Thomas Stevens

Anonymous, No Quotables

  • General Quotes

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There is also a negative side."-Hunter S. Thompson

Ersatz Quotable: “There should be a Grammy category for the anonymous recording musician of the year.”-Anonymous Studio Musician.

The music soundtrack for the1988 motion picture, The Couch Trip, starring Dan Aykroyd, was composed by Michel Columbier for The Canadian Brass. The Canadians were unable to complete the soundtrack recording because of concert commitments; so this writer was asked to assemble a quintet to finish the music that remained to be recorded, which consisted of four brief segments and one long Mozartean section. The Canadians were to receive on-screen credit for having performed the music; so, our quintet’s existence and participation would remain anonymous.

Our little band [Rob Roy MacGregor, Richard Todd, Ralph Sauer, Roger Bobo, and yours truly] entered the Group IV Studios on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood to complete the Couch Trip recording project. There was nothing special or unique about the music or our performance of it. It was simply a routine matter in a town where stuff like that happens as a matter of routine.

One of my favorite LPs, originally released during the late 1950s by Capitol Records, was titled The Four Freshmen and Five Trumpets, featuring the Freshmen, a jazz-oriented “pop” vocal group, and five trumpet players who received album credit for their outstanding work that remains, to this very day, one of the finest examples of trumpet ensemble playing of that genre from that era.
Decades later, through union recording session documents related to a re-release of the album (a "Freshmen" anthology) in the CD format by Mosaic Records, it was publicly disclosed that a total of nine trumpet players, not five, had participated in the various performances heard on the LP-the five players listed on the album cover plus four other players who were, at the time, anonymous (we now know their identities). The criteria used to determine which trumpeter’s names appeared on the original record jacket, and which ones did not, is unknown. It is also unclear why the liner notes on the original LP omitted the fact three of the tracks included only four trumpet parts, something many musicians and others noticed at the time the original LP was released.

My third and all-time favorite anonymous musician story involves an experience had by the late Robert (Bob) DiVall, a trumpeter whose name has been mentioned previously in these Quotables pages.
Many years ago, Bob was engaged for a recording session to play “a little Stravinsky.” Since the location of the session was the same assembly hall in Hollywood where Columbia Records had been producing recordings with Igor Stravinsky conducting, Bob assumed it would be another such session. It was not!
The producer was serious when he said, “a little Stravinsky.” It was a very little Stravinsky, in this case requiring only two musicians (trumpet and snare drum) to perform twenty-nine measures of music (the “Ballerina’s Dance” from Petrouchka-see music below). In fact, everything was so little that the two musicians thought they had gone to the wrong location for the session because the doors were locked, and there were no other players in evidence when they arrived at the hall. Indeed, at one point, DiVall walked two blocks down Highland Avenue to use a pay telephone (remember those?) at a supermarket to call the musician’s service that had sent him to the session to make certain he had gone to the right place.
Later, after all of that was sorted out and the recording session officially got underway, Bob and his percussionist colleague played the piece several times. Following each “take,” the producer commented that the trumpet was too “low” in pitch. DiVall later recalled that, at the time, he couldn’t understand how it was possible for one to play “flat” to a snare drum, but he continued to adjust his pitch center upward until the intonation was deemed acceptable.
A few years later, our erstwhile trumpeter learned that his “Ballerina’s Dance” had been edited into an orchestra recording of Petrouchka where the solo trumpet player had made a terrible mess of the solo part. Since there is no reason to unduly embarrass anyone, and further, since the recording is no longer commercially available, the identity of the other player/orchestra* should also remain anonymous; however Bob finally understood why his intonation was so important. He was trying to match the pitch center of an anonymous (at least to him) orchestra he did not know even existed. (Special hat tip to my longtime friend and colleague, Irving Bush, for corroborating and clarifying the details of the this story)

* One might question why the record company would not have engaged the original trumpet player to re-record the musical segment in question. An educated guess would be that this was somehow related to a provision of the then current record company/musician's union collective bargaining agreement for "symphonic sessions" (ones usually, but not always, performed by regularly constituted orchestras) that stipulated all of the orchestra's musicians had to be paid a minimum number of hours of session time for any recordings done by their orchestras, irrespective of any participation on their part. The DiVall episode may have represented a creative action by the record company to circumnavigate this contractual condition, but this is, of course, mere speculation on my part. It would also be worth mentioning this contractual provision was one of the reasons so few works for smaller orchestra (i.e. Haydn-Mozart symphonies) were recorded by major orchestras during those years, or why such recordings were often done as trailers to recording projects involving larger works. For example, when I recorded the Haydn Trumpet Concerto with the LA Phil (Mehta) on Decca, it was done in a one hour overtime segment of the second of two sessions for Rimsky-Korsakoff's Sheherazade, and if memory serves, this was the only Haydn or Mozart work recorded by the orchestra during my 34 year tenure with the organization.

The reason for posting the three stories (above) is to point out to music students and young professionals alike that, contrary to the prevailing conventional wisdom, the concept of anonymous musicians is not something particularly unique to their generation, but something that has been around probably as long as there has been a music business.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
It goes with the territory.
N.B. Two of the stories in this post were originally published in a Brass Bulletin article,"Hooray for Hollywood." They are included here with the express permission of Editions Bim (Jean-Pierre Mathez), the owner of all BB copyrighted materials.