2020
How I Got Interested in Music
I had some older cousins, Richard and Bruce, who were of the "Rebel Without A Cause" generation. When I would sleep over at their house I was exposed to Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis for the first time. They had the records so I could look at the album covers and see what they looked like as well as listen to them. Those guys seemed to be doing something wild to my young eyes and ears. The excitement and rebellious spirit of these colorful characters was very attractive to an 8-year-old boy.
When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles they brought not just the team, but also their announcer, Vin Scully. Fortunately for me, Vin turned out to be the greatest baseball announcer of all time. My dad got me a clock radio so I could listen to the Dodger games before falling asleep at night. When baseball season ended I started exploring the radio dial and discovered KFWB. Before 1958, KFWB was known as the station of Your Make-Believe Ballroom which featured big band dance music. In the same year that the Dodgers arrived in Los Angeles, 1958, KFWB entered the wild world of Rock 'n Roll Radio. Their evening DJ was Bill Balance and I began to listen to his show.
I was still totally into sports and didn't think much about music. I'd see some things on
television and listen to the radio driving around with my parents. I liked some of it, but I wasn't passionate about it. I did watch Ozzie and Harriett. The last few minutes of the show were given over to Ricky Nelson singing a song with his band. James Burton's great playing on his Fender Telecaster caught my attention.
The transistor radio had just come on the market and it allowed teenagers to listen to their music anywhere they wanted - far away from disapproving adult's ears. This was the start of portable personal music systems and it helped fuel the Rock 'n' Roll revolution that was taking place.
I started to really dig the songs. Elvis had just entered the army so he wasn't dominating the scene so much. But "I Got Stung" was still a big hit. AM Radio was very eclectic at the time. It was as if two worlds were living simultaneously, side by side. You would hear Perry Como followed by The Everly Bros. Andy Williams followed by Jerry Lee Lewis. Roger Williams followed by "Fats" Domino. The sensuous "Fever" by Peggy Lee followed by the funky "Willie and The Hand Jive" by The Johnny Otis Revue. The songs that were more melodic, that my parents liked, didn't excite me like Rock 'n Roll did. But I'm sure being exposed to those melodies at such a young age contributed to my later appreciation of the great standards of the Classic American Songbook.
It was also the beginning of the folk boom and "Tom Dooley" by The Kingston Trio kicked it off. Some of the songs that made an impression on me were "Rebel Rouser" by Duane Eddy and "Tequila" by The Champs, "Summertime Blues" by Eddie Cochran and "Splish Splash" by Bobby Darin, "Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis and "Chantilly Lace" by The Big Bopper, "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry and "Bird Dog" by The Everly Bros. There were many comedic contributions such as "Yakety Yak" by The Coasters and "Western Movies" by The Olympics. It was also the era of novelty songs and as a kid I liked "The Witch Doctor" by Ross Bagdassarian and "The Purple People Eater" by Sheb Wooley. For the holidays there was "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" by The Chipmunks. There were also big band instrumentals like Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn" and Perez Prado's "Patricia. On the slow side there was "Donna" by Ritchie Valens, "It's Only Make Believe" by Conway Twitty, "It's All in The Game" by Tommy Edwards, "Lonesome Town" by Ricky Nelson and "All I Have to Do Is Dream" by The Everly Bros. There was also a surprise jazz hit with "Take Five" by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. Country and Western had a number one hit with "El Paso" by Marty Robbins with great guitar playing by Grady Martin. I memorized all the words to that one. What a great, deep, wide repertoire those DJs had to choose from. They guided me into a deep, passionate, lifelong enjoyment of music. The music became irresistible to me and I embraced it. It was a great time to be growing up in Southern California as a kid interested in sports and music.
In 1959, a major event occurred when my older sister Loretta and I joined the Columbia Record Club. For around $1.00, you got to pick a bunch of records just for signing up. There was a catch however. You had to purchase a record a month for a year, out of their catalogue, at full retail price. But our parents let us do it. We were excited to be able to pick our own music. Here are the titles I remember:
The Original Hits. Volume One on Liberty Records that had "Tequila", "Do You Wanna Dance", "Bony Moronie", "Mr. Blue" and of course "National City" by the Joiner, Arkansas Junior High School Band (a very tongue in cheek name for a studio musician band), among others.
Rhapsody in Blue and An American In Paris with Leonard Bernstein at the piano conducting The New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
Time Out featuring "Take Five" by The Dave Brubeck Quintet
We listened to these records a lot and gradually I became a fan of music. It wasn't as big a passion for me as sports, but it was becoming more a central part of my life.
We had a spinet piano in our picture window facing out to the street. My older sister Loretta took piano lessons for many years. She played the same pieces for months on end because her teacher had her students give recitals at The Beverly Hilton Hotel for the parents and families. It did give the students an incentive to practice and my sister did her share of it. Fortunately, she played some cool stuff. I would hear "Cumana", "The Ritual Fire Dance" and Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" played over and over and over. That music just became part of our lives, it seemed like it was always around.
Listening to the radio, visiting my cousins and hearing the Rock 'n Roll pioneers along with my sister's piano practicing, were my first exposures to music. I was still devoted to sports; I was in Little League and played on the playground after school or in the street until it got dark and it was time for dinner. But music was gaining a toehold as something that would become the biggest part of my life. Soon, visiting a record store would have a profound effect on my life.
December 2, 2020
Sports Part One
In the 1950s, the Elementary School Playground was the testing ground for young boys. We played before, during and after school. If you were a good athlete, you wouldn't get picked on. Sports stars were looked up to as heroes. Our first games were handball, tetherball, and softball. They were the first tests to see how far we might go in sports. If you took to it and were good, you'd continue. If you weren't very good and hated the experience, you would probably put
your energies elsewhere. Of course, there were those who excelled - at everything. They were good athletes and smart, top students.
I asked my parents for a tetherball pole for our backyard. It meant digging a big round hole in the middle of our green lawn. The hole would be filled with cement and a metal tube inserted in the middle to hold the pole. My parents actually did it. They had reasons to say no, but they supported me.
I don't remember if I wanted the pole because I loved the game and wanted to get better - or thought some extra practice on my own might help me keep up with the good guys. Probably a combination of both. Tetherball is very rhythmic. When you're in the groove and hitting the ball as it's wrapping around the pole - climbing higher and higher - it's exhilarating.
Handball was about being able to slice. Those who could slice the best usually won the game and stayed on to beat the next kid. You'd wait your turn on the bench. Some matches were close, some were not, and some were humiliating. The tough part was watching others get beat and knowing your time was coming. Some good players could go on indefinitely. You would look for a court where there wasn't one of those guys.
To slice you used the side of your hand to hit the ball so it would bounce once, hit the backboard, and bounce off the board in such a way that it was so low to the ground - it was impossible to return. It was a delicate shot with a lot of calculations. I practiced slicing and could hold my own.
I was a good athlete. I have good hand-eye coordination. I could hit, throw, catch, shoot and kick. But I never had the physique of a great athlete. I was chunky and wheezed when I ran around too much.
Another way kids were judged was how squads and teams were chosen. We'd vote for a squad leader and they would pick their own squad. It wasn't fun to be the last one picked. Good and bad, experiences on the playground could inspire you and give you confidence, or scar you for life. A lot of these experiences would take some a long time to get over.
I loved the playground and playing softball. It was my favorite place. I played every day after school and all summer long until I joined Little League. Little League played hardball, had their own practice schedule and played on their own field. That's when I left the playground.
Sports in Los Angeles
I was born in Culver City, CA in 1950. My family moved to West Los Angeles when I was two. Growing up in 1950's LA, I spent the early part of my life obsessed with sports, particularly baseball.
I followed all the local teams. There were the minor league baseball Los Angeles Angels and Hollywood Stars, the professional football Los Angeles Rams, and the UCLA and USC college basketball rivalry. The big three sports at the time were Baseball, Football, and Basketball in that order.
The biggest baseball star was the Angels' home run hitting first baseman, Steve Bilko. My uncle took me to an Angel's game and we waited afterwards to get Bilko's autograph. He was a big guy. His nickname was "Stout Steve". I remember looking up at this giant and timidly handing him my program for him to sign. Steve has an "St" in it and so does "Stan". He had a way of crossing his "t" without taking his pen off the paper. Easier for signing autographs I suppose. I copied the way he signed that "St" and still sign my name that way to this day.
The Los Angeles Rams had great looking uniforms. My mother and sister were into fashion design and made me aware of fashion and style. As a young woman my mother was chosen to be the assistant to the great fashion designer, Elsa Schiaparelli, for her tour of the United States. This was between World War I and World War II. It was a highlight of my mother's life.
The Rams had Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch. Has there ever been a better name for a football player? They also had Jon Arnett, a so-so halfback who once and awhile would run back a kickoff all the way into the opposing team's end zone. As a kid, there wasn't a more exciting play in football.
In 1958 the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn ending minor league baseball in Los Angeles. The Giants moved from New York City to San Francisco. Their East Coast rivalry continued on the West Coast; culminating with Giant pitcher Juan Marichal hitting Dodger catcher Johnny Roseboro on the head with a baseball bat. It is considered the ugliest moment in baseball history.
In 1961, the Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles hoping to repeat the success of the recently arrived Dodgers. LA finally had professional basketball too. I felt that my hometown must be something special if these teams were leaving their old cities and moving out west to California.
Concurrently, in 1961 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art opened in Mid-Wilshire and three years later, The Music Center in downtown Los Angeles. Culturally, LA was on the map.
Wrestling, Boxing and the Movies
But I wasn't into "highbrow" stuff at that age. I loved wrestling on television. I was attracted to the over the top cartoon violence of the heroes and villains and their larger than life personalities. I had a subscription to Boxing Illustrated and Wrestling News. In 1955 I saw my first movie in a theater, a Saturday matinee. For me, the main attraction was the "Heavyweight Boxing Championship of the World", shown on the big screen before the main feature. The bout was between challenger Archie Moore and champion
Rocky Marciano. It turned out to be Rocky's last fight. He became the epitome of an athlete going out on top, retiring undefeated at 49-0.
The film they showed following the fight was the classic, Mr. Roberts. It was a great film that had a big impact on me. It starred Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon (in his first role), James Cagney and in his final role, William Powell. That was a special day of bigtime entertainment.
Another movie that made an impression on me was the 1960 epic Spartacus starring Kirk Douglas. Kirk was also the producer. It was the movie that finally broke the Hollywood "Blacklist". Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, the most prominent of the blacklisted "Hollywood Ten", received his proper screenwriter credit on the film, using his real name. Before that, he had to use another writer's name or a pseudonym. He even won two uncredited Academy Awards for Best Story for Roman Holiday and The Brave One. He was a customer of my dad who sold furniture, appliances, radios and televisions at his store, Ayeroff Bros.
Spartacus had a great gladiator scene between Kirk Douglas and Woody Strode. Strode lets Spartacus kill him in the arena so he can survive and lead the slave rebellion. The concept that some things are more important than even our own lives hit me hard as a young boy. It also had a great love scene between Kirk Douglas and Jean Simmons. I didn't think or know anything about sex, but that hit me too. "The Love Theme from Spartacus" by Alex North was famously recorded by jazz musician Yusef Lateef on Oboe.
Baseball and Little League
But baseball was my favorite. I played ball, went to the games, read baseball biographies, memorized the Sporting News Baseball Record Book, and most of all, collected baseball cards. At one time I knew the starting lineups of all the teams. There were only 16 teams until 1960, now there are 30. At family gatherings I would go up to my uncles and pester them to "Ask me a question on baseball!". This was around the time of the big quiz shows (before the scandals hit), and I fantasized going on the "$64,000 Question" as an expert on baseball.
I started Little League just as the Dodgers moved out to Los Angeles from Brooklyn. My father grew up in New York City and saw the 1927 Yankees, considered the best team in baseball history. I was a pitcher and shortstop and played endless hours of catch with my Dad. I was a switch hitter and could bat from either side of the plate. My Little League team was named the Athletics. There was another team in our league called the Giants. One of their players was Billy Lancaster, son of actor Burt Lancaster. He went on to write the movie The Bad News Bears. Billy had polio as a kid and had a limp but that didn't slow him down, he was a good player and was well-liked.
I grew up in a different time in America. Our neighborhood had lots of kids to play with and most of our neighbors left their doors unlocked. It was easy to round up enough kids to get up a game. One time I was in the moment and slid into third base, which was in a driveway. I hit my head on the concrete and got a slight concussion. I remember the moment I decided to go for it and slide, but I don't remember if I was safe or out.
I also remember when I finally got good enough batting left handed to be a switch hitter. I would practice hitting balls tossed by a friend from across the street. We'd be in opposite driveways. My house stood on a small hill. I usually couldn't hit very far from the left side, but this time I connected with the ball and lined it up, up, up - right into the picture window of my house - shattering it into a thousand pieces. Good news, bad news. I could finally hit left handed, but I paid a price.
Time and place have a major effect on what interests we develop and pursue. Growing up in 1950's Los Angeles, I witnessed the burgeoning sports scene and the emergence of Rock 'n Roll. They grabbed my attention. I was a fan and a participant in both. I'm fortunate that's what I picked up on. They led the way to a very satisfying, challenging, and rewarding life.
December 16, 2020
Sports Part Two
My early life was filled with sports. My main obsession was still baseball, but there were plenty of others.
I grew up in West Los Angeles near Westwood Village,
which bordered the UCLA campus. When I was a kid there were two movie theaters,
the Village and the Bruin, which were across the street from each other. Later on, it became known as the first run cinema capital of the world with tons of movie theaters. There was also a bowling alley above a pool hall called Mom's. My friends and I could go into The Village to bowl or see a movie, but were warned to stay away from Mom's, a place full of shady characters and low-life goings-on. Of course, that stoked our curiosity and we would always peek in on our way upstairs to bowl.
For several years, on Friday nights I went to the UCLA Student Union with my dad. They had a 10-lane bowling alley, a room filled with ping pong tables and another with pool tables. We'd play all three.
I watched bowling on Saturdays, a big day for cartoons and sports on TV (I was one of the first of the TV generation). I remember the bowlers didn't look very athletic. Guys like Don Carter, Ray Bluth and Dick Weber looked more like somebody's uncle than a big, strong athlete. I got my bowling ball, bag and shoes by redeeming a bunch of Blue Chip Stamps which you collected at places like the supermarket and gas station.
My mother sometimes took me to Picwood Bowl after school. She didn't bowl but liked to keep score. My highest game was a 256. I still remember a story from bowling lore. It has to do with the sore thumb you get from bowling a lot. If you hollow out a potato and stick your thumb in it for a few minutes, the potato will suck the soreness out.
I tried this once. I was playing at The Las Vegas Hilton with Vikki Carr and went bowling one night after the show. Not having bowled in many years my thumb got quite sore. The potato trick worked.
I became aware of World Class Ping Pong in 1958 when I was 8 years old. My dad took me to a Harlem Globetrotters game at The Shrine Auditorium. I loved "Meadowlark" Lemon, the Globetrotters' dazzling court jester. Their comedy routines drew me in and surprised me every time. I'd never laughed so hard in my life. They exuded "cool" while warming up to "Scatman" Crothers version of "Sweet Georgia Brown".
It happened to be the same year Wilt Chamberlin played with the Globetrotters. Wilt had gone for the big bucks to tour with The Globetrotters for a year before turning pro. He was one of the tallest men on the planet at the time. After turning pro, Wilt went on to score 100 points in a single game playing for the Philadelphia Warriors, a record that's never been broken.
The halftime show started with an exhibition by two world class ping pong champions from China and Germany. I was amazed how far off the table they were playing and it inspired me to practice my game. We wound up getting a ping pong table for our backyard. I'm still pretty good. The actress Susan Sarandon is a fan of ping pong and started her own chain of ping pong parlors. It's also good for your brain.
The ping pong show was followed by Cab Calloway who I'd heard in several Betty Boop cartoons. He did "
Minnie the Moocher" with the call and response "Hi De Hi De Hi De Ho".
Many years later I arranged it for "The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo". Danny Elfman could do a great Cab Calloway.
I was 8 years old and that was another day of great, memorable entertainment.
I was eleven when I saw the 1961 movie The Hustler starring Paul Newman as "Fast Eddie" Felson, a pool hustler. It inspired lot of people to take up the game of pool. When I was growing up in the 1950's poolhalls were considered by many to be a "social ill". This was lampooned in the song "Trouble" from 1957's The Music Man.
The Hustler was a powerfully dark movie with great performances. I got a mini pool table that fit in my bedroom. Being ambidextrous I could play with either hand, though I was better right handed at shooting pool. I'd have friends come over and start out playing left handed. After a few pretty evenly contested games I'd ask them if they wanted to place a bet. Then I would switch to playing right handed and run the table. I was a budding hustler. Fortunately, unlike one of the strongest scenes in the movies, I never got my thumbs broken.
I had an Aunt Jerry who was into golf. She was my mother's sister and lived in Rockville Center, Long Island back east. She sent me a kid's set of clubs when I was nine. It was really cool. Golf seemed such a sophisticated sport and not many kids played or were interested in it. One time when she was visiting us she took me to the 1961 Los
Angeles Open, which was played at our local public golf course, Rancho Park. Rancho had putting greens and a large driving range along with a championship 18-hole golf course and a pitch and putt shorter one. I learned to play there. I used the putting greens, driving range and played the short course. I also watched golf on television. My aunt got tickets so we could go on a practice round with Arnold Palmer, Dow Finsterwald (now that's a name to remember) and one more player. I remember Palmer would hit these drives that would stay low to the ground the whole time before suddenly shooting up into the sky before falling to the ground.
During the tournament Arnie made a 12 on the concluding 18th hole of the second round. He hit 4 shots out of bounds. There's a plaque at Rancho commemorating that day. It gave hope and confidence to lesser players that even the mighty Palmer could take a 12 on a hole. Asked by a reporter how he managed to make a 12, Palmer replied, "I missed my putt for an 11."
I also started taking tennis lessons at Rancho Park with renowned teacher, Jerry Teegarden. Jerry was a relative of the great trombonist and vocalist Jack Teegarden who was one of Louis Armstrong's All Stars.
One day after a lesson I was told I had a phone call. It was my mother telling me to go over to my friend Alan's house that night because there had been a fire in our house. My father sold appliances at his store and we had a fancy modern kitchen. It was even featured in the Home section of the Sunday Los Angeles Times. We had a NuTone blender which was built right into the countertop. I came across this excerpt from a book about celebrity kitchens:
A real eye-opener for me is the NuTone food processor built right into the countertop, with special holders for its various attachments. I might have to insist on something like this in our perfect kitchen. I once came across a NuTone recipe book. The booklet boasts "The kitchen appliance of the future... Yours Now."
It was Louis Armstrong's Kitchen! Guess Lil Armstrong and my mother Pauline were on the same wavelength. Another connection to Louis.
Unfortunately, the fire had been caused by an electrical malfunction from the new appliances in the kitchen. We moved into The Westwood Manor Hotel for a couple of months while they repaired our house. We'd go to Currie's coffee shop for breakfast and they would make lunch for my sister Loretta and me. We were the only kids with pickle slices and carrot curls with our wax paper wrapped sandwiches. With all the commotion going on, I never went back to my tennis lessons.
Sports Become Increasingly Popular in the 1950s
My father served in the North African campaign and the allied invasion of Sicily during World War II. He was overseas for three and a half years. As the war ended the United States needed to manage the demobilization of its forces. The government instigated a point system based on time served with double points allotted if you were stationed overseas. My dad accrued top points for his overseas duty and was one of the first to be discharged and sent home. He told me that all he wanted to do was get married and have kids when he got back. He met my mother within days of his arrival home. They were married within 6 months and my sister was born in 1946. This seemed a popular sentiment among the returning soldiers and there was a huge number of babies born after the war. My sister and I are definitely baby boomers.
With all these kids being born, organized sports grew in popularity. It was thought that young boys would learn cooperation and teamwork, respect for authority and the value of hard work and practice through participating in team sports.
The booming postwar economy also contributed to the rapid growth of sports. People bought televisions to watch the games, they could afford tickets, and they could buy the equipment needed to participate in sports themselves.
The fifties were also a time of conformity and stereotypical gender roles. People didn't want to stand out from the crowd. If they did they were criticized. Advertisers illustrated what typical Americans were doing with their time. The man of the house was the sole provider and breadwinner while housewives were expected to raise the children and run the house. A good housewife developed her skills in cooking and cleaning and kept the house looking spotless while the men were often shown being involved in sports, either as a participant or a fan.
The advent of television also contributed to sports growing popularity. Indoor sports were easier to film so boxing, wrestling and roller derby became popular after being shown on TV. Baseball was still the national pastime with the New York Yankees being the dominant team throughout the 1950's, winning 6 out of 10 world series.
The Yankees were not universally revered. The 1955 show and 1958 movie of Damn Yankees illustrated one man's frustration with his home team always losing to those "Damn Yankees!".
A new program on Saturday afternoon came on the air in 1961 when I was eleven. ABC's Wide World of Sports showed sports from all over the world. Their catchphrase "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" captured the essence of sports competition.
A lot of what I enjoyed and learned from being immersed in sports transferred over into music. Like the world of sports, every country had their own form of music. And like sports, music wasn't something you could pick up and master in a few weeks. You had to put the time in and practice. I also observed how managers and coaches organized practices and dealt with their players, including things I thought they did wrong. When I started playing in bands I used these obversions and the leadership abilities I'd developed being the captain of several sports teams, to organize and run our band rehearsals. Like my teammates, many of my bandmates also became my friends.
Sports were a good place to channel the unbridled energy of a kid.
I learned a lot of life lessons that stood me in good stead for the adventures to come. And like the song from Damn Yankees says, you've got to have "heart". Applying this to music meant you've got to have "soul." Heart and soul are still the standout qualities I'm attracted to. If you are going to play music or sports, you've got to put your heart and soul into it.
December 23, 2020
Sports Part Three
Ten Reasons Why I Love Baseball
1. Playing defense is as interesting as offense. My dad and I liked to watch Koufax win a 1-0 pitcher's duel.
Those games were intense. We'd wait to see who would break through first and if the pitcher could hold off the opposing team. In those days, the pitchers went the distance. The outfielders made great catches and throw runners out from faraway distances. The infielders make double and triple plays with remarkable precision. The catcher rips off his mask and throws it away before pursuing a foul ball. I don't know another sport where that happens.
2. It doesn't have time limits. Having no time limit for an at bat, inning or game can lead to interesting situations. The last Dodger game I went to went 18 innings and it was raining, though not enough to postpone the game. When teams run out of substitutions anything can happen. Pitchers become batters, outfielders become pitchers. This is rare, but adds an extra layer to the game when it occurs. Some sports have overtime, but other than tennis, I can't think of one that has no time limits during the game.
3. What other game lets you catch a ball as a spectator and take it home with you? I took my glove to the games as a kid hoping to catch a foul ball. Never happened. I've gone to hundreds of games over the years but never came close. Hope springs eternal with every new game I attend.
4. Baseball plays the most games per season of any sport. You can follow your team almost daily all summer long. Following your team becomes an integral part of your life. It's exciting when Joe DiMaggio is on his way to a 56-game hitting streak, or Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle are chasing Babe Ruth's home run record of 60 in a season. When you live in a baseball city you feel the ups and downs of your team and your favorite players.
5. It has pathos. I was deeply affected by Lou Gehrig after reading his biography as a kid. The player they called "The Iron Horse", because he held the record for the most consecutive games played, came down with AMS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. It's a horrible progressive disease that became known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. When they honored him by having a "Lou Gehrig Day" at Yankee Stadium, Lou made a memorable speech. Standing at home plate he said "For the past two weeks, you've been reading about a bad break. Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth". It really choked me up as a kid.
7. It had Babe Ruth. The most popular baseball player, Babe Ruth, and the most popular jazz musician, Louis Armstrong, both grew up in orphanages.
They rose to the top of their professions despite such humble origins, and became American legends. Here are a couple of stories about the Babe. One day he visited a very sick child in a hospital and told him he would hit a home run for him that day. With the kid listening in to the game Babe hit a homer, truly making a sick child's day a lot brighter. In his last season as a player in the 1932 World Series, he famously pointed to centerfield indicating where he would hit the next pitch. He then proceeded to hit a towering home run right where he pointed, cementing his legend.
8. Many baseball players have colorful nicknames, as do a lot of musicians. There's Duke Snider and Duke Ellington, Dodger manager Smokey Alston and Smokey Robinson, Lefty Gomez and Lefty Frizzell, Dizzy Dean and Dizzy Gillespie, Pee Wee Reese and Pee Wee Russell, Willie "Pops" Stargell and Louis "Pops" Armstrong.
9. It's got cool terms for various aspects of the game. You can "steal" a base. You can even steal home like Jackie Robinson. You can hit a "sacrifice" fly or bunt. The "relief" pitchers warm up in the "Bullpen". The different pitches are called a fastball, curve, slider, screwball, knuckleball, change up and the killer pitch, the "spitter" which was banned because it was too dangerous.
My closest and best times with my dad revolved around sports and baseball was our favorite. He read baseball biographies to me as I lay in bed before going to sleep. We went regularly to the public library to get books on baseball. I've had a lifetime of hanging out in libraries and bookstores and have always loved reading books.
First thing in the morning I'd go get the newspaper and read the sports section. Just as I was lucky to listen to Vin Scully on the radio, I got to read the column of one of the greatest sportswriters of all time, Jim Murray. His insightful, caustic and humorous writing gave my dad and I a lot of enjoyment. Many of the best books on sports were written about baseball.
I'd try to get my dad to play catch with me anytime, anywhere. Once in a while he'd take me to his store with him. I liked hunting for the different artificial fruits and vegetables that were placed in some of the refrigerators. You never knew what was behind the door. Every time he'd have a break or the store wasn't crowded I'd ask him "want to play catch?". I'd pitch and he'd catch. I had a Mickey Mantle fielder's glove and he had a Yogi Berra catcher's mitt. Yogi had a unique way with words. Here he talks about jazz.
Yogi Berra Explains Jazz
Interviewer: Can you explain jazz? Yogi: I can't, but I will. 90% of all jazz is half improvisation. The other half is the part people play while others are playing something they never played with anyone who played that part. So if you play the wrong part, its right. If you play the right part, it might be right if you play it wrong enough. But if you play it too right, it's wrong.
Interviewer: I don't understand.
Yogi: Anyone who understands jazz knows that you can't understand it. It's too complicated. That's what's so simple about it. Interviewer: Do you understand it?
Yogi: No. That's why I can explain it. If I understood it, I wouldn't know anything about it.
Interviewer: Are there any great jazz players alive today?
Yogi: No. All the great jazz players alive today are dead. Except for the ones that are still alive. But so many of them are dead, that the ones that are still alive are dying to be like the ones that are dead. Some would kill for it.
Interviewer: What is syncopation? Yogi: That's when the note that you should hear now happens either before or after you hear it. In jazz, you don't hear notes when they happen because that would be some other type of music. Other types of music can be jazz, but only if they're the same as something different from those other kinds. Interviewer: Now I really don't understand. Yogi: I haven't taught you enough for you to not understand jazz that well.
We went to lots of games at the Coliseum when the Dodgers arrived in LA in 1958. These were real deal, big time players like Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. A great cast of characters with a great history. The Dodgers broke the color barrier in sports by hiring Jackie Robinson. We'd choose many of the games we wanted to see according to the different pregame shows. There was fan appreciation night, old-timer's night, celebrity night, and many others.
Koufax, Drysdale and Going to Dodger Games
We also tried to pick games where we could see Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale pitch. They were our favorites. Left-hander Koufax had a beautiful, fluid motion as a pitcher. He was Jewish and wouldn't play on Yom Kippur. This was a big deal for a Jewish kid. There were not many Jewish athletes during that time.
Drysdale was big and brash. Standing 6'5'' tall, he wasn't shy of using brushback
pitches and a sidearm fastball to intimidate batters. He grew up in Van Nuys and was a schoolmate of Robert Redford. He was a real California "Golden Boy".
Since we left for the game right when my dad got home from work, my mom would prepare dinner for us in soft-padded lunchboxes. Sometimes we'd get take-out at Pete and Percy's Bar-B-Que on the way to the game. It was there I discovered onion rings which blew my young culinary mind. We'd have dinner and watch batting practice and the pre-game show. Later I'd get a frozen malt to eat; you could only get them at the baseball game at the time. My dad liked eating peanuts. The peanut vendor always impressed us by tossing the bag of nuts a long distance and landing right in my dad's lap.
I think that after his experiences in World War II, playing sports with his son gave my dad a lot of satisfaction. We were very close and it was sports that cemented our bond. He let me play hooky from school to take me to the 1959 World Series when the Dodgers beat the White Sox in 6 games. Koufax was pitching. There were close to 100,000 people in the stands, pretty overwhelming for a kid.
The Coliseum was not designed for baseball, it was oval shaped for track and field hosting both the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games. Fitting a baseball field into this space left a very short left field fence, about 250 feet from home plate. To make it more challenging for the hitters, they built a tall 42' screen in left field.
Just before moving to Los Angeles for the 1958 season the Dodgers acquired left-hand hitting outfielder Wally Moon from the St. Louis Cardinals. An odd thing I remember is that he had a unibrow, his eyebrows grew together. He was the Frieda Kahlo of baseball.
Wally was nervous about moving to Los Angles because he thought the layout of the Coliseum was unfriendly to left handed batters, very deep to center and right field. My namesake, Stan "The Man" Musial, taught Wally how to alter his swing to be able to hit to left field. To this day I'm still called "Stan the Man" when I do something cool. Though not a power hitter, Wally was able to hit high pop flies over the screen in left. They called them "Moon Shots". He was in the right place at the right time.
My dad sold furniture and appliances and had some interesting customers. He sold to Dalton Trumbo and The Hollywood Ten as well as Mickey Cohen, who was the mob's West Coast honcho. Another customer was Pete Reiser.
Pete was one of the most talented baseball players of all time but was accident prone which shortened his career. He was known for running into walls trying to catch fly balls in the outfield. They called him "Pistol Pete". Pete was a coach for the Dodgers and became friendly with my Dad. He would often get us tickets to the ballgames. Pete learned that I was in Little League and suggested me for a local radio interview which paired a Little League player together with a major leaguer. I showed up at the stadium in my crisp and clean Little League uniform and did the interview with Dodger pitcher Stan Williams. It was cool meeting another Stan.
I have two memories of Little League that stand out. They are not heroic. I was a good player but my team was at the bottom of the league. The kids were nice but we weren't very good. One time I remember playing shortstop and there was a runner on first base. The batter hit a ground ball to my left side and I dove into the dirt to grab it, intent on flipping it to the second baseman in order to make a double play. When I hit the ground, I hit the funny bone on my elbow and was temporarily paralyzed. I had the ball in my right hand, my throwing hand, and the second baseman was yelling at me to toss the ball. But I was frozen, lying on the ground, watching as the runner ran from first to second base. I still held the ball but couldn't even toss it a few feet. It was quite bizarre and has stuck with me all these years. Sometimes we are just helpless.
Little League is supposed to be fun, and it is, but it can be quite stressful. I remember a game where we were losing by one run, it was the final inning and the bases were loaded with two outs. I was the last batter up. It went to a full count, 3 balls and 2 strikes. I grounded out to the pitcher. It was a disappointment, but the fact that I didn't strike out made it a little more tolerable. The chance to be a hero or loser in a game ending situation is very stressful for anyone, especially a young kid.
Sports the Common Ground
Talking about sports is a kind of common ground for guys. I can always connect with someone, particularly of an older generation, by striking up a conversation about sports. Many are surprised that I know so much about it when I look like a musician. It often has a disarming effect and we wind up connecting over our mutual interest in sports. I lost that interest in sports from my late teens to mid-40's. It was rekindled when my son was born and now, with the Dodgers and Lakers being the current World Champions, sports have been a lot of fun to watch again.
This period of immersing myself in sports was helpful as I shifted my priorities towards music. As an athlete I could see the progress I made when I practiced regularly. As I got better I became more aware of the subtleties and depth of the sport. It was always worth the time and effort and I loved to practice and improve. I found music to be similar. For a while I loved sports and liked music. There came a time when I had too many interests and I quit my guitar lessons. But I still had my guitar lying around the house. My older sister had a school friend who came to visit her at our house. He picked up my guitar and played some cool stuff. I asked him how he learned to play. His answer rocked my world.