Piddler on the Roof

Oriental Odyssey

How’s this for a truly international adventure? During a 10-day gig at the Excelsior Hotel in Hong Kong in 1990, the Natural Gas Jazz Band from California was escorted by Australian Ken Bennett (witty and talented leader of the Kowloon Honkers) to the border of China where they dined on Malaysian cuisine washed down by beer brewed in the Philippines.

Another incident with a foreign flavor occurred when the tuba and banjo failed to arrive at the Hong Kong airport in time for the opening night performance. Now, how in hell do you find a tuba and banjo on really short notice in Hong Kong? Fortunately, Ken Sugarawa, a local businessman and jazz fan who had previously been introduced to NGJB by one of the New Orleans Rascals of Osaka, Japan, loaned us his banjo. The missing tuba was temporarily replaced courtesy of the local Philippine Community Brass Band (the Hong Kong musician’s union was quite strong and membership was about 95% Filipino).

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The Kowloon Honkers was a jazz band that played nightly at a famous Kowloon pub called Ned Kelly’s Last Stand. In addition to the Australian leader, the band was comprised of six Filipinos whom we had met and become friends with when they were in California for the Sacramento Jubilee. They graciously hosted a special meal for us one day aboard a huge floating restaurant on Hong Kong bay and we were served many specialty dishes of the area which to us were very strange. As the dishes were being passed around from person to person, the Filipino musician seated next to me offered a platter piled high with prepared chicken feet. As he held the platter in front of me, he grinned and asked, “Adidas?”

Free Beer – Probert Problem

Bob Murphy, NGJB soprano sax, recalled the following:

In 1982, we were making our fifth album and were joined by soprano sax wizard, George Probert. He wanted to record a tune on an E-flat ocarina, twice the size of any I had seen. We chose “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue.” George played a beautiful solo, but he missed one critical note. We finished the recording and the red light went off. I turned to George and said, “That was a beautiful solo, but you missed one note.” “You fix it, Murphy, I’m going home to LA,” he said.

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I would have to fix it in the mix, but where would I find an oversized E-flat ocarina? After I searched with no results, Ginna Crumley, Phil’s wife, suggested I try her recorder in C. I feared the difference in timbre would make the substitution obvious. At the mixing session, I put on the headphones and tried to play my one note in exactly the right place. We did several takes, picked the best, and blended it smoothly into George’s ocarina line.

The result was flawless. I have offered to buy a beer for anyone who can identify the replacement note. No one has claimed it so far.

Drip, drip, drip

The Gassers were fortunate to have played at the prestigious Sacramento Jazz Jubilee for 34 consecutive years. Usually the weather was delightful but one year it rained nearly every day. One of the venues assigned to us was an outdoor event which involved two different tents, one over the audience and one over the band.

The sloping tent roofs met just in front of the band stage and consequently the rain runoff, which was considerable, fell between the band and the audience. It was a strange experience to play a set peering out at the audience through a curtain of water. At one point during that performance I heard someone in the rhythm session comment, “We really should play Piddler on the Roof on this occasion.”

visit the Natural Gas Jazz Band at www.ngjb.com

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