• Jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker was known by the nicknames “Yardbird” and “Bird.” One story about how he got the name was that he enjoyed eating chicken, a bird that ran loose in many yards and was therefore called a yardbird. Mr. Parker would look at a menu, see chicken listed, then say, “Give me some of that yardbird.” Another story is that the car that he and some other musicians were riding in hit and killed a chicken. Mr. Parker picked up the chicken and kept it, and once they had reached their destination he cooked and ate it. The other musicians teased him about this and called him “Yardbird,” which was later often shortened to “Bird.”
• Comedian Steve Allen was a talented musician. While attending college, he would enter an unoccupied room with a piano, start playing, then look up 20 minutes later and see 104 people in the room listening to him play. He was a serious jazz musician, but since he didn’t think critics took him seriously, he sometimes recorded under a pseudonym. After he recorded an album of boogie-woogie music using the pseudonym Buck Hammer, a critic in Downbeat wrote that he had a bright future.
• When country musician Amy Grant started writing her book titled Mosaic: Pieces of My Life So Far, she did not want to think about so great an undertaking as writing an entire book. Therefore, she told Vince Gill, her husband, “You can’t call it a book. We’ll call it anything but a book.” Therefore, for a while, they called it a flier. When she had gotten some pages written, they called it a pamphlet, and when she had written more pages, they called it a booklet. Eventually, she published the manuscript — an entire book.
• Comic singer Anna Russell was so famous that the street where she lived had its name changed to Anna Russell Way. When Ms. Russell was older and people had begun to think that perhaps she was a little deaf or a little senile, a woman asked Ms. Russell her name. Of course, she answered, “Anna Russell.” Then the woman asked Ms. Russell where she lived. Of course, Ms. Russell answered, “Anna Russell Way.” The woman then said, “No, no, no, dear — that is your name. Where do you live?”
• Stephen Foster decided to write a song, and he asked his brother to name a Southern river that he could write the song about. His brother suggested the Pee-dee River, but Mr. Foster rejected his suggestion and instead wrote the lyric “Way Down Upon the Swanee River.” (The title of the song is “Old Folks at Home.”) Advertising copywriter Edward S. Jordan writes that Mr. Foster’s brother knew geography, but Mr. Foster knew rhythm.
• Frank Zappa and Gail, his wife, gave their children odd names: Dweezil, Ahmet, Diva, and Moon Unit. Actually, Dweezil’s legal name is not Dweezil — it’s Ian. When Dweezil was born, a nurse at the hospital refused to write the name “Dweezil” on the birth certificate.
• Many rappers have interesting names. L.L. Cool J’s name is short for Ladies Love Cool James. KRS-One’s name is short for Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone. And the “Kane” in Big Daddy Kane’s name is short for King Asiatic Nobody’s Equal.
• At Birdland, emcee Pee Wee Marquette showed a lot of originality in introducing the musicians. For example, Mr. Marquette introduced one-of-a-kind jazz musician Thelonious Monk as “The Onliest Monk.”
• Composer Jean Madeleine Schneitzhoeffner’s name was so consistently mangled by the French that he had cards made up that stated, “Schneitzhoeffner (pronounced Bertrand).”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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