U.S.S.R – Memorable Events
NGJB met the Leningrad Dixieland in 1987 at the Sacramento Jubilee and they helped immensely to arrange our tour of the USSR in 1989—a great band and wonderful bunch of guys. We were actually hired by the Soviet govt., had a written contact with them, and were paid in rubles. Only days before our tour began, the Berlin Wall came down and during that period of glasnost, the Russian people we met were enthusiastic and full of hope for better things to come in their country. However, there were numerous areas where large anti-American posters were seen. Posted below are a few memories of that historic, two week tour:
♫ One member of an accompanying Soviet film crew told us, “You must learn three things in Russian: ‘Please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘it is broken.’”
♫ Despite the rundown and shabby conditions generally observed, every venue we played had a grand piano and good PA system.
♫ It was in the city of Barnaul, Siberia, that the local newspaper proclaimed that Natural Gas JB was the first American jazz band to ever play in Siberia.
♫ Also in Barnaul, at a marketplace, a local man approached our interpreter, pointed at my wife, and said, “That is the first American I have ever seen—and she looks just like us!
Overheard at the Sacramento Jubilee
I heard a band leader tell his audience that he was asked if one of his band members was gay or not. His reply was, “I don’t know, but he sure kisses like one.”
In our band, it was not unusual to hear a band member yell out, “Wait a minute” during the actual countdown to a tune when that member was not ready to start playing for some reason. Over the years this warning was shortened into “WAIMINT.”
During the countdown to the very first tune of our very first set at one of those wonderful Pismo Beach Festivals I heard the exclamation “Waimint” yelled out from the rhythm section so I stopped the count. I then observed our tubaist, Dave Lewis, turn his instrument upside down, give it a vigorous shake, and out came a stuffed teddy bear which had been lovingly placed inside the horn days before by Dave’s grandson. Following a round of applause from the audience, I then resumed the tune countdown.
Friendly Deer & Super Gracious Natives
NGJB was featured at the 1985 Evergreen Jazz Festival in Kobe, Japan. An afternoon of sightseeing was spent in the nearby city of Nara, including the famous Nara Deer Park where more than 1,000 semi-wild but friendly deer freely roam the huge grounds. Deer crackers are for sale around the park, and many deer have learned to bow to visitors to ask to be fed. As you can imagine, this is a huge tourist attraction.
I happened to observe a Japanese mother trying to get a photo of her very young daughter while hand-feeding a deer. The little girl would become frightened when the deer, which was taller than she was, would approach for the food and she would pull away. I intervened by gently holding her outstretched hand which contained the deer cracker food. The deer then approached us and ate the cracker out of her hand. Meanwhile, the mother got her photograph!
Later that afternoon, our band group made its way through the crowds back to the waiting bus to return to Kobe. Just before I boarded the bus, the Japanese mother appeared and handed me a little trinket, said something in Japanese which I couldn’t understand, bowed and then left. I stood there overwhelmed! I had never before experienced an act of such thoughtfulness and consideration from a complete stranger—I still think of that event with great fondness.