Sunday, March 4, 2012

Guardian Angels Never Fail

I think it was circa 1963 or so. The world seemed right for his songs. A few years earlier Chanel 11, then owned by The Daily News, had a show called The Ted Steele Show and one of his songs was featured. He was interviewed with one of his partners and he met Skitch Henderson and his Actress wife and the song was published. A few years later he had a couple of his songs featured on a Jazz album which had solos by Zoot Sims, a Downbeat favorite. He figured it would only take some time before he would be featured on a hit album by some pop singer, Frank Sinatra would be nice. So when he saw that ASCAP was holding a week long seminar closing with a show of unpublished songs by up and coming composers he figured he would submit some of his songs to be included. Down deep he figured probably nothing would come of this but nothing ventured nothing gained. He mailed in copies of the music and lyrics and promptly forgot about it but lo and behold, he received an answer two weeks later that his songs were accepted requesting him to call a person for details.

He called ASCAP and asked what was required in the presentation, and of course the date and time. This was going to be a big thing. The event was to be held at a smaller hall around the street from Carnegie Hall in NYC which was expected to draw about 300 publishers and friends. He was assured that nothing special was needed in the presentation, only a singer and piano player would be needed. He thought this would be a great show case which could lead to his big break.

He had a month to prepare. He played Trumpet but his partner played piano. They needed a singer but to be quite truthful neither of them had enough money to hire anyone so they tried to put it together with his wife singing. His wife had a great voice but no musical training. They got together over the pianist house and tried to explain that he would play four bars as an intro and she'd come in on the fifth bar, with four beats to the measure all she had to do is come in on the 21st. beat. Try as the might she just couldn't get it right, she was either a half beat too early or too late. After an hour of trying she broke down in tears. The next hour was spent in trying to comfort her and trying to think of who they could get to perform for about 15 minutes for no money only the chance to be heard by some professionals who might open a few doors for them. They finally found a pretty good male singer who wanted to do this, so they spent a week rehearsing. He knew it would be a bare bones presentation and started to get cold feet so he called his ASCAP contact and was assured that "bare bones", a piano player and singer would be fine as all the other presenters weren't doing anything special. So everything was "go" and "Godspeed ahead", maybe this would be the break to propel them forward.

Finally the big day came, I should say the big night. They met at 7 PM at the hall around the corner from Carnegie with the contact from ASCAP and was told they had to fill the last 15 minutes of an hour and a half show. There would be four presenters before them and they'd close the show. Being the closing act only put more pressure on them because if those who preceded were terrific it could diminish what the closing act would present. The ASCAP contact assured them that it everything should run smoothly because everyone was probably at the same talent level and the audience was always very receptive in the past and he saw no reason why they would not be now.

The first presentation started and he stood at the rear of the orchestra with his buddies. The stage was already set up with sets. Apparently the first presenters were showing a scene from an original musical and had a group small group of musicians backing them up. When they concluded to a nice ovation they had to break down their set and the next one was setting up their scene which was from an original Opera with full costume and a larger group of musicians including strings. He was starting to sweat profusely. All he saw were costumes, a lot of musicians, very good operatic and Broadway Stage voices and one even had acrobats performing. He was sure he, they were going to look foolish and be laughed off the stage. When he talked of his presentation being bare bones he didn't realize that when compared to what had been put on before his closing act his bare bones would be full nudity and tomfoolery. They were led backstage as the penultimate act was setting up. He was sweating profusely and he wanted to run away somewhere to a bar and get ripping drunk but there was no where to run. He was near full panic as he noticed his partner and singer were getting ready to panic also. He gave them comforting words and said he had it all under control and would handle it in the introduction. After he told them that he was even more in a panic because he didn't know what to say since he only just found out that he was to introduce them. He was near wetting his pants or fainting but he knew he couldn't do either so he did the only thing he could do in this circumstance cried out in his mind to his Guardian Angel for help. He begged, pleaded and spiritually got down on his knees but his mind remained a blank. Suddenly he heard the person on stage introducing him. He was going out on the stage in front of 300 professionals in the music industry and he didn't have any idea what to say or how to rescue their presentation after such professional presentations came before their closing act.

He came out on the stage and couldn't see anything as the spotlights were blinding but he knew they were there, the audience, because they gave him a round of applause as his greeting. His last prayer to his Guardian Angel before he would attempt to say anything was that he was disappointed in him because he was hanging him out to dry. He stepped up to the mike and suddenly the words just started to flow out:

"Thank you for your warm reception. This has been a wonderful evening, hasn't it? There were four wonderful show time presentations with great music. (Applause) But to close I want to bring you back to a time in our business when things weren't so glitzy, when a songwriter would show up in a publishers office, or perhaps in a music store, to showcase his latest creations with only a piano and a singer. So I want you to close your eyes and dream of those good old days and listen to our songs which are sweet love songs, not rock and roll, but melodies with heart. Close your eyes, and listen and enjoy." My partners must have gotten the idea because as they rolled out the Steinway onto the stage my piano player was in shirtsleeves with them rolled up smoking a cigar and the singer had loosened his tie and opened his shirt button. They performed and when it was over they got a standing ovation. He did manage to ask his Guardian Angel to forgive him for doubting that he would help him out of this jam since he always came through when he asked him. But this time it was one for the books, something that will never be forgotten


Afterwards they mingled with the publishers in the lobby of the theater and were told that out of all the presentations they liked theirs the best BUT, while the songs were good they didn't have what was selling "Today" which was Rock and Roll. Most suggested that theirs were the songs that Ella (Fitzgerald) and Frank (Sinatra) would do and if they could get them interested then their songs would sell. I"d like to say that Frank and Ella loved the songs and they became big music stars, that's what I'd like to say but it didn't happen. What did happen was miracle enough, for that night God smiled on three guys who could've been losers but for that night, were winners and that is all that matters.     
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