Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, but I’m gonna start to post 3-4 times a week, if not every day. But that means you’re going to have to deal with some movie reviews as well. Or stories about my genius son who’s written and is directing a show Off-Broadway (in Manhattan) opening February 21st.
But I want to share a story that happened about a month ago.
Back in 1986, Hugh Hefner decided he was going to re-open the Playboy Club in New York. So he held auditions for a Musical Director from NY to Chicago. I got the gig, as well as a First Class ticket to Chicago (1st time,) a suite at The Drake Hotel on Chicago’s Gold Coast (1st time,) and a Platinum American Express Card with the Playboy logo on it (1st platinum anything.) My first job was to help choose which bikini-clad young women would be chosen to be “Bunnies” at the new Manhattan Club. That was definitely a first, and sadly the last time for that treat. I promise, I’m a feminist, but c’mon….sitting next to Hef?
Anyway, Hef and Christie (Hefner) leave with my job being to put together a 13-piece band, making me a very popular guy among aspiring young musicians, instrumental and vocal. My first call was my friend Robbie Mathes, who I had known since he was 16. We had a rock ‘n roll band together singing tunes we wrote together and lots of Doobie Brothers covers. Next was a young sax player named Andy Snitzer, who I first heard when I accompanied my mentor, Bob James, to the University of Miami. Starting with those two I started the audition process, which was really fun, I’ve got to admit. Which leads me to the point of this diatribe. One of the people I found on the first day of auditions (actually brought in by Andy) was a baby-faced young trumpet player named Chris Botti.
To make a long story short, the club only stayed open for a little more than a year, and there I was with this amazing band and nothing to do with it. So I started Best Kept Secret. None of us owned tuxes or had even been to black tie weddings or corporate parties. But I started calling every major law firm, advertising firm, you name it, until we were established. Then the weddings started rolling in. So if you were a lawyer at Skadden Arps, Shearson Lehman, etc., or had Best Kept Secret at your wedding from 1989-1993, you had Chris at your party.
Using BKS as a jumping off point, Chris has gone on to be the number one selling jazz artist in the world, selling over 3 million albums worldwide, having 3 albums ranked No 1 on Billboard’s Jazz Charts, a bunch of Grammys, etc. Oh, and his best friend and mentor is Sting. Undoubtedly the best resume of anyone who used to play weddings for a living.
So 25 years after I hired Chris, I went to hang out with him before a show he booked at the Tarrytown Music Hall before his annual 2-week gig at The Bottom Line. After a pre-show cup of cappuccino with Chris and my wife Sari, he took the stage and we took the seats he gave us in the audience. In the middle of the show, he stops and I feel a spotlight on me. Chris begins to talk to the crowd…… “When I came to New York, I was a broke musician for one day, then I heard about these auditions for the new Playboy Club….” “Hey Doug, when exactly was that, without giving away our ages?” (He actually remembered the exact date, July 3rd, which was pretty impressive.) Then he asks me to stand up and tells the audience that I was the one who discovered him, giving him his first job. I’ve got to say I was speechless, which is very rare for me. And that he said it with my wife of 27 years sitting next to me meant the world to me.
It was the kind of gratifying moment that rarely ever happens in front of an audience. After the show, I was surrounded by people who thought that Chris was only in Westchester because of me. It was pretty damn cool. Way back when we were doing the nightly Playboy Club, I used to have the band play a couple of ballads I had written and always managed to have Chris come down and solo during each song. Believe it or not, each performance was videotaped and I would kill for those tapes now.
I felt the same way in 1986 that I feel now. Chris Botti has the warmest, most beautiful sound to come out of a horn since John Coltrane. I’m truly proud to call Chris my friend. And thanks for the “shout out.” Here’s just a sample of his sound. He walks off the stage to sing to “My Funny Valentine” to Sting’s wife, Trudy. Enjoy!