Great Encounters #49 — A night at the Turf and Grid with Woody Herman and Serge Chaloff

May 2nd, 2017

 

“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. This edition tells the story of an evening in Washington D.C., starring Woody Herman and Serge Chaloff

 

Excerpted from Meet Me at Jim and Andy’s,” by Gene Lees

 

 

Woody Herman

 

Serge Chaloff

 

_____

 

     The heroin fashion was in full grim flower.  And that band [Herman’s 1947 band] was extremely strung out.  It was also a cocky and smart-assed band.  Gerry Mulligan remembers it well.  “I wrote a piece for that band,” he said, and described the collective attitude.  Some of its members looked smug when Woody soloed, because his style was rooted in an older tradition and he wasn’t a hip bebopper as they were.  And they all waited their turns to solo.  They played clever solos, too.  “But Woody’s,” Gerry said, “was the only solo that had anything to do with the piece.”

     Eventually, Woody – who somehow combined the deepest naivete with a shrewd perception of people – began to be aware of what was wrong with his collection of sleeping beauties.  And he found that Serge Chaloff was the band’s druggist, as well as its number one junkie.  Serge would hang a blanket in front of the back seats of the bus and behind it would dispense his stuff to colleagues.  This led to an incident in Washington, D.C.  “Can I tell that story too, now?” I asked Woddy.

     “Sure, why not?” he said, and laughed at the memory.  But the funniest part of it is Joe Venuti’s reaction.”  And he retold the story.

     The band not only looked bad, it sounded bad.  And Woody, furious at what had happened to it, had a row right on the bandstand with “Mr. Chaloff,” as he called him, emphasis on the first syllable.

     “He was getting farther and farther out there,” Woody said.  “And the farther out he got the more he was sounding like a fagalah.  He kept saying, ‘Hey, Woody, baby, I’m straight, man, I’m clean.’  And I shouted, ‘Just play your goddamn part and shut up!”

     “I was so depressed after that gig.  There was this after-hours joint in Washington called the Turf and Grid.  It was owned by a couple of guys with connections, book-makers.  Numbers guys.  Everybody used to go there.  That night President Truman had a party at the White House, and afterwards all his guests went over to the Turf and Grid.  They were seven deep at the bar, and I had to fight my way through to get a drink, man.  All I wanted was to have a drink and forget it.  And finally I get a couple of drinks, and it’s hot in there, and I’m sweating, and somebody’s got their hands on me, and I hear, ‘Hey, Woody, baby, whadya wanna talk to me like that for?  I’m straight, baby, I’m straight.’  And it’s Mr. Chaloff.  And then I remember an old Joe Venuti bit.  We were jammed in there, packed in, and…I peed down Serge’s leg.

     “You know, man, when you do that to someone, it takes a while before it sinks in what’s happened to him.  And when Serge realized, he let out a howl like a banshee.  He pushed out through the crowd and went into a telephone booth.  And I’m banging on the door and trying to get at him, and one of the owners comes up and says, ‘Hey, Woody, you know, we love you, and we love the band, but we can’t have you doing things like that in here.’  And he asked me to please cool it.

     “Well, not long after that, I was back here on the coast, working at some club at the beach.  Joe Venuti was playing just down the street, and I was walking on the beach with him after the gig one night, and I told him I had a confession to make, I’d stolen one of his bits.  Well Joe just about went into shock.  He was horrified.  He said, ‘Woody, you can’t do things like that!  I can do things like that, but you can’t!  You’re a gentleman.  It’s all right for me, but not you!”

 

_____

 

Excerpted from Meet Me at Jim and Andy’s,

by Gene Lees

 

 

*

 

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

Jeffrey Stewart, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, is interviewed about Locke (pictured), the father of the Harlem Renaissance.

Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 19 recommended recordings by five jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

On the Turntable

This month, a playlist of 19 recently released jazz recordings, including those by Branford Marsalis, Joe Martin, Scott Robinson, Allison Au and Warren Vache

Poetry

In a special collection of poetry, eight poets contribute seventeen poems focused on stories about family, and honoring mothers and fathers

The Joys of Jazz

In this new volume of his podcasts, Bob Hecht presents three very different stories; on Harlem Stride piano, Billy Strayhorn's end-of-life composition "Blood Count," and "Lester-ese," Lester Young’s creative verbal wit and wordplay.

Short Fiction

We had many excellent entrants in our recently concluded 50th Short Fiction Contest. In addition to publishing the winning story on March 11, with the consent of the authors, we have published several of the short-listed stories...

“What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”

Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Neil Tesser, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who write about their favorite album cover art

Art

“Thinking about Homer Plessy” — a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Jazz History Quiz #128

Although he was famous for modernizing the sound of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra -- “On the Sunny Side of the Street” was his biggest hit while working for Dorsey (pictured) -- this arranger will forever be best-known for his work with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. Who is he?

Great Encounters

In this edition, Bob Dylan recalls what Thelonious Monk told him about music at New York’s Blue Note club in c. 1961.

Art

Jerry Jazz Musician regularly publishes a series of posts featuring excerpts of the photography and stories/captions found in Jazz in Available Light by Veryl Oakland. In this edition, Mr. Oakland's photographs and stories feature Stan Getz, Sun Ra, and Carla Bley.

Interviews

Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell discusses the life of the important 20th century American artist

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Coming Soon

Michael Cuscuna, the legendary record producer and founder of Mosaic Records, is interviewed about his life in jazz...Award-winning photographer Carol Friedman, on her career in the world of New York jazz photography

In the previous issue

Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, talks about her book, and the complex life of her late husband.

Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 22 recommended recordings by seven jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive