Following Gene Lees’ passing, the Canadian tenor saxophonist, pianist, composer, arranger and educator Phil Dwyer sent a story about how he acquired one of Gene’s books.
In the spring of 1990, I was playing in New York, at a club call Visione’s (in the Village) with David Friesen and Alan Jones. It was the middle of a long (seven weeks) tour. It would ultimately be the last tour for the group, which had formed in 1987. For me, the New York stop was a highlight not only because it was New York, but also because my new girlfriend was traveling down from Toronto to meet up with me for the two days we were there. The tour had been a little tense, so it was great to have someone else to talk to for a few days!
Anyway, we’re playing at Visione’s and I popped across the street on the break to grab a slice, I don’t remember which place (50/50 chance it was some kind of “Ray’s”) and was standing on the street eating it when this twitchy fellow approached me….”Hey, man, where did you get that pizza?” Bear in mind I am standing about 20 feet from the pizza store at this point…..”Man, I’m starving, I’ve been out selling these books all day, can you spare a couple of dollars for a brother to get a slice?”
“Books?” says I, “What books do you have for sale?”
He opened the bag up, and I could see maybe 7 or 8 copies of The Will To Swing.
“Sell me a book” I said, vaguely aware that I was probably skating over some kind of moral blue-line at this stage.* “How much?”
“Ten dollars, brother”
I only had a twenty, so I passed him the twenty, and he reached into his pocket, where he had a roll of bills certainly more substantial than I did. He peeled off a ten for my change and passed it over with a sparkling new copy of the book. By this time I’m starting to feel a little weird about the whole thing, the books were almost certainly “hot”, I didn’t know Gene at the time but had several mutual friends, etc, but it all went down so fast and completely out of the blue that I was mostly thinking about what a great deal I was getting on this book which I had been hoping to get (I rank myself as a 10/10 when it comes to being an Oscar fan). Anyway, the deal was done and it was time to head back in for the second set.
As I turned to cross the street and return to Visione’s, the book guy stopped me…….”Hey man, what about the couple of dollars for the pizza?”
*Hockey metaphor; not sure if that translates