Johnny Mayer, Blues Musician

Johnny Mayer Jazz Band

Play NY Jazz

By Johnny Mayer

After receiving my degree in music, I moved to New York City to play jazz and especially to play with Charles Mingus, the legendary bassist that performed with Charlie Parker and Eric Dolphy. I was crazy about Mingus from the moment I laid eyes on his "Blues & Roots" album that I bought with my friend Steve Cohen when I was fifteen.

When I got to New York, Jimmy Cheatham, my Black Music Professor - that's what they called "jazz" then - arranged for me to join Local 802, the Musicians Union. On Wednesday afternoon, members would meet to book Broadway shows, recordings, club dates and talk…and that's where I ran into George Adams, tenor sax for Charles Mingus that I met at his concerts at college.

I said hello to George and told him that I had just moved to NY, joined Local 802 and how much I wanted to play with Charles Mingus… I could see this wasn't the right time… when all of a sudden George said, "Tell you what, let's meet again next week and see about setting up something for you with Mingus."

I was really excited and thought, "I just moved to NY, I'm belong to Local 802 and George Adams is going to set up an audition for me with Mingus." Then I got out my guitar and played my best jazz licks and thought to myself, "I'll show Mingus I'm a good musician and he'll ask me to join his band!"

Despite the good will, George didn't show up at the union the next week, and I thought to myself, "That's it, he forgot about me…" Then I heard Mingus and the band were on tour outside NYC.

Meanwhile, I joined the rehearsal band of Paul Jeffries that played sax with Mingus and arranged some of his albums and studied jazz improvisation with Jimmy Guiffre, a well-known saxophonist … and every night I was playing out I went to Sweet Basel to hear "Stuff" - Aretha Franklin's band that played the blues and funky jazz to cry for!

Best of all was performing in nightclubs and bars in New York City - after all that's why I came to the Big Apple in the first place. I played in a band with a Latin drummer, bass, keyboard and myself on guitar, blues harp and vocals. One night we had a gig in a bar right across from Lincoln Center.

We started to play and I noticed that the crowd was Irish youth drinking and having fun. After the break, we were playing when a young Afro- American entered, went up the bar and ordered a drink. I stood right next to him playing guitar by the picture window. The bartender said to him, "You know what, this bar isn't for you… go find someplace else where you belong."

The conversation went on like this and people started to gather around and argue with him… then suddenly, they picked him up and threw him out the window right where I was standing!

Fortunately, he wasn't hurt. He just got up, brushed himself off and walked away. Also, the police did not come. I was in stunned… it broke my heart to see what happened this person and thought to myself, "What the hell am I doing here? "

Lots of other things happened to me in NY, however the hatred of the young people that threw the Afro-American through the window weighed heavy on my decision to leave to move Israel, perform and teach music to youth.

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