We’ve all experienced that innocent (or maybe not so innocent) crush on a teacher, that one instructor we lusted after while struggling through our academic years. My own personal tutor-rapture struck much later, well after the halls of ivy were nothing more than a vague memory.
Back in 1957, a young Buffalonian became fascinated with the trumpet. He taught himself to play a song, realized he liked playing songs, and then embarked on a ten-year-long record buying binge, his collection burgeoning into a large, eclectic stew, including Maynard Ferguson, Clifford Brown, Al Hirt, Doc Severinsen, Miles, Chet Baker, Herb Alpert, Art Farmer, Lee Morgan, and Freddie Hubbard. He worked at memorizing their solos and copying their inflections until one day he ran off to burnish his bebop in Boston at the Berklee School of Music for one semester.
When that semester concluded, he’d had enough of school and set out to make his fortune in New York. If you haven’t guessed by now, I am the lad in question. Strangely enough, the thought had never occurred to me to find out who had given my musical heroes their inspiration, who their idols were. That is, not until one cold, rainy Sunday night in November of 1989, at the Cat Club, an old dance hall on West 13th Street. (Now a service entrance for a luxury high-rise) where my professor-to-be, as it happened, was a petite brunette who could Lindy like nobody’s business.
I looked forward that evening to being part of the trumpet section for the Pratt Brothers Big Band, rolling in early to give the music a quick mull and line up the first set. As I sat onstage my attention was suddenly lassoed and corralled by the sight of the prettiest little filly I’d ever seen. She sashayed past the stage, stopped sashaying for a moment to smile at me, and then resumed sashaying. Tossing her coat over the back of a chair, she staked her claim to a table up front before toddling out onto the dance floor. I put down my music, gathered my gallantry, and then adroitly leapt off the five-foot proscenium onto the dance floor, sustaining only a few minor fractures before limping over to her and mumbling something totally inane, as would any terrified, madly infatuated trumpet player. To her credit, she took an even greater leap, that being a leap of faith in assuming that my imbecility was merely a temporary affliction, possibly a result of my hard landing. She began the process of sizing me up by steering the conversation toward music.
“What’s your favorite Benny Goodman trumpet section?” she asked.
I was speechless and dismayed, finding myself unequipped to name even one Benny Goodman sideman.
“What’s your favorite?” I asked, deftly deflecting the question back to her in a desperate effort to conceal my ignorance of what was obviously her favorite musical era. Utilizing every maneuver in my tiny arsenal to forestall her discovery that I was nothing more than a music history troglodyte, (albeit a smitten troglodyte, pitching his heart) I nodded approvingly as she reeled off name after name, Harry, Chris, Ziggy, while trying to give the impression that I’d recognized them all. Suddenly it was time to put my mouthpiece where my mouth was, so I excused myself and returned to the bandstand, but rather than watch the music, I watched her on the dance floor for the next four hours, making certain that no interlopers dared interfere with my interloping.
At the stroke of midnight, as the fiddlers fled, I ran back to her, extracted her phone number, and bid her farewell with my solemn pledge to call the next day.
A few nights later on our first dinner date I learned that Deborah, in addition to dancing the majority of her nights away, enjoyed sitting in with various bands, singing songs made famous by Libby Holman and Annette Hanshaw.
As our romance blossomed, I spent every available moment in my paramour’s delightful company, the subject of conversation inevitably veering toward popular music history. Of course, in the interest of not drowning in details, I insisted on interspersing plenty of osculation and embosoming between eras. Through sheer cunning and guile, (my former accounting firm) I had successfully inverted the stereotypical roles of “lecherous professor” and “innocent protégé.”
After 5 weeks of courtship, I softened her up one evening with a Jeroboam of champagne, a bushel of bonbons, and a surfeit of candlelight before casually suggesting that she consider risking wedlock with me. In her confused state, she consented, and we made solid plans to formalize our conjugality that coming Friday. The next morning, however, I began wondering if my Bill Cosby approach to leveraging her decision hadn’t produced a false-positive, but come Friday, despite the fact that she was no longer inebriated or suffering the effects of sugar-shock, she appeared, dressed to the nines, blood test in hand, and as the expression goes, we was wed.
On the first night in our box-strewn apartment, all my radio presets were immediately commandeered, each button (pre-internet radio) reassigned to one of the few stations that played her favorites. If we’d chosen a heraldic design for the Konikoff Matrimonial Coat of Arms, it would have been the insignia on the music stands of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, to whom we will forever be grateful for playing at our wedding reception.
Thanks to those grueling hours spent under the strict oversight of my adorable mentor, I’m now well versed in the genre, and nine times out of ten, upon hearing an old recording, I’m able to peg the title, brand the band, determine the arranger, name the singer, and identify who had the first hit record with it. In addition, my Lindy is growing more stylized by the month, and I have cultivated a much deeper appreciation for all the great musicians, composers, lyricists, and singers of yore. Most important of all, however, is that after 27 years of Deborah’s devoted tutelage, I’m still hot for teacher.
Writer/Jazzman Ross Konikoff has played trumpet for Buddy Rich and Liza Minnelli. Two books of his hilarious essays are available for Kindle through Amazon.com: You’ve Got to be Carefully Taut and Breaking Even Every Time. He and his wife Deborah Grisorio live in Manhattan.
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