David Palmer (MC and Announcer) Reflections
The NTW Jazz Ensemble European Tour June/July 1972
Accompanying the Jazz Ensemble as Tour Manager, Recorder, and Announcer, I was honored and thrilled at the opportunity, when asked by Roger Mills, the director, to accompany the group to Europe. As my musical upbringing on the clarinet was mostly classical, becoming immersed in the jazz genre was energizing and experiential, especially while surrounded by boundless musical talent. Of course, it was also a privilege to travel with Sam and Louise Mages and Joanne Mills during the tour.
- Two days after landing in Amsterdam and arriving in the Paris suburb of St. Germain-En-Laye, on June 22, 1972, the ensemble performed a concert in the courtyard of Maison des Jeunes et La Culture. Our Vocal Master sound system mixer’s fuses were fried, after the unit was accidentally plugged into DC current, essentially impacting the sound balance in the recordings. Thankfully, most of the other equipment was offline. With a concert scheduled three days later in Geneva, Switzerland, Roger sent me and five others on a mission to find fuses, on a Saturday night at 11:30 pm, shortly after our arrival. Speaking in French, I asked people where to find a gas station possibly stocking fuses and eventually ended up at a tavern for more directions. Pretending I understood the directions, we got lost about midnight, in an area where, strangely, a number of men were standing around. A gendarmes appeared from the shadows and asked what were we, as seventeen and eighteen year olds, doing there? I replied, “Nous cherchons les “fusees.” What I really said translated was, “We’re looking for rockets (fusees)” instead of ‘fusibles” (fuses). What we didn’t know is that we were in the middle of a Red-Light district! The policeman took out his baton and yelled, “A la maison” (go home). We left without finding any fuses but laughed all the way back to the hotel. Somehow, Roger got the owner of a music store to open his shop the next day on a Sunday morning, but no luck fixing the mixer with blown fuses and transistors which had to be replaced by a new unit from Zurich. The concert that night was superb, and the crowd went wild with praise!
- Another French snafu: A number of us went to a restaurant for lunch and, as the only one who spoke any French, I asked for the bill, “Nous voudrions le billet, s’il vous plait.” The guys were impressed until the waiter returned with a bottle of beer. Apparently, he thought I said, “bier” (beer) not “billet” (ticket). The actual word is “checque.” That was the last time they wanted me to translate for them.
- One week after arriving in Europe, we found ourselves in mountainous and picturesque Montreaux, Switzerland. Our concert and competition with nine other US high school jazz bands took place at the Casino Palace. I remember standing in awe seeing Miles Davis on Trumpet, and Les McCann on Piano, creating musical magic. Seeing the New Trier West Jazz Ensemble on the same stage as these jazz greats was emotional as were the many awards won by the NTW musicians. I recall the evening was so exciting that I stumbled my opening French announcement lines—not to mention that Roger kept asking me about what “Tush Tush” meant as a part of my broken German introduction! That said, Grooviness, MacArthur Park, Norwegian Wood, Love for Sale, and Mumbles performances still resonate played by the #1 high school band in the competition and receiving a standing ovation! The newspapers gave us glowing reviews the next day. (We learned later that the drums throughout the performance were not recorded properly by the event personnel, at the venue, and the pieces had to be rerecorded, for the album, in subsequent concerts along the way. Oops.)
- In Zurich, Switzerland, on June 30, 1972, the Jazz Ensemble performed at a pavilion along Lake Zurich. In fact, one of the audience members living there went to our sister school, New Trier East. We thought the concert was fabulous. After the last piece, the crowd started stomping their feet and rushed towards the pavilion stage. Thinking that the crowd didn’t agree with our opinion and wanted to force us out of town, we turned off the pavilion lights, and hastily put away instruments and unplugged the amps only to find out that these actions expressed a European ovation! We were so embarrassed. Of course, instruments were unpacked, amps plugged in, and we gratefully gave the audience their wish!
- Passing over the Rhine River from Heidelberg, we arrived in Trier, Germany where our first glance was the Porta Nigra, the Roman cloister symbol for NTHS. Not only did the Jazz Ensemble perform a concert outdoors at the cloister, complete with chirping birds in the recordings, but we also had a memorable reception with the mayor in the Council Chambers of Trier. I recall that we exchanged gifts as if observing dignitaries or heads of state: A gold cup from the mayor of Wilmette to Trier, and several books on the history of Trier from their mayor to us. Of course, we toasted with a little Champagne!
- In Volendam near Amsterdam, the townspeople wore traditional Dutch dress with wooden clogs. A memorable experience was eating smoked eel, similar to smoked fish in the States.
- Wearing a trench coat and proceeding through the security check on the way home from Amsterdam on July 10th, I was the only one in the group to be taken into a private room by security and frisked. I think that was the last time I wore that coat! (BTW, all clear).
Some of Roger’s headaches
- Anxiety discovering that the recording equipment sent separately on an earlier flight into Europe from the US did not arrive (retrieved later)
- Ruined Vocal Master Sound System
- Bus problems: Overheating, Hit a parked car, Stopped at border crossing from Liechtenstein into Austria
- Our group secretly trying to test the limits of European beer drinking
- Montreaux tape recordings with low volume drums
- Music suitcase left at O’Hare Airport after our US return which Roger had to retrieve
Thankfully, over the years, these problems pale compared to the success of the New Trier West High School Recording Jazz Ensemble and the wonderful memories of that era. I thank my colleague, Bob Levy, who produced the tapes with me and appreciate all of the friendships made during the special ’72 tour. And yes, I still have the vinyl album, Merci! Merci!, produced from the recordings. Now, as an ophthalmologist in Chicago and north suburbs, I still enjoy listening to Jazz and love to travel with my family.
Roger, Joanne, my wife, Sharona, and I continue our friendship.
David J Palmer, MD