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Great Encounters #50 — The Night Bill Evans met Woody Herman

“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. This edition tells the story of the evening of the 1963 Grammy Awards, when Woody Herman met Bill Evans

 

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

 

 

Bill Evans

 

Woody Herman

 

 

The day of the Grammy awards dinner arrived.  Just starting to put his life together, Bill had very little money, and nothing appropriate to wear.  As it happened, I was storing a closetful of clothes for Woody Herman, one of the dapper dressers in the business.  There was a particularly well-made blue blazer which, to Bill’s surprise and mine, fit him perfectly.  So he donned it.  Just before we were to leave, I turned somehow and spilled a drink in his lap.  Fortunately there was another pair of slacks that fit him.  We picked up Helen [Keane] and went to the banquet.  And I managed to repeat the trick:  I turned and spilled another drink in his lap.  He laughed and said, “Man, are you trying to tell me something?”  At that moment, they called his name.   Bill picked up his Grammy for Conversations in soaking pants and Woody Herman’s blazer.

Bill had never met Woody Herman, one of his early idols, and I arranged for the three of us to have lunch a few days later.  Bill turned up wearing, to my horror, that blazer.  “Do you like the jacket?” Bill said, after the formality of introduction.

“It looks faintly familiar,” Woody said.

Bill flung it open with a matadorial gesture to show its brilliant lining.  “How do you like the monogram?” he said.  It was of course WH.  “It stands,” Bill said, “for William Heavens.”  And Woody laughed.  Fortunately.

That evening we went to hear the band.  Woody tried to introduce a tune only to be interrupted by some drunk blearily shouting, “Play Woodpeckers’ Ball.”  Woody tried to talk him down but the drunk persisted.  “Play Woodpecker’s Ball.

Finally Woody said, “All right, for Charlie Pecker over there, we’re going to play Woodpecker’s Ball.

“Man,” Bill said, who was quite shy, “that takes real hostility.  If I tried that, some cat would come up on the bandstand and punch me in the mouth.”

 

 

__________

 

 

Excerpted from Meet Me at Jim and Andy’s,

by Gene Lees