I was twenty-two years old, on my first trip to Europe with a now-legendary band called the Sunset Music Company. People often ask me for the “musical highlights” of my career so far, and I always respond that two of them were playing for Benny Goodman for the last seven months of his life (Dec. 1985-June, ’86), and playing with the Sunset Music Company. Generally, people nod knowingly when I mention Mr. Goodman, and are puzzled by the other reference. Nonetheless, both experiences meant a great deal to me.
Ev Farey was the trumpet player of the first edition of the SMC. In May of 1977, we flew to Schipol Airport (near Amsterdam) and traveled by bus an hour or so to Breda, which still hosts an annual jazz festival. Back then it was known as the “Oude Stijl (‘Old Style’) International Jazz Festival.”
Other band members in that first version of the SMC were: Mike Baird, clarinet and alto sax; Mike Fay, bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Ev on trumpet; our leader, Lueder Ohlwein on banjo and vocals; and young me on trombone.
Lueder (“Lyoo’-dur”) was an extraordinary musician. He played solid, swinging tenor banjo; could sing beautifully (including some of the hippest scat singing I’ve ever heard), and moreover was one of my favorite BLUES singers! (When it comes to blues singing, German banjo players don’t exactly spring to mind). In short, Lueder was a remarkable guy, and a huge influence on me both musically and personally.
I made many Dutch friends at that first festival; my very first time overseas. I’m happy say that I am still touch with many of them, and several have become lifelong friends.
Naturally, I was excited to get to play with Ev! Like many of our generation(s) who are interested in traditional jazz, I had enjoyed and studied the two Good Time Jazz LPs made by the Bay City Jazz Band. Back when I discovered that band, I was primarily a trombone player (still am) but was also playing trumpet (still do). I would listen to Sanford Neubauer’s trombone work, but then go back and listen to the same tracks with my focus on the two trumpets. Many years later, it was a treat (and a brass lesson) to stand next to Ev, and hear him play the trumpet—such a demanding instrument—so well.
After the Breda Festival we all climbed into our VW van. The rear side windows were decorated with terrific charcoal drawings of Lester Young and Vic Dickenson. The drawings were gifts from a young lady named Machteld van Buren. (Machteld was married for a few years to cornetist Jim Goodwin, who had come to Breda in 1976 and was Ev’s replacement in the SMC in 1978). Machteld has a great sense of humor, and used to play trombone more than a little bit like Benny Morton! Over the years, she has become an accomplished and acknowledged artist in many mediums. She, too, is still a good friend.
So, let’s get to where Ev Farey saved my life. Just after the Breda Festival, the band traveled to Germany, where Lueder had lined up about three weeks of solid work for us; mostly pubs and crowded basement jazz clubs, reeking of decades-old beer and cigarette smoke. It was wonderful!
We had one gig where we had to perform in the late morning, which was “early” morning for us, don’t you know. It was in Dortmund, where we were asked to stand on an open-air balcony overlooking a small plaza; the central location for a small traditional jazz festival there.
I’m not proud of it, but I’ll admit I had partaken of way too much German beer (and probably several schnapps) the night before, and was feeling more than a little rocky that morning. I managed to get my old Williams and Wallace trombone (a gift from the late Mike Fay, in fact) out of its case, and put it together. I climbed up the stairs in the hotel where we were performing, and wobbled out onto the narrow balcony, right above the street. We were on the “American” second floor (what Europeans know as the “first” floor). It was much higher than in a modern American hotel, for the old German hotels had large rooms, and very high ceilings. So, we were at a pretty good height above the party. There was nothing but a cobblestone street directly below us.
I was valiantly trying to keep whatever it was I had drunk and eaten down there in my stomach where it belonged—but, man, it was a challenge!
I was standing on Ev’s right. Mike Baird was on Ev’s left. The balcony was so narrow that although bassist Mike Fay, drummer Jeff, and Lueder were right behind us, they were actually playing from inside the hotel room. think it was about the third tune in when I leaned a little too far over the low, wrought iron balcony railing. I remember thinking, “Sheesh! This railing should be a little higher! It isn’t safe!” And then my horn and I were falling over it, with nothing but those unforgiving cobblestones below. Playing his trumpet with his left hand, and without missing a note (I remember this clearly), Ev reached over and managed to grab the back of my pants with his other hand. We’re both lucky I didn’t weigh then what I weigh now!
Ev yanked me back, and I think it was Lueder who caught me from behind, so I didn’t fall backwards into the rhythm section. When Ev looked at me and said, “Hey, Danny! You gotta be more careful up here!”, there was no judgment in his voice. Just some fatherly advice he was passing along. Believe, me, I took it! I like to think I was somewhat better-behaved for the rest of the tour, but I’m probably deluding myself. Again.
I mentioned earlier that the great cornetist/pianist Jim Goodwin took Ev’s place for the 1978 tour. Bill Carter, Herman Foretich, and John “Butch” Smith shared reed duties separately that year, replacing Mike Baird.
Lueder has been gone for many years now, felled by an aneurysm at his home in Three Rivers, California. Jim Goodwin left us in 2009; Mike Fay passed away a few months ago. Now, Ev is gone.
We’re all in that same line, waiting our turn, I guess. Until I’m the one who hears an unfamiliar and most unwelcome voice holler, “Next!”, I’m happy I can look back on my life thus far, and remember guys like Lueder, Mike, Herman, Jim, and Ev Farey.
Thanks for the “balcony save,” Ev. I appreciate it every day.