Aug 13, 2012

The Dan Quayle Gig

Disclaimer: Although this is an election year, this post should not be taken as involving any sort of political advocacy. It is intended purely as entertainment. Like many gig stories, it illustrates the bizarre situations that performing musicians sometimes encounter.

This gig story is from pianist Nicki Kerns, who swears that it really happened. Here it is, in her own words:
In October 1992, during the presidential campaign, Vice President Dan Quayle was in town to do a fundraiser for Bruce Herschenson, who was running for United States Senator from California. A woman had called me to play for a cocktail party, at which Quayle was going to be the guest of honor. 
At the time, she didn’t tell me that he was going to be there; she just said it was a “high-profile” guest, that security was going to be tight, and that the Secret Service would need my personal information so that they could do a background check on me. Well, if you’re doing a Secret Service check, then you’re playing for the President or the Vice President, right?

So once I figured out that it was Quayle, she admitted it, and said, “Well, you know, it’s a cocktail party, it’s going to be $1,000 a plate, we’ll have some people there. The Vice President’s reputation hasn’t been the greatest lately, and you’re going to be doing background music - so please play whatever you want, except ‘If I Only Had a Brain.’

I thought she was kidding, but she was completely serious, so I said, “Fine.”

Well, the day of the job came, I showed up at this private residence in Los Altos Hills, and apparently it was a really expensive ticket price, because only 24 people showed up. For $1,000 they didn’t even get a plate. They got a cocktail napkin with two pieces of shrimp, and a glass of champagne.

When Quayle arrived with his Secret Service guys in their black limousines, instead of “If I Only Had a Brain,” I played that Gershwin song, “You say potato, and I say potatoe...let’s call the whole thing off.” Nobody caught the joke.

Quayle gave a speech that extolled Herschenson’s virtues while bashing Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, which didn't make me happy. On my way home from the gig I passed a voter registration table in front of a store. The table had a sign asking Democrats to register to vote there. At the time I was a Republican, but that speech had left such a sour taste in my mouth that I stopped at that table, re-registered as a Democrat and put a bunch of "Clinton for President" stickers all over my car.

The best part of this story was that the woman who originally hired me for the Quayle gig hired me again for ANOTHER Republican fundraiser six months later! Of course I said yes, but had to park six blocks from the venue because I thought it would look bad to play at a Republican event with Democrat stickers all over my car.

Note: For readers who may not remember the “potatoe” incident and other details of his political career, see Wikipedia’s “Dan Quayle” entry, in the section “Vice Presidency.”

Aug 11, 2012

Tony Monaco at Dana Street Roasting Company

Well, I'm definitely a Tony Monaco fan. He really is one of the great B3 organists. Patricia and I caught the show last night at Dana Street Roasting Company in Mountain View. When Tony is in town, he uses local players - this time his trio included Jack Tone Riordan on guitar and Brandon Etzler on drums. It's obviously a heads-up gig for these guys to play with Tony, and they did just fine. Jack had the appropriate mix of blues and bebop, and was quick on the uptake when Tony threw him new changes. Brandon anticipated Tony's kicks with amazing acuity.

Tony has played several gigs at Dana Street over the last few years, and it's great to be able to see him right here in little old Mountain View. Nick, who runs Dana Street Roasting Company, deserves big thanks for setting up the gig. Dana Street has jazz regularly on Fridays and Saturdays featuring local players, and from time to time hosts more prominent artists (Charlie Hunter will be appearing in December).

Here is the set list. Most of these were probably unrehearsed, called on the spur of the moment:

Set 1: 
Road Song
I Can't Give You Anything But Love
Slow Down Sag (original)
Polka Dots and Moonbeams
There Is No Greater Love
Set 2:
Body and Soul
Indonesian Nights (original)
Bb Blues (slow, gospel-style)
The Champ
Original Ballad (introduced as "a song I wrote about love")
A few observations about Tony's style: 
A vast vocabulary of B3 sounds and techniques
An extremely vocalistic approach to soloing, both tone and notes
Very funky, but with great bebop chops
He likes long tags that often constitute a musical journey in themselves
As he was playing "Polka Dots," I was thinking that Tony's textures were kind of orchestral. After he finished the tune, he said "I like to play ballads on the organ, because it's like a big orchestra."

Tony's recordings are great, but not even close to the live gigs. He works with the moment.

He can get pretty intense. As a friend who is an organist put it, "What an emotional torrent that guy is. I compare listening to him to drinking from a firehose." (Thanks for the quote, Randy!)

Tony will be appearing today (Saturday) at the San Jose Jazz Festival, at 3 PM, link here. Tomorrow (Sunday) he'll be at Bach Dancing and Dynamite in Half Moon Bay, at 4:30, link here.

Tony's website is here.