Soviet Son

Said What?

It was at the 2003 Edinburgh Festival while we were preparing to start our first gig, when I was approached by the trumpet player from the Australian band which had just finished their set. A very talkative, congenial chap, he kept referring to the time we had played together in Oakland several years before. I had absolutely no recollection of ever seeing this guy anywhere in California and told him of the fact. He continually repeated the Oakland claim over and over and I kept telling him it wasn’t so. Finally, it dawned on me that he was referring to Auckland, NZ, not Oakland, CA. Sure enough, I had been on stage with him in a jazz session at an Auckland jazz club a number of years previously. I immediately apologized for not understanding his Australian accent and we were both delighted to have the problem finally solved.

Hong Kong Surprise

The Excelsior Hotel and Cathay-Pacific Air brought NGJB to Hong Kong in 1990 as part of a California travel and commercial promotion. The band performed ten consecutive nights while the wives shopped ten consecutive days [grin]. All in all, it was a delightful experience in one of the world’s most exciting cities and proved to be a very memorable way for Natural Gas J.B. to help celebrate its twentieth year together. However, there was one disquieting incident that deserves mention.

Red Wood Coast

We were contracted to start our gig at 9:00 PM sharp which we did the first two nights. On the third night, the band was on stage all ready to play when the banjo player (BP) suddenly announced he was going to the restroom and left the stage. As band leader, this really pissed me off because the entire band now had to delay our opening number.

The men’s rest room was clearly visible from the stage so I could see where BP was located. It was at this point that I took the house microphone and announced the following: “Very soon a man wearing a NGJB shirt like mine will exit the men’s restroom and when he does, I ask everyone in the room to stand up and give him a big round of applause.” And so we waited for what seemed to be a very long time. Finally, the door opened, out came a local Chinese man wearing BP’s band shirt, and the folks in the audience applauded enthusiastically.

It just so happened that there was a PA system speaker in the men’s room and BP had heard every word of my announcement. He therefore simply waited for someone else to enter the men’s room and talk that person into trading shirts for the moment.

Hot Jazz Jubile

I remained pissed off for the remainder of the evening.

Soviet Son

Of all the outstanding happenings that occurred during the band’s 1989 tour of the USSR, the most cherished and valued event for me was meeting and getting to know Ilya Ravich. He was a very bright, enthusiastic 19 year old Muscovite who wanted to learn English and had arranged to travel on the bus with the band when we were in the Moscow area. When it became known that Ilya wanted to come to the US to study, my wife, Ginna, began the wheels turning to make that happen. (Remember that this was the time of the Iron Curtain and Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost.) It took a year’s work of paperwork, correspondence, and considerable patience to make all the arrangements but perseverance prevailed and finally, in 1990, Ilya arrived in California to live with us and enroll in the College of Marin. He also was considered to be a member of the family which is why he is known as our “Soviet Son.”

One of the courses Ilya took was America Literature and, after a month or so, I asked him what his favorite reading was so far. He replied, “Carnation Milk” which is printed below:

Carnation milk is the best in the land.
Here I am with a can in my hand.
No tits to pull, no hay to pitch,
You just poke a hole in the sonuvabitch.

A Rose By Any Other Name…

The NGJB was traveling by van between gigs in the Midwest when we stopped at a small town in a small café in Indiana for lunch. After perusing the menu, one band member asked, “What is the soup du jour?” The waitress turned to the inquiring person and replied disdainfully, “The soup of the day.”


visit the Natural Gas Jazz Band at

Or look at our Subscription Options.