Mort Meets the Mob

Mort Weiss By

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Hello again. This remembrance takes us back to the early 1960s when I went under the name of Mort Wise and my band's name was The Wisemen. Go ahead and Google Mort Wise And The Wisemen, and you'll probably come up with the recording we did (on a 45 rpm) called "Wild Boy." Also, you might read the AAJ article/profile Mort To Come, which takes one back to a literal "What Makes Morty Run" experience (knocked me out!). So, at this juncture you have me heading up show bands, on tenor sax, working and playing in and around Hollywood, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada. Oh, by the way, there is a difference between working a gig and playing a gig—am I right people? This little tale happened over 50 years ago and I'm still not going to use any real names in the telling; let's just say-an impression was made on me having lived through it! We'll use the names: The Club and The Boss in the telling; you already know the band's name and mine, so that should suffice.

The club was in the upper-rent area of downtown Long Beach, California. It was a supper club, meaning that one could dine and dance; attracting a young, professional crowd, higher income earners, as opposed to the clubs in downtown Long Beach that all the sailors, just off ships would frequent. I worked those clubs also, along with the ladies of the night. Although let me say this: after four drinks, all of the folks that I just described were indistinguishable!

The club had a stage behind the bar, not unlike the Fremont Hotel Carousel Lounge in Vegas where we frequently worked. That had a revolving stage so when one band was finished playing, another band, both playing full blast, would be coming into audio-visual range to the audience, and with the right cats blowin,' it could be quite spectacular! One night I missed the stage! But that's another story. Back to the Club: the dance floor was in front of the bar. Oh, by the way, we, being on the stage behind the bar, could see everything that was being used by the intrepid mixologists to come up with their refreshing social lubricants of the night, all of the ingredients for that sip of relief that breaks down most barriers. Yes, a little wordy, but I'm having trouble bringing in the four baseball bats and the three very sawed off shot guns, that were also in evidence—and this was years before the movie A Bronx Tale.

We came on at 8:00 pm or half-past dinner and two drinks-down-o'clock and no one was up and dancing yet. I always had my clarinet on the sax stand, and when the evening was just starting out we would (with innocent looking faces) play some jazz tunes—nothing to far-out like "Stable Mates" or Monks "Mysterioso"—maybe "Moonlight in Vermont" and like that. Well, all was cool for about a week or so and one evening about halfway into "I Remember April," one of the bartenders turns around reaches up and hands me a note, speaking as he does, "Dis is from da Boss." The note on a dirty piece of scratch paper read, "So 'n So don't want no more jass playing, no more." Da boss! Really! I foolishly ignored the, ah, shall we say request? And finished the tune and, as I can remember, played a typical and uneventful night there at (The Club) in beautiful downtown Long Beach one evening many, years ago.

After the gig a few of us, with or without chicks, would go to an all-night eatery and "grease," as we were hungry from all of the movement that we did throughout the evening. Movement? Yeah, this was just the beginning of the Age of Aquarius. We wore plaid, shawl-collared tuxedo jackets, black pants, one of those Abe Lincoln-type bow ties and a black cummerbund; for that gig it was just piano, bass and drums, with me on tenor—a heavy Jr. Walker R&B, "Shotgun" groove, or a Sam "The Sham" and the Pharaohs' "Wooly Bully" thing, "Bony Maroni" or "Long, Tall Sally, she ducked back in the alley," oh yeah! And we did choreographed moves and the pianist played standing up all night. Today, when you hear me playing "My Funny Valentine" and like that, please know that I walked many different paths to be the Mort Weiss that's writing this little story. Yeah, it was a Fender precision bass with a Fender Bassman amp with four JBL 10-inch speakers, 100-watt RMS output—oh, yeah.

As it was said somewhere before, Mort Weiss is an orthodox digresser. So let's get on with the story at hand. It was about 2:30 am and I was in the parking lot of the club putting my horn and other stuff into the trunk of the car. If there had been an elephant around I would have put it in his...Mort, Mort get back here! Huh? Wha? Oh, Ok I'm back. Whew, man those freakin' flashbacks. Whooah!

OK, It's dark and there weren't any other cars in view accept one—it was the boss' new, very big and black Cadillac. I heard the engine start up and the headlights came on, and I could just make out two men in the front seat. There was this screaming squeal of rubber and the high-pitched roar of the motor and it came hurtling right at me. I jumped out of the way, it screeched to a stop, laying more rubber, was put into reverse, stopped and came at me again. I dove head-first into some planters that adorned the club, only to hear a series of rather loud phitt-phitt-phitt-phitts—and then I saw the muzzle flashes and could see the little puffs of asphalt bursting all around me. I remember to this day the nanosecond of clarity that came to me at that moment in time: silencers and death. The car did a squealing half-doughnut on the asphalt and as it drove off I heard this very loud screaming voice yelling," No More Fucking Jazz, Asshole!"

Yes, we went back to the Club the next night—and folks, it was "Rock Around The Clock" all night long! See y'all on down the trail apiece, y'all take care a yourselves, ya hear?

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