Jazz musicians are a mischievous bunch. I doubt that’s a surprise to any of you, as the history books are filled with stories of pranks and lampoons. (Who could forget the time Joe Venuti called up all the tuba players in Hollywood for a fake gig, to have them all turn up on the same street corner at the same time, to find nothing but a crowd of confused tuba players?)
I like to think of myself as moderately clever (I mean, who doesn’t?) but one time a practical joke backfired on me (Joe Venuti I ain’t). Why am I telling you this story? Perhaps as a form of contrition, or perhaps because the child in me still thinks it’s funny. You be the judge…
Winding back the clock a few decades to my early 20s, still in Australia and carving out a living in the Sydney music scene; I was working for a major Broadway production in a beautiful theater. The number of musicians, cast, and crew must have reached 100. We all got along very well…when you see the same people day in and out, you begin to feel a little like family (for better or worse.)
Anyway, after a breaking in period, we all settled into our routines. Before and after the show, everyone gravitated to the green room backstage. Buried in the bowels of the old theater, it was the center of our social world. And with a show spanning nearly a year, it’s safe to say a lot of birthdays were celebrated during that time. So it was a tradition that a disposable camera was left in the green room, to be used only for someone’s birthday. The camera would sit there weeks on end until the next birthday arrived, with the film to be developed towards the end of the show’s run.
I was holding down the woodwind chair in the orchestra. During the show, many of the musicians had breaks between songs; and because we were not on stage (we performed live underneath the stage) we were free to wander around during our breaks. In one such break, the drummer and I found ourselves alone in the green room, when I had the bright idea to take a photo with the “birthday camera.” It would be months until it was developed, by which time the photo would be buried well within the roll of film.
What would any young educated, cultured Australian do in a time like this? He would drop his pants, turn around, a hand firmly planted on each cheek, and give the camera a front-and-center view of his bare backside. (I must say, on reflection, the real victim here was the drummer who had to endure that view to take the photo.)
With only my caboose and arms squarely in camera frame, there would be no way to identify the perpetrator. It was the perfect crime.
The months ticked by, and the felony was all but forgotten. And one fateful weekend, the film was sent out to be developed. As it turned out, that weekend I had subbed out my theater gig to play an out-of-town festival. And that Sunday afternoon, I was at the airport, boarding my flight back to Sydney, due to return to the show the following day. And I received a call on my cell from the drummer…
Drummer: “Mate, I wanted to call you to let you know, they’ve developed the film and just got the photos back.”
Yours truly (with an ill-placed grin): “And did they like the little surprise?”
Drummer: “You stupid bugger, you forgot to take off your watch!!”
My smugness dissipated and panic set in. To make it worse- my watch was from Japan, an unusual and unique design, easily identifiable. Damn my impeccable fashion sense! My mind was racing: well, there goes my music career. Hmm.. perhaps I could salvage a living as an ass model? (That aspiration was soon shelved as one of the girls would later describe the picture reminiscent of a “nightmarish Japanese flag.”)
But to my surprise, no one identified my watch. And in the ensuing days, the theater was abuzz with inquisition. The greatest minds of the theater worked together in an attempt to (for lack of a better term) unmask the culprit. Who has hairy arms? Whose mind was immature enough? Whose watch was that? (If I had been working that fateful day, I would have been wearing the offending watch and surely sprung. It’s safe to say the watch never left my house for years.)
And so in end, I had survived my infraction unscathed. Perhaps I can’t say the same for those who saw the photo. But in summation, if it’s at all possible to dredge up any type of morality from this story, my advice would be: If you’re going to prank anyone at work, take off your jewelry first.