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3042Re: Max Kaminsky

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  • Lynn Bayley
    Aug 1, 2006
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      To Dave and the List,

      My conversations with Max Kaminsky generally revolved around the
      late 1920s when he was briefly a part of Red Nichols' groups. He
      cleared up some misinformation that had previously circulated about
      exactly when and where the Chicagoans played with Red (he admitted
      having been off a year in his autobiography, "My Life in Jazz," of
      which I have an autographed copy). He would call me up at work at
      odd times, remembering little things that were funny, though my boss
      didn't appreciate it (and neither knew nor cared who Max Kaminsky

      I clearly remember the first time I saw him play, in the early 1970s
      at a little club in Passaic, NJ. I arrived early, and sat at a
      table nursing a drink until the playing started. Max came in, took
      off his coat, neatly hung it up, then asked the bartender where
      there was a drug store nearby - he had to have a prescription
      filled. He left and came back about fifteen minutes later. He
      looked for all the world like those little old men you see arond the
      garment district in NYC, also quite frail. I began to wonder if he
      would be able to play. I shouldn't have worried. Once he picked
      the horn up, he was transformed. It always amazed me. He went from
      being Abe Vigoda to being Hot Max in a matter of moments. Simply
      amazing. (I was reviewing the performance for a local paper. My
      opening sentence was, "Max Kaminsky is not an imposing-looking man,
      but when he puts his horn to his lips, pure gold comes out." My
      literal-minded editor - who ALSO didn't know or care who Max
      Kaminsky was - changed it to "gold APPEARS to come out." Talk about
      killing a good metaphor!)

      At the time I was conversing with him - the early 1990s - he was
      pretty old and ill and no longer playing, but he kept his sense of
      humor and was generous with his memories. The funniest story he
      told me was how he and the Chicagoans started the set under Red's
      direction, and the whole band was kind of stiff, but then Red left
      for a couple of numbers. Eddie Condon passed the weed around, and
      by the time Nichols came back, the band was swinging like mad. Red
      was astonished, until he smelled the marijuana. Then he got mad -
      dressed them down for unprofessional behavior, said they could have
      easily killed his reputation by not waiting until intermission to
      light up. Max admitted that Red was right. In his book, Max says
      it was in early 1929, but it was really early 1930. From that point
      on, the only Chicagoan Nichols would perform with was Bud Freeman.
      Condon never forgave him for that.

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