David Bruce: David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music, Volume 2 — Illnesses and Injuries, Improvising

Illnesses and Injuries

• Joey Ramone, lead singer of the Ramones, suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, making him do repetitive and unnecessary actions. Before leaving an elevator, he would sometimes get in and get out of it 10 times before finally exiting for good. In Spain, he once got off the curb, then on again, so many times that a driver who was waiting for him to cross the street finally drove by him, clipping him slightly. On one tour, the Ramones flew to England, and after they landed in London, Joey said that he needed to go back to his apartment in New York so he could exit through his door one more time. (He wasn’t able to do it, of course — he had to stay on tour.) Suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder did have one benefit. His friend Joan Tarshis would visit him, and he would hug her before she left. However, he would have to hug her more than once before his obsessive-compulsive disorder would allow him to let her leave. Ms. Tarshis says, “I’d be halfway down the hall, and he’d call me over and I’d go back for another hug. This’d go on three or four more times, every time.”

• After a skiing accident, cellist Pablo Casals called a press conference to announce that he had broken his arm and therefore would be forced to cancel several concerts. The reporters were surprised to see Mr. Casals in a good mood and asked why he was so happy instead of being upset by his accident. Mr. Casals explained, “Because now I don’t have to practice.” (Chances are excellent that this anecdote is apocryphal.)

• Nineteenth-century pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk had a bad habit of biting his nails until he almost had no nails. In fact, a friend of his, fellow pianist Richard Hoffman, remembers looking at the piano keyboard after Mr. Gottschalk had played and seeing that the keys were covered with blood.

Improvising

• Jazz musicians strive for perfection in their improvising; in fact, this striving is what Oscar Peterson calls the “will to perfection,” which he explains by saying that “it requires you to collect all your senses, emotions, physical strength, and mental power, and focus them entirely onto the performance, with utter dedication, every time you play. And if that is scary, it is also uniquely exciting … you never get rid of it. Nor do you want to, for you come to believe that if you get it all right, you will be capable of virtually anything.” As important as perfection is, however, one thing is more important than perfection: the striving toward perfection. Coleman Hawkins recorded a brilliant solo in the Freedom Now Suite, but as brilliant as the solo was, a squeak appeared in it. The squeak could easily have been edited out for the album, but Mr. Hawkins insisted, “Don’t splice that! When it’s all perfect in a piece like this, there’s something very wrong.”

• While Patricia McBride and Edward Villella were dancing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet to Prokofiev’s music as performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony, the conductor set the tempo way too slow, forcing Ms. McBride and Mr. Villella to dance ahead of the music and to finish dancing before the music stopped. What to do? Ms. McBride started to bourrée off stage on pointe, but Mr. Villella grabbed her wrist and pleaded, “Patty, just stay with me.” The two then improvised — well — a few minutes of dance.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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