While living in Paris, the legendary talent scout/record exec, John Hammond, connected me with Stanley Chase, the producer of a Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer show that was slated to open in Utrecht, called “Free & Easy”. I was asked to assemble a dream big band, take them to Europe for rehearsals, and then take it to Broadway.
We worked in Utrecht for 2 months, then the cast & crew of nearly 70 people went to Amsterdam, Brussels, & then Paris, where we were faced with disaster. We opened at the Alhambra Theater in Paris right as the Algerian crisis hit, & we could hear machine-gun fire outside during rehearsals…
Police/soldiers roamed the streets & there was a notice on the front page of the Herald Tribune that said, “Any swarthy-complexioned person is advised to stay off the street after 6 in the evening.” It was 1959 & we would be stopped by soldiers with cocked machine guns on our route to & from the theater. Needless to say, the show closed…The producer called a meeting & told us, “The plane is leaving Saturday. If you miss that flight you’re stuck here.” I couldn’t stand it. I told the band to give me 1 day…They stuck with me for 10 MONTHS & we traveled throughout Europe like vagabonds with no plan, agent, money, manager, or itinerary. We gigged wherever we could, & traveled by bus, train, & car (even traveled on foot at one point in Yugoslavia).
This clip is from our stop in Lausanne in ’60 with the great trombonist/arranger, Melba Liston, as the soloist. Looking back on this once-in-a-lifetime band, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything, even though I dug myself into a larger debt than I could’ve imagined (which took me 7 years to pay off) & almost lost my sanity/life under the pressure of trying to pay, house, & feed 30 musicians, with no $$$. I learned my lesson, but even more importantly, we witnessed the power of jazz as a uniting force.