Apr 3, 2011

That's Sophia

A couple of Italian-American gig stories:
I played for years with a 17-piece big band, led first by Johnny L., later by Adrian D. This first story took place when it was John’s band. We were scheduled to play an Italian wedding at a hall about 15 minutes from my house. At the time, I had two cars, a 1971 Datsun and a 1972 Ford Pinto. Neither one worked very well. The Datsun’s brakes were shot, and it was dangerous to drive. The Pinto’s starter motor was just about gone.
I left the house with my tenor sax and clarinet, wearing my tux. I had cut the time pretty close. I should get there with about 10 minutes to set up. I decided to take the Pinto, figuring that it was somewhat less dangerous to drive. Unfortunately, this was the day that the starter died completely. After 10 minutes of trying to fix it, I gave up and loaded my stuff into the Datsun. I drove to the gig extra-carefully on account of the brakes, and arrived about 20 minutes after the downbeat.
I hurried into the hall, set up my instruments, and sat down with the sax section. The band was playing a chart of “Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Blu).” That translates: “To Fly (In the Blue Painted Blue).” Dean Martin got a hit recording out of it in the 1950s.
The trombones were seated right behind the saxes. Joe D., a trombonist, stopped playing long enough to lean forward and ask me:
 “What happened, Peter? De Pinto Blew?”

That’s Sophia
We had a gig in San Francisco, at the Museum of Modern Art. The same band, now led by Adrian D., had been engaged to play for a “Tribute to Sophia Loren,” organized by the Italian consulate. Sophia herself was going to be there, with her husband, producer Carlo Ponti. The band members were excited about the gig. Some were looking forward to getting her autograph.
The band was stationed in the Schwab Room, to provide music for pre-dinner cocktails. The backdrop for our stage was a 30-foot tall caricature of Sophia. We played a set of big band favorites, then the guests adjourned to the main hall, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Atrium, where the dinner tables were, and a stage with podium, for the Master of Ceremonies. The Schwab Room and the main hall were separated by a wide doorway that could be closed with big sliding birch panels.
Looking from the bandstand into the Atrium, we could see that there weren’t going to be any autographs. All we could see of Sophia and Carlo was their four bodyguards, in tuxedos, standing by their table in the middle of the hall. 
The guests were society people, sponsors of the museum. One of them had written special lyrics to be sung to the tune of “That’s Amore.” Here is a sample:
When a star makes you drool 
And you feel like a fool
That’s Sophia!!
Copies of the song had been distributed to the audience. The plan was that the Master of Ceremonies would sing the first few lines through the microphone, then the band would strike up the tune, and then the entire audience would join in.
Just before the song was to start, the event planner decided to shut the sliding door. The band was miked; the event planner (peeking through the closed panel into the hall) would give us the signal to start, and our classy big-band accompaniment would be piped into the main hall via the sound system.
The Master of Ceremonies started the song. We got the high sign, and came in as arranged. We didn’t have a clue what the audience was doing until the event planner noticed that they had finished, and we were still playing. We had been completely out of synch with the audience, the whole time. Adrian cut the band off with half a chorus still to go. 
But it was OK. We didn’t disturb the show - the sound system had never been turned on. We had been playing for ourselves. Our job was done. We collected our checks and packed up our instruments.

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