Joe Maneri: Serial Autobiography
Traveling quartets and trios started to disappear. It was rare for me to go to (Mon. Wed. Fri.) the huge musicians union at the Roseland Ballroom at 52nd St. & 7th Ave. to try and get a job.
Whee, here goes my greatest story ever told. This is where it all began - my Land of Roses Ballroom in a fog filled smoke screen from cigarettes. There were well dressed important looking musicians, probably free lance studio musicians in one corner and a larger conglomerate group of musicians bunched in groups of three, four and more, though from a distance they all appeared as one huge group. These were called "club date musicians". The busiest and more lucrative successful groups were in the "Jewish" business, i.e., weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, etc. The rest were mixed groups of specialty ethnic weddings, light jazz pop, show playing musicians, sleazy strip joints, a span of neighborhood "dance halls", small clubs, and other. As I walked into Local 802 musician's union, this is what I saw and felt. "My God, there must be great clarinet players here". That was a frightening blow to my ego. It was 1945 - 46 and I was touching 19 yrs. old. As I pressed my way through the largest crowd, I instantly felt wounded. While walking and squeezing through the crowd, I noticed the age groups of men (very few of women), were from 24 to 50 years old.
I finally got to the other side of this crowd and noticed a large section of the remainder of the Ballroom to be empty of people. As I looked, I spotted three musicians huddled together standing by a large round pole. They looked kind of strange. There was Ted Harris, about six feet tall, talking excitedly but quietly with his arm moving gently and his pinky pointing forward. Angelo Musolino, about five feet tall who stood straight with his feet solidly on the ground. And Aldo Lanfranco, perhaps five feet ten, quite skinny with a caved in chest yet handsome and with a slight smile. I walked over and joined them standing by the pole. Their manner of standing and talking and also the way they looked was different from the other musicians. They looked to me, at that time, as having a different reason for being there. I see now that I saw them as very unusual people. I'm sure I felt very comfortable standing with them. Up to this point I was nervous and apprehensive. It felt good being near them, like they were the family I wished I had. It wasn't boldness on my part to walk up to them and stand there. The aura they exuded was of great love. Peace came over me, though at this time I was battered with extreme sadness. As yet, not known to me, Ted, Muzzy, and Aldo were extraordinary musicians and studied with Josef Schmid, students of Alban Berg who was a student of Arnold Schoenberg. Josef Schmid, who was soon to become my teacher, was also a conductor under Zemelinsky. I'm sure the 802 union musicians would agree that Ted, Muzz, and Aldo's presence was a one time happening since before that time and till this minute.
The first question Ted asked me was which instrument I played. I quickly answered sax and clarinet. The second question's wording was very unusual and perhaps in those days there were no words to suggest "avant-garde". Since I am learning disabled, it is unlikely that I understood the question, whatever it might have been. Though I wasn't aware of my dysfunction then, I know that I lived my life almost never understanding any thing that went on around me. I was in a constant daze. When I had to answer a question, I remember telling my mind (though I knew I wasn't able to understand) to guess and then give an answer. In this case, the thought that came to me was "they must mean my wrong notes". Intuitively I deduced that since they were very different, it must mean my wrong notes is what they wanted. All my life my mom and teachers told me I almost never get anything correct. With assurance I talked about my wrong notes at which they then laughed and giggled and then asked me to go to the "Chesterfield club" the following night and audition. I quickly went home to practice more wrong notes.
We started our first song the following evening. I played many wrong notes. Of course the boss of the club came out in front of us and yelled "get rid of the saxophone". After calming down the boss, Ted said I play great but "do less wrong notes".
Ted asked me, during intermission, what my plans were as a musician. I never thought about it but knew the right answer was to be a studio musician despite the fact I was well aware of not having the right qualifications.
Ted told me then that Muzz, Aldo, himself and sometimes others hung out every Monday night sharing music, books, politics and more. I went every Monday night and "Wow"- I learned. I learned I didn't like Debussy because it reminded me of psycho movies. I learned about Lester Young, Mozart, Beethoven, Teddy Wilson, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Varese (not Charlie Parker yet), Aldous Huxley, Thomas Mann, Dostoyevsky and the history of the world.