Here is an excerpt:
One day in June of 1953, I had just come home from what would be my final lesson with Mr. Cafarella. I received a phone call from Pete Candoli. He was a well-known jazz trumpeter, and a member of Peg’s group. We had worked together in the staff orchestra at ABC. I hadn’t seen him since leaving the ABC staff orchestra. The conversation went something like this:
Pete: Stella… I’m at Peggy Lee’s house. We are rehearsing with her group for an upcoming tour. We are beginning our engagement at Ciro’s in one week. Peggy has always loved harp and wants to add it to the quartet. Come on over, bring your harp and sit in!
Me: Pete, I just don’t think I’m the person you want. How could I do that? I've never played jazz or with jazz musicians!
Pete: I know how you play. I used to listen to you playing alone backstage on broadcast breaks. You would be noodling (a jazz slang word for improvising) around on the tunes. I know you can do it. You know the tunes and you’ve got ears, so come on over and give it a try!
(After much protesting, he finally won.)
Me: Alright, I will give it a try.
Pete then gave me directions to Peg's home in Holmby Hills, a section of Beverly Hills. I was simply astounded. I had never met Peg nor given a thought to working in a jazz group. The words “harp” and “Peggy Lee” didn’t seem to go together. Peg admired the sounds of a harp. She had a recording of New York harpist Laura Newell’s playing of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro. While at ABC, I liked to sit and run through tunes in different ways. I didn’t know Pete had been listening or ever noticed. I wasn’t even driving yet so I asked Daddy to take me. He loaded up my Lyon & Healy style #22 in our station wagon and off we went. Daddy was excited for me.
We arrived while they were in rehearsal that afternoon. The door opened and we were greeted by Lillie Mae Hendrick. She was Peg’s cook and housekeeper. She said, “Come right in! Miss Lee is expecting you in the living room where they are all rehearsing.” Peg came up to me and extended a strong handshake. She said “Hi Stella, I'm Peggy. Won’t you sit down with us and listen for a while? When you feel like joining in, just jump in when you feel like it.” I listened to them go over their material and “hung my ear out” as we say in jazz. You’re not reading music, you’re making music. The group consisted of: Pete Candoli on trumpet, Martin “Marty” Paich on piano, Joe Mondragon on bass and Frank Capp on drums. Today, Frank Capp leads the renowned jazz orchestra Juggernaut.
Well, that's what happened. They were in the middle of Cole Porter's “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” I knew that song well. It was cemented in my memory. Somewhere around the bridge (transitional passage connecting two sections of a song) I went to the harp and began chording around. We were “faking” as the term goes, without music. Playing in a jazz group is “faking” of the highest order. And yet, perhaps “faking” is a convenient but erroneous term. What the musician actually is doing is creating: the endless colors of harmony with substitute and altered chords, the rhythmic surprises of anticipation or suspension, the constant improvising on and away from the melody and the give and take of rubato playing. All are the subtle elements of jazz. We played jazz and the great songs I grew up loving and knowing. I went through a few more songs with them. We went on for about an hour before Peg called a break. She said nothing to me regarding the rehearsal. I had no idea what Peg would be like. I just knew that I liked her right away.
©2014 Stella Castellucci & Edgar Amaya