Was watching a rerun of the Bob Newhart Show last night. It was the Father Death/Mother Death/Uncle Death episode. When the trumpet came in near the end of the theme I thought it sounded like Uan Rasey. Something about the tone, brassy and perfect. Googled it. It was Uan Rasey. He died a couple years ago, but I’d met him a two or three times at Jack Sheldon shows. Rasey was Sheldon’s trumpet teacher, and Jack was still taking lessons well into his 70’s. Go figure. But fortunately I didn’t know at the time that Uan Rasey played the famous trumpet break in the uptempo Bob Newhart Show theme. I might have said something really stupid. Quoted Howard or done a Mr. Herd impression. TV shows you were raised on always make you say something stupid. I have friends that quote F-Troop. I pretend not to know them till the moment passes. But I can quote entire scenes of the Bob Newhart Show. That’s all you need to get by in life. Or death. Every time I go to a funeral dialog lines from the show’s funeral episode go through my head. The one that killed off Mr. Giannelli. Jack Riley once told me–at Chuck Niles funeral, actually–that the actor had demanded more money so they dumped a load of zucchini on him. And while a hysterically funny episode, it’s best not to quote at funerals, especially if family members are weeping.
Rasey probably never even saw the Bob Newhart Show. It was on Saturday nights and jazz guys are never home on Saturday nights. They work then, or watch others work. But they’re not home. So I’d have quoted Howard Borden or stumped around like Mr. Herd and Rasey would have thought so this is what passes for a jazz critic now? And Rasey wouldn’t remember that handful of notes solo either. It was just the twelfth studio gig one day in 1974. Studios and movies were full of live musicians then, musicians with quick reading skills who you could hand a chart to, and they could nail in one or two quick takes. They’d do that for hours, everyday, making gobs of money and buying nice houses up in the hills with swimming pools and music rooms and three car garages and an actress next door on the one side and a director on the other. There was so much work it looked like they were set till the end of their lives. It was heaven for a studio musician, Hollywood. One quick session after another all day long, then jams in the clubs all night. Music and parties and fast cars. Hanging with movie stars. Those were the days.
But we were at Jax in Glendale and Jack Sheldon was blowing trumpet for a couple dozen people. Sessions gigs were thin. Those big band themes were history. Movies were full of synthetic trumpets and rapping. You couldn’t even buy Tijuana Brass knockoff LP’s at the grocery store anymore. Now you taught, played the occasional gig, took a studio gig when it came up. Sometimes an old movie star would pop in and talk about the old days.
Uan Rasey’s gone now. I remember the very nice obituaries. One of the best of the studio players. A complete pro. A musician’s musician, the trumpeters’ trumpeter. And I remember hearing the theme from Chinatown a lot. Probably his most famous work. A haunting tone, a haunting theme, a haunting final scene that bothers you a long time. That’s Uan Rasey’s sound. That’s the sound I thought I heard when the trumpet took off for a few fleeting seconds there in the Bob Newhart Show theme. I’m glad I got to meet him. The last time, not long before he passed, was at a Jack Sheldon show at Catalina’s. Rasey was in a wheelchair, surrounded by glad handers, well wishers and old friends. I stopped for a moment and told him how much I loved the sound of his trumpet. He looked me in the eye and smiled.
Oh…there’s a mellow Bob Newhart Show theme too. The trumpet is replaced by a flugelhorn. Bobby Shew played that one. But I’ll be damned if I’ll ever say anything to him. There’s a little Howard Borden in everyone, waiting to come out, but a jazz club is just not the place for it..