October 06, 2009
Days gone by
Back in the early 1950s, the mountain inn where my father worked summers as a musician was called simply, “The Wood.” Yes, this was before “That’s what she said” jokes. The old barn that still stands on the edge of the property still carries the name.
In those days, the inn had a very short season – two months, really. Summer in the mountains goes from the Fourth of July until Labor Day. At the end of the season after the guests had gone home, the owner would open up the bar and kitchen to the staff. They would have a party that lasted until the last booze was drunk and the last food eaten. My father said that once he stayed for four days and then went home. Then he got a postcard from a friend saying, “The party is still going.”
Sometimes the owner would get the musicians involved in publicity stunts. My father can remember traveling around the lake as part of a flotilla. He brought his trumpet on the boat and Piano Man brought his trombone. They played loud, lively music – marches, mostly. When the boat went by the inn, they switched spontaneously to “Home Sweet Home.”
Most of my father’s memories involve music. In the sitting room of the inn, my father said, “This is where I was standing the first time I heard Stan Kenton’s Pennies From Heaven." He was with his friend Piano Man when the song came on. “Two trumpets take off and they come down in seconds. An intentional discord! We heard it at the same time.” He can still remember that moment.
Another time, a cop arrived in the evening, when the musicians were on the stand playing, and he demanded to question them immediately. They had to stop mid-song. They were asked where they’d been that day, and the cop searched the trunks of the cars. Finally, my father said to the cop, “What are you looking for?”
“An outboard motor,” the cop said.
That answer struck my father so funny that he started laughing. The cop glared at him, “It ain’t funny, Johnny.”
The cop left eventually, but the next night, he walked in again, this time for something else. When the band saw him, they stopped mid-song and began playing, “Oh, Johnny.”
The old building where my father played each night is locked up and no longer in use, but the owner gave my father a key so that we could go out and look around. The building was filled with old furniture and chairs, lots of old stuff piled high, but I could still see the bandstand where my father played, and the bar on the other end where the bartender served drinks. “It was a cracked-ice crowd,” my father said. “That’s how the owner wanted it.”
Posted by jo(e)