Heart Stopping Moments for Musicians

Probably most musicians, at one time or another, experience a “heart-stopping moment” or predicament. Here are some I have witnessed—or experienced myself.

A tuba player waited in vain at the airport for his instrument to be brought to him after the plane landed. With a pounding heart, he inquired after it, and was told after a brief search that it had been wrongly tagged and sent to another destination entirely, but it would be delivered to him at his hotel—next day! In the meantime he had to run around begging other tuba players at the festival not playing when he was scheduled to let him borrow their tuba. He did, finally, get his own tuba back the following day

Hot Jazz Jubile

A banjo player opened his case and found two pieces inside rather than one! The neck of the banjo had broken off right at the resonator. The festival organizers managed to rent him one for the duration, and when he got home he sent off his instrument to be repaired by a banjo repair magician, which it was. I doubt he ever checked it again when flying. I did hear, however, of another banjoist refusing to check his banjo, and when the airline would not let him board the plane unless he checked it, he simply would not board and did not attend the festival.

A trombonist was preparing to play a mighty glissando and threw forward the slide. It slipped from his fingertips and went flying through the air, landing at the feet of some startled dancers. Fortunately, the slide was still playable, but it did require the tender straightening ministrations of a brass repair specialist.

A trumpet player often, after a solo, twirled his horn like a cowboy in a western with his finger in the finger ring. That practice ended when one time the horn flew off his finger and landed on its mouthpiece on the stage, resulting in the mouthpiece’s being firmly jammed in the horn’s lead pipe. The instrument would not fit back in the case as the lid could not close. From then on during that festival he had to carry it around wrapped in a towel and, going home, had to put it in his suitcase, filling the horn case with his underwear! A repair shop did manage to remove the mouthpiece, having a mouthpiece removing tool on hand.

UpBeat Records

Another trumpet player had a near heart attack when he opened his case and found everything there except the mouthpiece. Fortunately the gig was near his home and he managed to get his wife to bring him a replacement. From then on I think he carried at least two mouthpieces in that case.

This Steinway concert grand rolled off the stage and flipped over 90 minutes before a concert in Frickingen, Germany, in October 2015. Incredibly, the piano was able to be set aright and played by pianist Stefan Vladar in a performance of the Brahms B-flat major concerto. (courtesy slippedisc.com)

A drummer got to his gig and, when opening the trap case, found the snare was missing. Then he remembered it was still on the workbench where he had done some minor repairs to it the night before but had forgotten to put it back in the trap case. Going back to his house to retrieve the instrument, he missed the first set. Fortunately, he did not get any speeding tickets, and the band leader graciously did not fire him on the spot but kept him on.

I saved the best for last. (No, no clarinet story, I’m afraid.) A group of us got together frequently to jam, and several of the guys were members of a private club in San Francisco. The group thought it would be a great idea for all of us to go up the club’s private campground before it opened for the club members’ yearly encampment and jam there, as well as revel in barbecued steaks and oceans of libations which we would procure and take with us. The club members in our group could take us non-members as their guests.

So off we went, but found to our chagrin on arrival that the piano was ruined because some doofus had neglected to bring it inside and the elements had done their work over the winter. Then one member remembered there was a sporting house close by that had a piano (or so he claimed to have heard!), so away we went over there in one guy’s truck, bargained with the madam, and rented the piano for the weekend. Shades of Storyville! While I doubt the piano was finely tuned before we got it, by the time we returned it and after its two moves it was in desperate need of tuning.

Playing jazz can have its trials and tribulations.


Born in Dundee, Scotland, Bert Thompson came to the U.S. in 1956. After a two-year stint playing drums with the 101 st Airborne Division Band and making a number of parachute drops, he returned to civilian life in San Francisco, matriculating at San Francisco State University where he earned a B.A. and an M.A. He went on to matriculate at University of Oregon, where he earned a D.A. and a Ph.D., all of his degrees in English. Now retired, he is a professor emeritus of English at City College of San Francisco. He is also a retired traditional jazz drummer, having played with a number of San Francisco Bay Area bands, including And That’s Jazz, Professor Plum’s Jazz, the Jelly Roll Jazz Band, Mission Gold Jazz Band, and the Zenith New Orleans Parade band; he also played with some further afield, including Gremoli (Long Beach, CA) and the Phoenix Jazzers (Vancouver, B.C.) Today he reviews traditional jazz CDs and writes occasional articles for several publications.

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