First, some music. I’m told it speaks louder than words. Ephie Resnick, trombone, and Marty Grosz, guitar — the epitome of passionate tenderness in IT MUST BE TRUE:
and the same pair of brave improvisers, energized beyond belief, for ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, a frolicsome RUNNIN’ WILD, and STRUT MISS LIZZIE:
My first post on Ephie Resnick, based on a phone conversation we had on July 6 (and a few postscripts afterwards) here, got some deserved attention. Some time later, Ephie’s remarkable friend Cyra Greene called and we chatted at length; she told me that Ephie had more stories for me. I was elated and said I would be delighted to write more, so the phone rang and it was Ephie, who — after brief courtesies — said, “Thank you for making me relevant,” and we agreed to extend his musical memoir a bit more. It is more a free-association than a chronological journey, but these gaps Ephie and I were eager to fill in.
I was in London for ten years, and I played with a Dixieland band — and the leader, I wish you’d put his name down, Chas McDevitt — incidentally, he had an uncle who was a trumpet player, who was a doctor, and he told me, it didn’t matter what time he came home, how tired he was, he would go into a room and play for half an hour, to keep up his chops. So I thought that was a great thing. With Chas, we played almost every week. We played clubs all over the country. We did some festivals, and we did a record. And on that record I play a couple of solos that are the most beautiful solos I’ve done on record. I don’t have a copy. Maybe I can ask him for one. And that’s that.
I did a six-week tour with the pianist Billy Taylor. The other guys in the band, except for the trombone player, who was Eddie Bert, were all from a black collective. It was a black band except for Eddie and myself, and Billy Taylor was a beautiful guy, and I just wanted to mention that.
I’m on the recording of the original HELLO, DOLLY!, and they had a black DOLLY, and I’m on that recording too. That was with Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway, and that was superlative, something special.
I studied with Lennie Tristano. I took a couple of lessons from him, and he said I was a schizophrenic trombone player, because I played Dixieland and I wanted to play his stuff. He was a popular teacher then, and he had sessions, like once a week, with his regular people and a lot of students. I never worked with him, but he played with us. The idea was not to repeat yourself if possible. Whatever you’re doing, don’t repeat yourself. So you have to keep searching. That was an important experience for me, I loved that.
The trumpet player Charlie McCarty was a sub-leader for Lester Lanin. I worked a lot for Lester Lanin. And Meyer Davis, if you remember that name. Both of them were horrible people. Just absolutely horrible. But they worked a lot. Meyer Davis, he was busy. He worked two jobs every day. So he bought an ambulance. After the first job was over, he’d get in the ambulance, change his clothes, and with the siren blowing, he’d get to the next job on time. I don’t know, that’s sort of interesting. About Charlie, when the business was ending, and he was getting sick, we started having sessions in his house, for about five years, every week, with all kinds of people. He was very good.
One of the guys I played with with Billy Taylor called me and said there was a benefit for somebody. And at the time, I’d had an accident and I was out of work again. So I got up on stage and in a couple of minutes Teddy Wilson walked in, and he played four or five tunes. He was old, but beautiful nonetheless.
I did a record with Stan Getz, well, not with him, but with an orchestra behind him. He did two of those things — big, splashy things. FOCUS by Eddie Sauter is one of them, the other with a small band. I was on the one with the big band. He had his son with him at the session, and from the beginning to the end, he didn’t make one mistake. Everything was perfection. Absolute perfection.
In the early Forties, I started to play with all kinds of people, I ran into Willie “the Lion” Smith. We played a couple of — not jobs — but a session, and he invited me to come back to another one. He was crazy. He was wonderful.
I worked in that Buddy Rich group with Sweets Edison and Zoot Sims. Buddy was mean. Mean and cantankerous and sort of rotten. He exuded evilness, or something. He would make the band get up on the stand at the time we were going to play, but he wouldn’t get up. He’d stay down, maybe ten more minutes, and then he’d get up. Somebody once said, “Why do we have to get up here early? Why aren’t you up here?” and he said, “I want you there.” Once in a while he’d invite a drummer from the crowd to come up and play, and then he’d play something as fast as he could play. The greatest drummer in the world, absolutely sensational. He could do anything. He could play a roll with brushes that sounded like sticks. He used to play theatres with his big band, and he couldn’t read, so all he had to do was hear something once, and he knew it. So he was positively a genius of some sort. Zoot and Sweets were sweet people, wonderful people. And the band just swung. No fancy arrangements, we just played standards. It was fun. Beautiful, easy.
I didn’t see Monk, but can I tell you a story about Monk? I was listening to a religious station, and the guy talking, he was a schoolteacher then, and he was supposed to play for us. He told the story that someone walked in — he had a funny hat on and he sat akimbo on the piano stool, and then he started to play, and it was weird stuff, he didn’t understand what he was doing, and then after a while he came to the conclusion that this guy was special. He was wonderful. And it was Thelonious Monk. And coming from a religious guy, that amazed me. He was willing to hear.
Kenny Davern and I played together a lot when we were younger. He had a peculiar style, but it was his own style of playing. Nobody played like him. He was wonderful.
I saw Charlie Parker quite a bit at Birdland, because it was cheap — I think it was two dollars — so I went a lot.
Eddie Condon was such a sweet man, but he was drunk all of the time. ALL of the time. But when I played with him, occasionally, subbing for Cutty Cutshall, once in a while with Wild Bill. But he said when I came there that he wouldn’t call his guitar a porkchop. He’d call it a lambchop. He knew I was Jewish. So I thought that was nice. He was a funny man. And for what he did, he was the best. His chords were good, his time was good, he’d really fill in, whatever you’d need. He was wonderful in his own way of playing. George Wettling was a sweet, wonderful guy until he got drunk. Then he was a terrible person.
I went down to see Bunk Johnson. I didn’t play with him, but I saw him a lot. I was really into that music, and I loved that trombone player, Jim Robinson, he was one of the best I’ve ever heard for that type of music. He didn’t play much but he stuck those notes in in absolutely correct and invigorating places. And Bunk, nobody played like that, nobody ever played like that. Beautiful. And there were crowds every night when he was there. Dancers. It was an exciting time.
I loved playing with Max Kaminsky. I worked a lot with him, for years. He was a simple player, but he kept the time. His time was great. I played with Jimmy McPartland, but I never liked him much, except on old records. But when I played with him in person, I didn’t like him. His wife was wonderful. I loved her. I played with her a couple of times, with him. She was a total piano player, boy, she was great.
I have a book that a friend gave me a couple of months ago, and my picture’s in that book — it’s called THE BEAT SCENE. In the back there are signatures. Barbara Ferraro is one, Gregory Corso and his address, 170 East 2nd Street, George Preston with an address, then Jack Kerouac, Seven Arts Coffee Shop, 82 Club, 2nd Avenue, the Cedar, Chinatown, the Five Spot — that’s where he hung out, in case you wanted to get him. And then there was Dean Dexter, Artie Levin, Bob Thiemen. I never played at the Five Spot or the Open Door. I didn’t do that.
[I’d asked Ephie — of all the musicians he’d played with, who gave the greatest thrills, and he sighed.] Look, when I was playing badly, I didn’t care who I was playing with. When I was playing well, it didn’t matter to me. They all were above me. Every one of them was above me.
Ephie wanted me to make special mention of Max Steuer, that when Ephie went to London and stayed for ten years,” that Max — reader emeritus at the London School of Economics, who liked jazz — and his wife Christine (who, as Christine Allen, worked as an agent for jazz musicians to help them find broader audiences) were very kind to him, subsidized his CD NEW YORK SURVIVOR, and that he lived with them when he first came to the UK. (By the way, Ephie’s British friends, thanks to Malcolm Earle Smith and Chas McDevitt, have sent me wonderful stories — loving and hilarious and insightful — that will appear in a future Ephie post.)
Speaking of real estate, Ephie told me that he had lived in Jackson Heights, New York, for sixty years before moving to Brooklyn, and that his rent in Jackson Heights had started at ninety-five dollars a month.
Incidentally, to someone unaccustomed to it, Ephie’s voice can sound gruff, but I’ve learned through these telephone calls that his heart is large, and he has people who love him all over the world. And he has a sweet puckish sense of humor. In another phone conversation, when he inquired about my health with the greatest sincerity, I said, “I’m going to call you Doctor Resnick,” and he said, not missing a beat, “My father was ‘Dr. Resnick.’ He was a dentist. And we always got mail for ‘Dr. Resnick.’ When I moved out, and I started getting mail for ‘Mr. Resnick,’ I felt cheated.”
I’ve mentioned that Ephie is very deeply engaged in what I would call informal physical rehabilitation, and in our conversations, I revealed myself as seriously sedentary (it takes many hours in a chair in front of a computer to create blogposts like this) which concerned him. At the end of our second conversation, there was this wonderfully revealing sign-off from Ephie, whose compassion for someone he’d never met before the summer of 2020 is beautiful. I present it here so that you can hear his voice, and because I am touched by it:
I will have more to share with you about this remarkable human being, whose singularity does not stop when he is not playing music.
May your happiness increase!