Your experiences with Ella Fitzgerald and that tour of South America – memorable moments?
Everything with Ella was pretty amazing. Going to South American was incredible for me, especially the first stop. We played at the Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro. We played three weeks in this great hotel right on the water. The bossa nova was just starting up and the music was just kind of coming out of the air. I couldn’t believe it. We went to São Paulo after that, Montevideo and then on to Buenos Aires. I heard Astor Piazzolla’s music for the first time. I’d never heard tango music and it was an ear-opening experience.
Ella was just stunningly good. I think I heard her miss one note. Working with Gus Johnson we once played an arrangement by Nelson Riddle at the Academy Awards. There was a quick key change and she missed one note. She was amazing. And you stayed on a while in South America after that tour? I did. We were supposed to go to Chile but Santiago had had a bad earthquake so that part of the tour was cancelled. I borrowed some money from Norman Granz and stayed in Buenos Aires for about a month.
Norman Granz also managed Jimmy Giuffre so I was able to work with Ella Fitzgerald because of him -- took Herb Ellis’s place. I felt like Lou Gehrig without the disease -- always in the right place at the right time.