David Bruce: 250 Music Anecdotes — Work

Work

• For a while, Michael Sembello, although he preferred jazz, played guitar for Stevie Wonder. A friend got Mr. Sembello to audition by pretending that they were going to a place to jam, but he did mention that Stevie Wonder would be present. When Mr. Sembello found out that it was an audition, he was ready to leave immediately. For one thing, about 200 people were there to audition, and the wait would be very long to play. His friend, however, waited until no one was looking and erased the first five names on the audition list and put his name and Mr. Sembello’s name first. Mr. Wonder was going in a different, more jazzy direction at this time, and so Mr. Sembello had an advantage on the other guitarists although they knew the Stevie Wonder catalog of hits. Mr. Sembello remembered, “It was kind of like a game show for guitar players: if you hang in there you got to stay, but if you screw up you were eliminated.” Mr. Sembello got to stay. At one point, Mr. Wonder played some songs from an album that had not yet been released, but Mr. Sembello “copped the changes immediately.” When Mr. Wonder asked him how he was able to do that, Mr. Sembello replied that he had a good ear. Mr. Wonder asked if he had heard the new album, and Mr. Sembello replied that he had not. Mr. Wonder asked an assistant, “Is the album out yet?” No, it was not. Next question: “How the hell do you know these tunes?” “I don’t know the tunes. I’m just guessing where you’re gonna go.” “You’ve got the gig.” “I didn’t come here for no gig — I just came here to jam.” Mr. Sembello ended up taking the job. He said about the experience of working for Mr. Wonder, “I had all the technical ability in the world and could play like the fastest guitar player in the West, but he was the one who taught me the most about feel.”

• Arthur Whittemore and Jack Lowe became a two-piano team by accident. In 1935, when Arthur was 19 years old and Jack was 18 years old, Arthur’s aunt invited him to visit her in Puerto Rico. Arthur wanted his friend Jack to come with him, so he told his aunt that he and Jack were a two-piano team and so Jack had to come, too, so they could continue to practice together. His aunt invited Jack to visit, and she arranged a two-piano concert for Arthur and Jack to play in San Juan, Puerto Rico. As soon as they found out that Arthur’s aunt expected them to play a two-piano concert, the two young men immediately began to practice together. They had no music for two pianos, so they transcribed famous musical classics. The concert was so successful that they decided to continue working as a team. This is fortunate for music history because they were so good, and because both were so gregarious that they probably would not have worked as solo piano virtuoso pianists because they would have hated being lonely while traveling on tour. One of their prized possessions was a letter from twentieth-century French composer Francis Poulenc, to whom they had sent a copy of their recording of his Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra— the orchestra was the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Mr. Poulenc wrote, “Your performance of the Concerto, like that of [Vladimir] Horowitz of my Toccata, is the one for posterity.”

• Mariah Careyworked hard to become the major musical success she is. When she was a teenager, she got very little sleep. During the day, she worked in a restaurant, and at night she went to a music studio, writing and recording songs until 7 a.m. Then she slept for “a couple of hours,” she says, and woke up and did the same thing again. Some of her older musician friends were amazed at what she was doing. They would ask her, “Why are you working so hard?” Ms. Carey says that she knew that they were “loafing about in the middle of the day,” and she would think, “Because I don’t want to be like you.” Her first five singles all reached No. 1 in the United States. She has a bit of a reputation for being a diva, but she says, “I try not to be a jerk. I really do.” She also says that rumors about her are just that: rumors. For example, she says, “They said I wouldn’t come into a hotel unless there were petals on the floor. I’m like, do you really think at 3 a.m. I give a s**t what I’m walking on?”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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