Strange Stories

Charlie Spivak - Band member shot in club

Spivak was also resident band leader for a restaurant-nightclub, "Ye Olde Fireplace", in Greenville, South Carolina.[4] He played trumpet in the dance band that included a drummer, saxophonist, bass player and pianist. The band played standards from the big band era, but also took requests from the audience.[5]

On May 29, 1975, two gunmen entered the restaurant-nightclub after closing for an apparent hold-up. The suspects ordered everyone on the ground. One suspect encountered two band members in the band room, including long-time Spivak saxophonist Angelo "Charlie" Russo were talking. The gunman shot Russo in the chest, killing him.

Bessie Smith - Two car crashes

Crash 1 - On September 26, 1937, Smith was critically injured in a car crash on U.S. Route 61 between Memphis, Tennessee, and Clarksdale, Mississippi.[7] Her lover, Richard Morgan, was driving, and misjudged the speed of a slow-moving truck ahead of him. Skid marks at the scene suggested that Morgan tried to avoid the truck by driving around its left side, but he hit the rear of the truck side-on at high speed. The tailgate of the truck sheared off the wooden roof of Smith's old Packard vehicle. Smith, who was in the passenger seat, probably with her right arm or elbow out the window, took the full brunt of the impact. Morgan escaped without injuries.

Crash 2 - Time passed with no sign of the ambulance, so Hugh Smith suggested that they take her into Clarksdale in his car. He and Broughton had almost finished clearing the back seat when they heard the sound of a car approaching at high speed. Smith flashed his lights in warning, but the oncoming car failed to slow and plowed into his car at full speed. It sent his car careening into Bessie Smith's overturned Packard, completely wrecking it. The oncoming car ricocheted off Hugh Smith's car into the ditch on the right, barely missing Broughton and Bessie Smith. Bessie Smith was taken to the G. T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital in Clarksdale, where her right arm was amputated. She died that morning without regaining consciousness.

Billie Holiday - Cheating with her drug dealer

Holiday was arrested again on January 22, 1949, in her room at the Hotel Mark Twain in San Francisco.[78] Holiday said she began using hard drugs in the early 1940s. She married trombonist Jimmy Monroe on August 25, 1941. While still married, she became involved with trumpeter Joe Guy, her drug dealer.

Adrian Rollini - Driftwood Inn destroyed by hurricane

In his spare time Rollini considered himself a "waterbug," and proud of it. He owned a 21-foot Chris Craft speedboat and a Chris Craft cruiser, sleeping four. After an exhaustive career he made his last recording with his trio in the early 1950s, and then turned his attention fully to the hotel business. He later relocated to Florida, and opened the Eden Roc Hotel in September 1955. He also ran the Driftwood Inn at Tavernier Key. Rollini loved sport-fishing, and his Driftwood offered deep-sea fishing charters. After Rollini's death, it appears his wife Dixie left Florida. The remains of the old Driftwood Inn were completely destroyed in a hurricane that rocked the Florida keys in 1960.

Al Hirt - Injured in Mardi Gras parade

On February 8, 1970, while performing in a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, Hirt was injured while riding on a float. It is popularly believed that he was struck in the mouth by a thrown piece of concrete or brick and received 12 stitches to the underside of his upper lip.[4] Factual documentation of the details of the incident is sparse, consisting primarily of claims made by Hirt after the incident although police reported that the 1970 Mardi Gras was one of the worst for trouble, with hundreds arrested for drunkenness and violence.

Anita O'Day - Party in the tree

While living with husband Carl Hoff in Los Angeles in March 1947, two undercover policemen came to their home during a party at which Dizzy Gillespie was playing from the branches of a tree in their front yard. They found a small bag of marijuana, for which Anita and Carl were arrested. On August 11, Judge Harold B. Landreth found them guilty and handed down 90-day sentences.

Bennie Moten - Killed by tonsillectomy

Moten died at Kansas City's Wheatley-Provident Hospital on April 2, 1935, following a failed tonsillectomy.

Benny Cater - Killed by bronchitis

Carter died at the age of 95 in Los Angeles at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on July 12, 2003 from complications of bronchitis.

Big Joe Williams - Macon and Lowndes County (Mississippi)

Williams died December 17, 1982, in Macon, Mississippi.[2][4] He was buried in a private cemetery outside Crawford, near the Lowndes County line.

Billy Eckstine - Stroke during performance

Eckstine suffered a stroke while performing in Salina, Kansas, in April 1992, and never performed again. Though his speech improved in the hospital, Eckstine had a heart attack, and he died a few months later on March 8, 1993, aged 78. Eckstine's final word was "Basie".

Billy Joel - Married to a supermodel

Joel married a second time, to model Christie Brinkley, in March 1985.[99] Their daughter, Alexa Ray Joel, was born December 29, 1985.[99][100] Alexa was given the middle name of Ray after Ray Charles, one of Joel's musical idols.[101] Joel and Brinkley divorced on August 26, 1994.

Bix Beiderbecke - Died of alcoholism at age 28

Beiderbecke's most influential recordings date from his time with Goldkette and Whiteman, although he also recorded under his own name and that of Trumbauer's. The Whiteman period marked a precipitous decline in his health due to his increasing use of alcohol. Treatment for alcoholism in rehabilitation centers, with the support of Whiteman and the Beiderbecke family, failed to stop his decline. He left the Whiteman band in 1929 and in the summer of 1931 he died in his Sunnyside, Queens, New York apartment at the age of 28.

Buck Clayton - Plays for Chinese royalty

From 1934 or 1935 (depending on the sources), he was a leader of the "Harlem Gentlemen" in Shanghai. Some of the bureaucratic social groups he was with included Chiang Kai-shek's wife Soong Mei-ling and her sister Ai-ling, who were regulars at the Canidrome.[6] Clayton would play a number of songs that were composed by Li Jinhui, while adopting the Chinese music scale into the American scale. Li learned a great deal from the American jazz influence brought over by Clayton.

Bud Powell - Died of tuberculosis, malnutrition, and alcoholism

In 1963, Powell contracted tuberculosis. During the next year, he returned to New York to perform at Birdland with drummer Horace Arnold and bassist John Ore. His performances during these years were adversely affected by his alcoholism.[13] His emotions became unbalanced, and he was hospitalized in New York after months of erratic behavior and self-neglect. On July 31, 1966, he died of tuberculosis, malnutrition, and alcoholism.

Charlie Barnet - Mexican marriages

Barnet was married eleven times and in his autobiography says: "I went through several more marital fiascos, but they were mostly Mexican marriages and quickly annulled, because they weren't legal in the first place."

Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson - Why is he called "Cleanhead"?

He was nicknamed Cleanhead after an incident in which his hair was accidentally destroyed by lye contained in a hair straightening product.

Dick Haymes - Loves actresses

Haymes was married six times, including to film actresses Joanne Dru (1941–1949), Rita Hayworth (1953–1955), and Fran Jeffries (1958–1964). He was also married to Nora Eddington (1949–1953), a former wife of Errol Flynn. Haymes had a total of six children—three with Joanne Dru, one with Fran Jeffries, and two with his sixth and final wife, British model Wendy Smith.

Glenn Miller - Disappeared over the English Channel

Miller was due to fly from Bedford England to Paris France on December 15, 1944, to make arrangements to move his entire band there in the near future. His plane, a single-engine UC-64 Norseman, departed from RAF Twinwood Farm in Clapham, on the outskirts of Bedford, and disappeared while flying over the English Channel.[101] Two other U.S. military officers were on board the plane, Lieutenant Colonel Norman Baessell and the pilot, John Morgan.[102] Miller spent the last night before his disappearance at Milton Ernest Hall, near Bedford. His disappearance was not publicized until Christmas Eve 1944, when the Associated Press announced Miller would not be conducting the scheduled BBC-broadcast "AEF Christmas Show" the following day; the band's deputy leader Tech. Sgt Jerry Gray (July 3, 1915 – August 10, 1976) stood in for him.  He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star,[105] presented to his wife, Helen, in a ceremony held on March 24, 1945.

Harry James - Contortionist saved by a horse

Born in Albany Georgia, James started performing with the circus at an early age, first as a contortionist at age of four, then playing the snare drum in the band from about the age of six.[2] It was at this age that James was almost trampled by the circus trick horses after he wandered onto the circus track as they were performing their stunts, but he was protected by his mother's pet horse, who stood over him until the other horses rushed by.

Helen Forrest - Lived in a brothel

In Helen's early teen years, the family relocated to Brooklyn. Her mother married a house painter, whom Helen disliked. Soon, Helen's mother and stepfather turned the family's home into a brothel.

Jelly Roll Morton - Played in a brothel, hence the name

At the age of fourteen, Morton began as a piano player in a brothel.[7] He often sang smutty lyrics and used the nickname "Jelly Roll", which was African-American slang for female genitalia.  Morton had chosen "the nom de plume 'Morton' to protect his family from disgrace if he was identified as a whorehouse 'professor'."

Lester Young - Court-martialed and dishonorably discharged

Young was found with marijuana and alcohol among his possessions. He was soon court-martialed. Young did not fight the charges and was convicted. He served one traumatic year in a detention barracks[14] and was dishonorably discharged in late 1945.

Louis Jordan - Sued for bigamy

Ida sued Jordan for bigamy in 1943. He claimed she was aware that he was still married. Ida was awarded a $70,000 judgement, later reduced to $30,000.

Tommy Dorsey - Dead at 51 from sleeping pills

Dorsey died on November 26, 1956 at his home in Greenwich, Connecticut, a week after his 51st birthday. He had begun taking sleeping pills regularly at this time, causing him to become heavily sedated; he choked to death in his sleep after having eaten a large meal.