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Sponge Wiest Square Patrick


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A VERY young man back in 1982…on a MISSION!


Hmmm…I haven’t changed that much here in 2024, have I? :)


The Handshake Event mashed up with the “Weast” episode of Sponge Bob by trombonist Nathan Davis.

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Sponge Wiest Square Patrick

(Originally published in Medium)


The time has come to put forth the definitive version of the story behind the video at the end of this blog post. It seems that, as long as there is an Internet, this one solo break of mine will forever be offered up to me in incredulously endearing ways on my various news-feeds. (BTW: A “solo break” is jazz terminology for a moment in a piece where the rhythm section and the band stop and the soloist improvises a set up to their solo.) The posting of this video is usually accompanied by something along the lines of:


“Who IS that skinny young kid with the dark hair!?” (“THANKS!” answered the fat old man with white hair. That was almost FORTY years ago!)


or


“What the HELL was THAT?!” (“Well, there’s a story behind it, you see…oh never-mind.”


or


“Best solo break EVER! Have you heard this?” (“Actually I have.” Said the guy who played said break.)


or


“Hadn’t heard of you before man! This is the best thing I’ve EVER heard!” (“Thanks! Well, actually, it was kind of a mistake. And I’ve done LOTs of things since then that I’m MUCH more proud of. That thing was recorded in 1982…check out my website!” Said the guy who is coming to grips with being known for one thing only)


Etc, etc.


Therefore, it behooves me to not only tell the conclusive and authoritative version of this event (The “director’s cut” if you will) but also to happily accept the fact that this one moment frozen forever in YouTube carbonite will more than likely be my defining moment as a trombonist. Indeed, I can use this strange development as a personal rallying cry for growth and development…”I must come up with something that is even more of a sensation!” And, when all is said and done…at least I will be remembered for something! Nuthin’ wrong with that!


Now, for those who would like to know how this one solo break came to be, and why it is what it is… here ya go:


1982, The Playboy Jazz Festival and The Cos

When I was on the road with the great Maynard Ferguson in the early 1980s, it was the end of the halcyon days of the traveling big band and the circuit of venues designed to showcase this most electrifying of live jazz music entities. In Maynard’s case, he was still enjoying the benefits of having crossed over successfully from jazz into Top 40 Pop Music with his unlikely hit, Jay Chattaway’s adaptation of the theme from the movie Rocky, “Gonna Fly Now.” Here is a very sweaty version of Maynard, with the band and myself performing the song at the Newport Jazz Festival in Japan. Everywhere we appeared–for the most part–we were greeted by diehard fans a-plenty, and treated to huge sold-out shows with screaming audience members. What an amazing thing for someone like myself who had yet to see much of the world! It was the ultimate education for me in so many ways. In fact, I like to refer to the fact that I have a “Doctorate Degree” from The University of Maynard Ferguson.


The very zenith of this “magical mystery tour” that I found myself taking part in was the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl in the fabled hills above La-La Land itself. Sponsored by the infamous Hugh Hefner with none other than the even more infamous Bill Cosby as the emcee, this was an event that truly only could have taken place back in the day. Indeed, none of us knew the true nature of Mr. Cosby at that time–we all considered him a comedy hero in those days (what a tragedy that turned out to be!) and of course, in the era before the Internet, Mr. Hefner’s empire was the stuff of legend (not to mention dreams) of every red blooded young man on the planet. (Happily, our species has since grown up a bit in this area as well) But be all that as it may, the real enchantment for me and the rest of the band was the line-up for this show! Check out who was actually a part of this festival on that magic day in 1982:


THE GREAT QUARTET (McCOY TYNER, RON CARTER, ELVIN JONES, FREDDIE HUBBARD) WILLIE BOBO, RED NORVO / TAL FARLOW TRIO, BENNY GOLSON, ART FARMER, NANCY WILSON, PIECES OF A DREAM GROVER WASHINGTON JUNIOR,MAYNARD FERGUSON & HIS ORCHESTRA, LIONEL HAMPTON’S ALLSTAR JAM SESSION, FREE FLIGHT, DAVE BRUBECK QUINTET, WILD BILL DAVISON ORNETTE COLEMAN & PRIME TIME, WEATHER REPORT, MANHATTAN TRANSFER, DEXTER GORDON, WOODY SHAW, MILT JACKSON, DOC SMITH and SARAH VAUGHN!!!!!!!!!


What-the-WHAT! How can such a situation even be explained to the non-musician? How about being a lawyer fresh out of school and being asked to dinner with Thurgood Marshall, Abraham Lincoln, and Clarence Darrow at Johnnie Cochran’s house? How about being a political science major and spending the day with Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson? Or maybe being a young athlete fresh out of college and playing in an all star game with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and LeBron James? See where I’m going with this? Being in the midst of all of these legends at the age of twenty four was truly a mind-bending event. To follow them all on to the stage and becoming a part of their professional persona for a day was surrealism that bordered on the metaphysical!


Here’s an example. Standing next to Cosby backstage and watching Sarah Vaughn, I realized I had to go to the men’s room. When I did so, I found myself standing at a urinal next to Wayne Shorter. What-WHAT? Yeah, it was super cool and wicked weird all at the same time.


But it was about to get EPIC…so much so that my life was about to be destined for future GIF-Dom-Hood!


Arrival in the Hallowed Halls of Looney Tunes and LaserDiscs…

We were all very excited that sunny day back in 1982 as we entered the grounds of the Hollywood Bowl. This was the stuff of dreams, after all! The place where Bugs Bunny had become Leopold! (Best Looney Tunes EVER!) The lineup of musicians on the bill with us…OY! And another wrinkle that was pretty cool, the whole thing was going to be filmed and distributed via a brand new technology called “LaserDisc!” (insert “Oooooohhh” cue here) Sadly, this new technology did not catch on, but it DID lead to VHS and then to YouTube and finally, to this article! To get into the facility, however, we had to pass a “security” checkpoint where our manager was standing next to a person with a large ledger of some kind. “Everyone sign here. This is so you can get paid.” Said the manager who would prove to be more than a little corrupt (go figure) Not giving it a second thought (I was Young and Foolish after all as the song says…and was just happy to get paid) I proceeded to sign away any and all future rights to any and all income from said recording. Alas, the dark side of the Magical Mystery Tour, and the music biz in general. (A discussion for another time)

Once inside, however, all any of us could think about was the wonderland of the venue itself and the magical wizards of jazz abiding within. Realizing the importance of this particular performance, I thought quite a bit about my featured moment in the show. My blood brother, pal and roommate Denis DiBlasio had written a very cool arrangement of a piece off of Maynard’s recent “Hollywood” album that we were going to open with. In fact, Maynard (or “Boss” as we called him) had asked Denis, myself, and Chris Braymen to adapt some of the charts from Hollywood for the road band. One of Denis’ efforts was the Michael Jackson song “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” and it featured ME on a big solo break followed by a lengthy joy ride on a funky groove with our stellar rhythm section. Such a deal!


So…what to play?


My first thought (as it usually is) was to feature a high note somehow. To underline my naiveté and to underscore my young-and-foolish status (not to mention putting a spotlight on my newness to the whole “worldliness” thing) I even cleared this idea with one of the senior members of the band. “Would Boss be mad if I played a high note on my solo? I mean… high notes are kind of his thing after all.” The sage advice from the senior member: “Nah, no big deal. He’ll dig it.” So…cool, that part of the solo break was planned. What next? After considering many interesting ideas, I landed on using a tritone substitution-displacement lick that I had just learned from saxophonist Daniel Jordan. I reasoned that it was a cool texture and would make for a nice lead in to the solo itself. BAM! I was ready.

We were scheduled to go on towards the end of the night (might have even been the closers…can’t be sure at this point) and our collective adrenaline content as the big moment approached probably could have been measured in GALLONS as the electricity flowed through our veins. (Said current was what was coursing through MY veins…I can’t speak for what was part of some of the other cat’s blood work at that point)

We finally went out on stage, “Don’t Stop” was our opening tune! As we began the intro, Bill Cosby could be heard saying “Ladies and Gentlemen…The Maynard Ferguson Orchestra!” The crowd erupted (they had been fueled and prepped with all kinds of interesting stimulants throughout the day) and we were off-and-running! MAN! What FUN! I loved this particular chart, I loved to improvise, and I simply LIVED for the roar from that huge crowd! WOWZA!


Our set up for the band was unusual for a jazz ensemble in that the horns were on three risers spread out across the stage behind the rhythm section which was itself behind the solo microphones where the legend that was Maynard Ferguson would lead the show, command the lightning bolts like Zeus, dance and cut up, and generally personify all the best that there can ever be in showmanship. My job on this particular tune was to come down from the back risers early enough in the song to get in place for my big solo break moment. As part of the featured moment procedure, Boss had come up with the practice of shaking each band member’s hand before their solo as if to say: “Have a nice journey man, I’m rooting for you!” Upon completion of the feature, we would then shake hands once more followed by the traditional Indian greeting of “namaste.” What a beautiful tradition this was, and completely indicative of the generous, kind, and supportive man that was Maynard Ferguson. In my case however, at this point in time, this beautiful practice would result in something quite unexpected indeed.


The GIF-Break

Standing on the riser next to my dear friend Chris Braymen (we were the trombone section at that time with Boss) I was simply stunned to look out of the Hollywood Bowl at the audience. It’s an angle that not everyone gets to see and it is incredible! A maze of cubicle-like settings as well as regular pew-like seating that go up the natural bowl of the amphitheater and end with The Hills of M.A.S.H. and La-La wonderment. In my rose-colored mind’s eye, I remember being able to see the famous Hollywood sign on the hills from the stage as well, but it is actually visible behind the iconic bowl looking at the performance area from the audience. Go figure. Be that as it may, what a view!


The unique cubicle seating at the Hollywood Bowl


You can just make out the iconic Hollywood sign above the right side of the stage in the hills.


And on the front row…on the front row, and directly in my line of sight…there was Hugh Hefner himself–actually decked out in his iconic burgundy velvet smoking jacket–surrounded by his bevy of ladies. The Rabbits! Actual Playboy BUNNIES! What-the-Freaking-WHAT!? So, yes, this red-blooded 24 year old young single man who had yet to see much of the world at all was not only presented with an unbelievable musical line-up at this historic magical venue, in the equally legendary land of make believe called Hollywood, but on top of all of that…here were the infamous representatives of absolute sexual hedonism itself–right in front of my very own googly eyes and drooling face! To say that my mind was beginning to melt as well as spin like a dryer with tennis shoes in it would be putting it lightly. It would also be accurate to say that–at that moment in time, with all of that surreal wizardry of life in view at once–that I had completely forgotten what I was supposed to be doing, which was playing “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” and getting ready to walk down front for my very important solo break!


I may have lost track of that important bit of info, but Maynard Ferguson had NOT!

On the video, you can see him looking back at the trombone riser to welcome me downstage only to be presented with what must have looked like a lanky member of the Clampett family saying “Well gowlllllLEE! would y’all lookit THAT!” You can visibly see Boss do a double and maybe even a triple take as he tries to decide what to do with this troubling bit of reconnaissance as he adds an extra high note or two. I can only imagine what was going through his mind. I certainly remember what was going through my mind as I came to my senses only to realize that I now had a mere precious few measures before I had to be at the solo microphone for my LaserDisc moment!


On the video, you can see me finally making my appearance as I lope up to the mic seconds before the break. “Now, what the hell did I plan to play on this thing?” I was wondering. “Am I going to make it to the mic in time?” Suddenly, I noticed that Maynard’s eyes were telling me “Time to shake hands Steve-O.” To which my eyes answered, “We don’t have time to shake hands Boss!” To which his eyes answered, “Oh HELL yes, we are going to shake hands!” And in the next 1.5 seconds (maybe less) here is what happened:


  1. We shook hands

  2. I aimed at the solo mic

  3. I forgot all of what I had planned to play…except for the high note

  4. What came out instead was an unplanned burst of angst-fueled screamer notes that were somewhere between a Ring Wraith and Daffy Duck

  5. The crowd went WILD!!

“Whoa! What did I just do? The audience loves it! Keep going, keep playing!”


The problem was that I had blown out my chops with the insane banshee burst of sheets of madness and still had a long solo to play! I went into emergency Plan B mode: “against the grain” lip slurs! blues licks! Save time for one more moderately high note…maybe a nice Db…here’s hoping! Happily the STELLAR rhythm section of Dave Mancini, Matt Bissonette, and Ron Pedley hefted me up onto their shoulders and we cruised to the finish line in seriously groovin’ style.


After it was all over, I shook hands once again with Boss, did the namaste bow, the audience applauded as if it had all been planned to happen that way, and I staggered back to my riser with Chris to play the rest of the show.


“Did I do a good job?”

“Will it be a nice LaserDisc moment?”

“Am I a star now?”


Those questions and more swirled through my mind as we played the rest of our set. I suppose that when all is said and done, the moment ended up being pretty cool. I mean, it is now a GIF and a perennial post on my Facebook profile offered up yearly by friends and folks that I don’t even know. Almost 40 years later, it is STILL the most popular thing I have ever done (DAMNIT!) Therefore, I will happily embrace it and become one with this most unlikely of musical moments. However, I did learn something from that event so very long ago thanks to the man himself. After the show, backstage, this is what Maynard Ferguson had to say to me:


Maynard: “Hey Steve-O! And, uh…WOW! Very exciting solo man!”

Me: “Thanks Boss.”

Maynard: “A word of advice however.”

Me: “Yessir?”

Maynard: “Next time…leave a little sumthin’ for dessert when you play a solo. You dig.”


All these years later, I dig Boss. I dig indeed.


Here's the entire clip of Denny's "Don't Stop" arrangement and my SCARY handshake solo:



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