Play it again, boys. And again, and again

By Ted Blankenship | November 1, 2022

When I was a senior at Eureka High School in 1945, I put together a seven-piece jazz combo made up of a couple of school friends and some older musicians. 

The instruments were tenor sax, alto sax, trumpet, trombone, piano, rhythm guitar and drums. 

We were able to rehearse only about once a week because the guy who played alto sax lived in El Dorado, about 30 miles west of Eureka, and he could drive over only on weekends. 

I don’t remember how it happened, but we got a job to play for the Yates Center High School senior prom. The band didn’t think we could manage a dance with the seven tunes we had rehearsed. 

I convinced them we could be ready by the time the prom took place. 

Too soon, the prom date arrived and we put on our best suits, polished our shoes and drove the 30 miles or so to Yates Center. 

The basketball court was decked out with crepe paper, and folding chairs were set up for the wallflowers. The boys were dressed in their finest, and the girls had gardenia corsages pinned to their dresses. 

They were ready for an evening to remember. They would soon get it. 

We played the seven songs we had rehearsed and paused while the dancers fidgeted a bit then asked for a fast one. 

We didn’t have a fast one — or a slow one. We didn’t have a medium-tempo number. We were out of songs and the dance was just getting started. 

I decided we could sight read some numbers and get by a little longer. We were using arrangements we bought at the music store. I pulled out a Duke Ellington song called “Sophisticated Lady.”

“This should be easy,” I said, “then maybe we can wait a little longer between songs.”

The piece started out pretty well, but the alto sax man, a perfectionist of sorts, didn’t like the way it sounded so he just quit playing. The tenor sax guy dropped out because he was then the only saxophone. With no woodwinds playing, the brass gave up, leaving just the rhythm section. 

The drummer felt lonely, so he quit, and that left the piano man and guitar player, who were brothers. The older brother, playing piano, got lost and was frantically turning pages trying to find where he was supposed to be playing. He eventually quit and the guitarist doggedly stayed with it. 

All that could be heard was chunk, chunk, chunk, the guitar beating out chords, some of which were the right ones. 

I yelled at him to give it up and went to the microphone. I told the kids the class could get its money back, and we’d just go home and forget we had ever been there, or they could stay, and we’d play the seven tunes we knew as long as they wanted us to. 

Amid some good-natured laughter, they yelled, “Keep Playing!”

And that’s what we did. Any of those “kids” who are still around would now be in their 80s and 90s. I hope they remember that night as fondly as I do.

Contact Ted at 2018