Weird Gigs I Have Known: Shivaree Stomp

That banjo player I spoke of previously was also in the wars again when his son was getting married. He wanted to book us to play for the wedding, and we agreed but insisted it was to be gratis. The wedding was to be held some 150 miles distant, and the banjoist insisted, in turn, he would rent a passenger van and take us all to it and back. It was agreed we would meet at a parking lot and leave our cars there.

At the appointed time, no van showed up. We waited for almost an hour and were about to go home, when the van appeared. It turned out our stalwart had not made a reservation for a nine-passenger van (to allow room for instruments) and he had had to scuffle to come up with one. When we arrived at the wedding site, it was just in time to see the bride and groom and guests leaving the church.

Hot Jazz Jubile

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A very strange gig was one we played up in a small town in the Sierra foothills, California’s gold country. The historic hotel dated from Gold Rush days (1840s), and each year the owner would book the band to play in the bar for a couple or three hours after dinner. Since it was a good drive to get there, the hotel also threw in dinner and rooms for all of us. One year there had been a wedding at the hotel that afternoon. The hotel owner approached us and told us we were to play for a “shivaree” around 11 pm. None of us knew what that was, so he briefed us.

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At the designated time, we were all to follow him up the stairs to the bridal suite, followed by all the people at the bar. We were all to remain absolutely silent. So we all climbed the stairs, and when we reached the door to the bridal suite, the owner unlocked the door, threw it open, and we all marched in playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” to loud cheers from the bar clientele who followed us. The groom simply put his hands behind his head and grinned throughout the whole episode, but the bride had dived under the covers.

After serenading the married couple with a couple of tunes, we all marched out again and downstairs. And that was a “shivaree,” the only element missing apparently being the traditional dunking of the bride and groom in the horse trough or pond. I’m sure it was a wedding night to remember for the couple—it certainly was for us!

Evergreen

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Marching parade bands have long been a feature of New Orleans funerals, and I was a member of such a band some years ago. We played a few funerals, but one in particular was a bit of a standout. We formed up, the glass-walled hearse duly appeared, pulled by black horses, plumes waving over their heads, but in the coffin . . . . nothing! The funeral was for a Silicon Valley company that had been taken over by a larger concern and was about to disappear—logo, stock, and barrel. Many of its staff were a bit unhappy about it all, so they decided to give it a proper “send-off.” Attached to either side of the coffin was a large sign that read “R. I. P.” followed by the name of the deceased company. We did not, of course, proceed to any cemetery, but to a park, and after the parade refreshments were served to all participants in what became a picnic.

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A nail-biter occurred one time when the band I was playing with at that time, Professor Plum’s Jazz, and the Night Blooming Jazzmen, a band out of L.A., were booked to play at a jazz festival in Oregon. We were to fly to Eugene along with the Night Blooming Jazzmen on their plane, joining it in San Francisco. When we reached the one-hour point, we should have been descending to Eugene, but it was not happening. Shortly thereafter the pilot came on the intercom and informed us there was a problem. Apparently the hydraulic system had gone out, so the wheels could not be lowered and we would also have no brakes. Passengers exchanged frightened glances.

The pilot went on to say that they should be able to lower the wheels by hand, but the lack of brakes would remain a problem. The runways at Eugene were too short to accommodate our landing hard and immediately having the engines in reverse thrust, so we were headed for Portland where the runways were longer. When we reached Portland, the plane did manage to land safely, if hard, and it stopped just before it ran out of runaway. We were bussed back to the terminal, and when the airline representative announced that the plane would be fixed and then we would be flown on it back to Eugene, he was greeted with a unanimous “No way.” He finally caved and chartered a bus, as we demanded, to take us back down to Eugene—about a two-hour drive. We certainly had a good excuse for being late and having very short nails!

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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