Since the musicians union was tied to the mob, it was difficult to get jobs in many instances; especially the big gigs that paid well. During those times when it was difficult to find work, I would make the rounds to various nightspots, while toting my trumpet and looking to sit in. Like most musicians, once music gets into our blood, we’ll go to extremes just for a chance to play somewhere. A few groups that knew me allowed me to sit in, while some others ignored me. Not being a seasoned trumpeter, I humiliated myself a couple of times on stage. However, I persisted by practicing and refining my skills. I’d play tunes like I Left My Heart in San Francisco and Satin Doll.
During those days karaoke was already an established entertainment pastime, but not performed in the clubs yet. Whenever the crowd got tipsy, the old timers would break out and sing popular tunes played on the juke box or the by the hired band. Most tunes were done by Italian crooners such as, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
I once did a couple of gigs at SUNY Binghamton in Vestal for the college crowd. I was the only non Italian in the group. These guys looked like harden Sicilians straight off the boat.
Jammin’ with the Wife
My wife at the time had her eyes on a Farfisa electronic organ that was advertised in the paper. So we checked it out, and I bought it for her. Unlike the light weight computerized electronic organs of today, it was an all silicon transistorized (SLT) beast of burden. I was reminded of the Laurel and Hardy movie The Music Box.
The instrument along with a Leslie speaker set me back a couple of grand. I felt it was all worth it, since it was a chance to get her involved and have an organist readily available for potential upcoming gigs. With it we got involved with other musicians, especially a jazz vibe player. In the end we never made much headway.
However, she was able to get church gigs in the future after many hours of practice. Ironically, it was an Italian made organ, sold to us by an Italian man, who lived in an Italian neighborhood.