Royal Reedman On Clarinet, Sax, Flute
JANUARY 1, 2013 : As I previewed with some music on my New Years Eve gigs of my past page, I have been planning on doing a tribute page to world class musician Johnny Mince for some time. That time came when I gave a Christmas present to myself. Last month I found by luck, a still sealed LP record that Johnny recorded in June of '79, modestly titled, The Johnny Mince Quartet, "Summer Of 1979" The liner notes said they considered calling it "High Time" not for a sly reefer reference, ('cause I know personally Johnny didn't roll that way ), but rather, this was the first time in a career that spanned 60 plus years with the who's who of big bands and jazz, that Johnny was headlining his own group on record.
But before I get too far ahead of my story, let me take you back to the fall of 1967, when I was a freshman in college, I was fortunate to meet the musician who introduced me to Johnny Mince. For that I'm going to use a small piece of transcript from own music biography book on tape, If The Devil Danced In Empty Pockets, He'd Have A Ball In Mine.
| The band was playing in and around the city six nites a week. I was getting home around four AM and my first class was 9:30. My professor was cool about my dozing off. She knew that I was gigging and it was a music class. She even booked us for a concert for the whole school.
It was in one of the student lounges at Suffolk, that I met Robbie Mince. He was playing piano and sort of entertaining piano bar style. But what I noticed was he was playing lots of intricate parts that were on the records. Whether or not they were keyboard parts or not. This guy could play! It turned out he’d been studying since age four and his dad was world class clarinetist, Johnny Mince who had played with all the great bands in the ‘30s ‘40s and ‘50s. Dorseys, Goodman, Armstrong etc. In the ‘50s Johnny was in the CBS Orchestra. One of the shows he did was The Arthur Godfrey show. Godfrey as you may recall was a cheap bastard according to my grandfather. According to Johnny he was also mean, egotistical, son of a bitch. It’s well known Godfrey used to fire people right on the air. Johnny got his pink slip off the air and when he left he took a few souvenirs. A Hammond C-2 organ, that they used when the soap operas were live. A set of vibes, a set of drums, and one of Arthur’s ukes that Arthur threw across the stage . When Robbie heard that I learned on a uke, he gave it to me. I still have it. Robbie and I became pretty good friends, and I learned a lot about the keyboard and music from him. Before long I had him in our band on a Wurlitzer Electric piano. He as great at figuring out complex songs, and we were able to branch out into the orchestra style stuff that was coming on strong. We did a strong version of the Beatles “I Am The Walrus” that used to amaze Billy Joel and Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park”. I had some great times with Robbie for a year or so and he taught me a great deal, thanks pal.
Godfrey's 1950 Vega Baritone Uke
The Mince family lived in a huge rambling old home in Blue Point, Long Island, that could of doubled for a hotel easily, in fact it may of been a summer resort place in the early 1900's. I used to know the history, but am cloudy about it. Robbie who I found online few years ago, for reasons unknown to me doesn't seem to want to communicate with his old bandmate and friend anymore ? I got one or two polite hello how are you, we sure had some great times e mails from him, then radio silence ???? So what I write about my personal interaction with his father here, is strictly from my memories and my research into Johnny's stellar career.
Johnny used to practice his clarinet daily in his upstairs studio and it just resonated through out the home like he was right next to you. THE MAN HAD A MIGHTY WIND, that he blended into a fantastic tone. When his did his scales, he got from the lowest to the highest notes and back in what I used to say was 3/5 of a Mile In Ten Seconds, borrowing from a Jefferson Airplane title at the time. But in reality Johnny was much faster than that, more like faster than a speeding bullet, but every note was perfectly clear.
Robbie's Mom used to sit with us at the large kitchen table and have coffee and tell some great stories. Sometimes Johnny would also come down from his studio room and join in. I recall a few tales directly from the man who was there about Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller etc. Johnny was doing a stint in NY city at the famous Hotel Pierre back then and when I'd see him in his tux ready to go to work, it looked like everynight was New Years Eve.
Out in their living room was a fine old Steinway upright that Rob learned to play on and a Hammond C-2 organ. Near the organ was a large bird cage where Peter their mynah bird would yell out what he thought about anyone who might be playing or even talking. First time I heard Peter, I didn't know he was there as he was covered up and this voice as clear as a bell said something like "Oh Wiseguy are you" then "Aw Peter" what a hoot he was. Johnny had taught him to talk and he had phrases that sounded like dialogue from an old movie of the 40's.
Mince Home Blue Point NY
Robbie left our band in the summer of '68 and I didn't get to see him for a few years, until I asked him to give me formal piano lessons in the early 70's. We started out with the Bela Bartok book that he learned from, but as was typical of me, I kept relying on my ears rather than reading what was on the page and it frustrated both of us. It was the last time I saw Robbie, but not the last time I saw Johnny.
The town of Patchogue (where I was living) had a bandshell on the water and the first time I heard Johnny play with a Dixieland band was there in the early '70s. Again his clarinet just filled the wide open space of the park like he was right next to you. The last time I saw him play was at the Sarasota, Florida Jazz Festival in 1981. Anne and I went to see Bucky Pizzarrelli perform as I had recently started playing 7 string guitar and had got to know Bucky and his son John a little through our association with Bob Benedetto, who built those amazing archtop seven strings for all of us. Well much to my surprise on the bill of jazz allstars was one Johnny Mince ! Not that he wasn't an all star, it just was a pleasant surprise that made for a super fine evening. We went back stage afterwards and had a short reunion. He told me Robbie was also in Florida, going to school at Tallahassee and that he'd probably love to hear from me, but he didn't give me any contact info and I failed to follow up on it.
A few years later I was at a guitar festival, seminar at the University of Wisconsin talking with guitarist Leo Kottke, who had recently shared an airline trip with Johnny in the seat next to him. Johnny struck up a conversation with Leo over a book on jazz players that Leo was reading especially one obscure fellow named Snoozer Quinn. It turns out Johnny played with Snoozer too. Leo would wind up writing a tune about that encounter called Little Snoozer.
Johnny passed away in Florida around Christmas of 1994 from complications of dealing with Parkinsons disease. What follows here is stuff I have learned since the days I could say I knew Maestro Mince. He still inspires me and should of had far more recognition than he ever got when he was alive, I'm sure anyone who was ever on the bandstands with him would surely agree. Johnny left behind some great recordings he made with others and if you dig for them, you too will be rewarded.
With The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra 1930's
These pics are from the book THE BIG BANDS by George Simon
YOU WANT ALL STARS ? THERE THEY ARE IN 1935
Several years ago I found out that Johnny and one of my first guitar heros,
George Van Eps worked together. Wish I had known that back in the '60s.
Blow Johnny Blow !
Right into Claude's Ear, But He Is Smiling
I have seen Johnny in several films on Turner CLassic Movies Over The Years .
I haven't seen this one yet. Just look at who all is this group !!!!
"WHEN YOUR SMILING"
Early Dorsey Days
| JOHNNY MINCE Clarinetist 82