Original Document
Original Document
Joe Venuti Plays a Prank on Bix Beiderbecke in the 1920s.

"You play in a band back in those days, in the '20s, you know, we would work a hotel, like we would play here in Washington at the Shoreham Hotel for two weeks like with Paul Whiteman. And we would be on the air, that is, radio broadcasts, for two weeks. We would be on every night and through that medium Paul would send out agents and we'd book one-nighters. Maybe out of that two weeks we'd book a whole month of one-nighters. We'd play the vicinity around Washington, we'd play Philadelphia, we'd play Pittsburgh, we'd go down to Virginia, we'd play North Carolina, we'd even play parts of South Carolina, and then we'd play New York.

"Now, you know, one-nighters were pretty strong back in those days," Joe continued in his inimitable fashion, a twinkle in his eye, "and although we were paid pretty good for them, the work was stiff. You were traveling in buses, we'd eat hamburgers and where you can get a bite to eat, and rehearse, and play the one-nighters. It's sort of flat, you know. We'd always look for little jokes to play on one another in the band. And in the Whiteman band we were a whole gang of pranksters.

"Well, we'd probably do about six months of one-nighters and play hotels and we were laid off in New York for two weeks. We had a vacation and Lennie Hayton was assigned to do an arrangement on 'Somebody Stole My Gal,' see, so I said to him, 'Look, we always play the same solos.' I said, 'Let's try to make it different.' He said, 'How, what do you mean?' I said, 'Well, Bix has got a little organ. He takes it up in his room.' And we're staying at the Cumberland Hotel in New York City and he was on the twenty-second floor of the Cumberland and he had this little organ up there. And Lennie said, 'Well, what would be different?' I said, 'Well, let's take this little organ and throw it out the window and whatever notes we hear, start the arrangement that way. 'So he said, 'Say, that's a great idea.'

"Then, with a couple of drinks, we went upstairs and it was three o'clock in the morning and we threw this little organ out the window. And we waited and nothing happened. So Lennie says to me, 'How are we going to start the arrangement?'. I says, 'Well, let's go out and buy another organ and we'll do the same thing.' And we did. The next day we bought a little organ. We waited until three o'clock that morning and we threw it out the window. And only one note, we could only hear one note, 'Boop!' And that's the way Lennie started the arrangement of 'Somebody Stole My Gal.' And if you hear the arrangement, the old Paul Whiteman arrangement, it goes 'boop, doot, doot, doot, doo, doo, dum.' We had fun, those little pranks we'd play on one another."

Credit: W. Royal Stokes, The Jazz Scene. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
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