One of my favorite stories...  

Posted by Tony Guerrero

Michael's comment on my last blog ("Why me, oh Lord?") refers to a story worth telling.

Mike and I have known each other since Jr. High (that's right - the late 70's!). He could always be counted on for a favor - that is, if you could pry him away from some nerdy arcade game.

So, cut to 1992. One hot summer Saturday, most of my family was spending the day packing and moving my grandmother out of her Hollywood apartment and into a nursing home and hour or so north of L.A. I couldn't help because I was playing a gig with my band that day, and I needed the money. In fact, I had just moved into a new apartment, and I couldn't even afford a fridge, so I was renting one. Naturally, when my mom called and said, "Hey Tony, do you want Grandma's refrigerator? It's only two months old, but you can have it for free...", I was thrilled. Of course I did!

The problem was, it had to be picked up that day, or they'd have to give it to someone else. But I couldn't go, because I had a gig! I was going to lose a free brand new fridge! I called Mike.

"So, Mike…what are you doing today…?"

"Not much…why?"

"Ummm…any chance you'd come to my apartment, grab my truck, drive it to Hollywood [about an hour away] and pick up a refrigerator for me?"

He said yes.

In a million years, I don't think you'd ever convince me to say yes to something like that. I barely like even walking to my own fridge for a snack, much less spend my precious weekend driving in mid-day traffic, hot and sweaty in a beat-up pickup truck with no A/C, just to pick up a huge appliance for someone else.

But he did it.

So far, the story sounds pretty heroic. Here's where it gets funny.

As I watched him drive off in my truck to head to Grandma's, my phone rang inside the apartment. I ran in to answer - my gig had just been cancelled. I ran back out the front door…I could still see his taillights…but he couldn't hear my yells (this is before we all had cell phones).

Mike was just beginning his trek on my behalf, and I couldn't stop him.

To make matters worse, once he got there, he ended up being coerced into helping them with Grandma's entire move. Mike spent the whole day with my family, moving my grandma from one distant city to another.

Me? When Mike was merely a mile or so away, with my gig cancelled, I laid out on my couch, remote in hand, watching TV and drinking a refreshingly cold lemonade (chilled in my soon-to-be-replaced rented fridge) and enjoyed one the most relaxing leisurely days of my twenties.

Many hours later, when Mike returned with my new fridge, can you believe he actually expected me to help him unload it? The nerve of some people.

Why me, oh Lord?!?  

Posted by Tony Guerrero

Why, when my wife offers get up with the kids to let me sleep in, did I wake up at 4:00am and find myself still unable to fall back asleep an hour and a half later?

Brush With Greatness, Pt. IV  

Posted by Tony Guerrero

So, the point of these "Brush With Greatness" stories is not just that I met someone famous, but that something cool happened when I met them (I've actually met a lot of famous people, but most of those stories are uneventful). I have a few more stories to post, but one just happened TONIGHT!!

I am a huge Marx Brother's fan - seen the movies, read the books, watched every snippet of file footage, etc. Tonight, I was invited to "An Evening With Groucho", a one-man play done brilliantly by Frank Ferrante. Who should be in the audience, but Groucho's daughter, Miriam! Well, I knew somehow I'd have to at least get close enough to see her face, much less even meet her. But the cool thing that happened...the people she was with happened to be jazz fans and recognized me first!! They introduced me to Miriam Marx as if I were somebody! So cool...instantly I was able to share a moment with Groucho's daughter that wasn't just about me being a dorky fan...

She was very sweet, signed my book. I'd met Harpo Marx's son before at a concert I played and I thought that was cool...but this was Groucho's own daughter! Great night!

Brush With Greatness, Pt. III  

Posted by Tony Guerrero

Arguably, the three most important producers in pop music from the 60's were Phil Spector, George Martin & Brian Wilson. Spector created the "wall of sound" that characterized such hits as "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" and "Be My Baby", as well as some of the later Beatles hits like "The Long And Winding Road" (Spector's involvement infuriated Paul McCartney since his big lush arrangements happened without McCartney's approval - McCartney re-released many classic Beatles songs in 2003 as "Naked", basically stripping Spector's involvement from them). Next, of course, George Martin, who was The Beatles producer from the beginning and in many ways helped them to revolutionize the music industry. He was often called "the fifth Beatle", since he was so much a part of their sound.

Finally, there was Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys. While some of their hits lead some people to relegating them as "bubble gum" pop, the truth is, Brian set all sorts of new standards for production. In fact, it was his ground-breaking production on the "Pet Sounds" album that sounded the clarion call for The Beatles to meet the challenge with "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". Brian influenced the influencers. The stories about his life and his struggle with mental illness are legendary.

I got a call to record with him around 1992. Awesome.

We showed up to the studio and were introduced to Van Dyke Parks, another notable producer who had long been associated with Brian, and he mostly led the session. Brian was nowhere to be found. Bummer. We were escorted into the recording room where the four of us horn players would be playing, and we noticed there was someone asleep on a couch about ten feet from us. We assumed he'd get up when we started playing. Nope. We did the whole session - five loud horn players - ten feet from a sleeping man who never budged.

When the session was over, the sleeper awoke. It was Brian. He literally seemed to have no idea that we had been playing - loudly - right next to him while we slept. We posed for a picture with him, and the session ended. Even though our contact was limited, I was honored to play on the project, and I drove away knowing I had worked with a legend.

Brush With Greatness, Pt. II  

Posted by Tony Guerrero

[Photos: Freddie, ca. 1976 & Tony w/Freddie, 1996]

The lineage of great trumpet players from the early 1900's until now goes something like this: King Oliver>Louis Armstrong>Roy Eldridge>Dizzy Gillespie>Miles Davis>Freddie Hubbard. There are other great ones, but these were the ones who set the new standards and defined new directions for the instrument. Freddie came to prominence in the early sixties, and, truthfully, no one has really expanded on the vocabulary of jazz trumpet since him. Truly one of the all time greats, and a true legend in jazz.

In 1996, I was asked to play on a session with him. You can imagine my nerves. He would be the soloist, and I would only be in the horn section, but still, I'd be playing my trumpet in the same room as him. And being paid!

I knew at that time that Freddie had some recent problems with his lip and was unable to play up to his old standard. I didn't know the extent of it, and was saddened to hear this giant unable to blow like before.

But because of this, two amazing things happened...

1. By the time he got to the end of his solo feature, his lip was shot and he was unable to play the last few notes. Guess who got to finish for him?!? That's right, there is a CD out there featuring Freddie Hubbard but with me playing some parts for him!

2. The coolest thing was that Freddie and I talked that day about his lip problems. He mentioned that he didn't have a good warm-up regimen (crucial for trumpet players) so I showed him some of mine. He asked for my number, which I found odd, but the day ended without much more incident. Then, like two months later, I got a message on my phone…get this:

"Hey Tony…this is Freddie…I need you to come up and give me a lesson."

WHAT?!? Did Freddie Hubbard just call and ask me for a lesson?!? Now, I wasn't dumb enough to think I really had anything to offer him, or that he even meant what he was saying, but still…he said it!

I called him back and basically said I wanted a lesson from him. His interest was really in warm-up techniques and he'd forgotten what I'd showed him. So, we arranged to meet. I went to his home in Studio City and we spent several hours together playing and talking. And the occasional moment spent actually teaching. We even talked about collaborating on his biography, although I knew that was never really going to happen. A great afternoon.

For a while after that, I would get random calls from Freddie at all hours, just calling to talk. Sometimes I wondered if it mattered to him who he was talking to - he was just talking randomly - but since he occasionally said my name, he seemed to know who he'd called. Often, he'd interrupt himself mid-sentence and just blow on his trumpet. I, of course, sat and listened to him talk and blow for as long as he wanted. Shoot, this is FREDDIE!

Within a year, I'd lost contact with him (I believe he's living in New York now). But certainly, that short time he was in my life was an honor I won't soon forget.

The sad thing about this story is that I failed to save the tape of his phone message, so I can't prove Freddie actually asked me for a lesson, but I did record our actual lesson time, so I can at least prove we did that!

(Freddie's lip never recovered. He still plays, although he has never returned to his glory days.)

Brush With Greatness, Pt.1  

Posted by Tony Guerrero

(Photo dated 1964)

I've gotten to meet and work with some well known musicians over the years, but there are a few stories that stand out for me. Here's the first one.

In 1987, I was a twenty year old kid who was in the middle of recording my first CD. The recording engineer on the project was a guy named Joe Manolakakis who also had happened to just get the gig as Herbie Hancock's personal engineer. Herbie Hancock is one of the all-time great jazz pianists - a legend in his own lifetime.

Well, one night around 11pm I got a call from Joe. Herbie had just returned from Tower Records trying to buy up all the Art Tatum (another piano legend) records and was disappointed in their limited selection. Joe knew I had a large record collection and called to say, "Hey Tony, grab all your Art Tatum records and get up here." I, of course, dropped everything and did just that, driving an hour to L.A., thinking I was just going to drop them off and let Herbie "borrow" them…and I'd be thrilled to let him.

Instead, Herbie invited me in, and the three of us spent from midnight until about 5am in Herbie's living room listening to Art Tatum records, talking about jazz and Herbie's many experiences, having a little wine (I wasn't a drinker, but I probably would have drunk sewer water if he'd offered it!) and even a few rare moments when Herbie gave me a brief piano lesson. An unbelievable evening for this young jazz fan.

I'm positive Herbie doesn't remember this event - don't bother asking him - but it is a night I'll never forget.

Do yourself a favor - check out some Herbie recordings: His legendary recordings as a member of the Miles Davis Quintet in the early 60's; his first solo recordings, which included songs like Watermelon Man and Cantaloupe Island (the latter of which you all know even if you don't recognize the title - check iTunes); his first forays into funk music with his Headhunters Band; his worldwide 80's hit "Rockit" (one of the first hip-hop instrumental hits - another one you'd recognize); his recent recordings that feature artists like Christina Aguilera and, finally, "River", his Joni Mitchell tribute recording, which just won the 2008 Grammy for Record of the Year over every pop record out there. Quite a catalogue.