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There Were Big Stars At This LA Party, But I Didn’t Shine So Brightly

Mort Weiss By

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Let's set the scene: Actress Polly Bergen's Malibu Beach house, 1965. The cast of participants includes Jack Lemmon and his wife Felicia Farr, Kirk Douglas, Jackie Gleason, Steve Allen and his wife Jayne Meadows, Sandra Dee, Cary Grant, William Powell, a bevy of young starlets and many more show folks. And the bands! A Guy Lombardo mini combo had been flown in from New York City, just to play this gig. When they took their break, the other band—get this!—was Johnny Rivers, a rock band that was riding high on the charts with the song "Memphis, Tennessee."

Stay with me, as I'm going to put Mort Weiss ("hey that's me") smack dab in the middle of all this, as a musician paid to play with the Guy Lombardo Orchestra as the lead tenor saxophonist—since their guy had missed the plane. The plot thickens! Hell, I'm starting to get nervous, just writing about what's to come. For some of you new readers of "Notes from a Jazzman," 1965 was towards the end of my "AFUP" (all fucked up) period. (Check out some of my prior writings on Something Else! Reviews for more on that.)

I was working part time with the famous/infamous Maury Stein, at his little music store in the parking lot of the AFM musicians union local No. 47 in Hollywood on North Vine Street. This store was the hippest, happening, swingingest spot: They had rehearsal rooms in the main building, and some even practiced in the parking lot next to and around Maury's store. Many of the loiterers there just happened to be some of the greatest musicians in the world! Some of them were coming to the union to get checks that were owed to them from the studios. On any day you could see some of the Wrecking Crew, getting all those big bucks. I'll give you one example of how freaking hip the scene was: Picture Maury's store in this big parking lot, with bushes all around the place. There were no signs saying "music store"; this place wasn't for normal people. Four feet from Maury's door, is the door to rehearsal room No. 3—and one day, room No. 3's door is open and Count fucking Basie's whole band is in there playing their asses off. Picture about 15 of us standing outside, just digging the shit out of the whole fucking scene. You now have a little feeling about the scene at the time, at local No. 47 Hollywood, California, 1965.

Yes, I digressed a bit—but it will all tie in as you read farther.

Maury Stein (brother to the great Jules Styne, whose family name was Stein—but they hated each other and never spoke) was a great reed man—and a first-call cat to all the major studios. When anyone needed a musician for a Class A gig, they called Maury for a recommendation. So when the cat in New York missed the plane, Maury was called. He liked my playing on the clarinet, and had heard me rehearsing some of my Vegas rock and roll bands on tenor sax at the union building. He didn't know that the extent of my sax playing was limited to a bunch of R&B and rock 'n' roll licks that I did very well. I never took a sax lesson or practiced the horn—but always the clarinet, though nobody ever called me for a gig on that. So my sax playing was rather limited, although looking back at those days I did pretty well with some Smirnoff and Benzedrine in me. My band would be on stage, all amped up and playing full blast while I ran through the club playing my horn. Ultimately, I'd end up leaping on to the bar, still playing (even though the horn wasn't mic-ed), running up and down the bar, kicking drinks all over and in to people—then falling on my back, still on the bar and still playing, legs flailing. Next, I would be jumping up, making a quick run into the ladies room (still playing) and back to and up on the bandstand ... with a huge, loud and very long final chord! The place wold go fucking nuts. So now you know what my tenor sax playing was limited to.


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