In the early 1960's I was assigned to be Stage Manager on a Frank Sinatra Special with...
featured guest, jazz icon Louis Armstrong. As Stage Manager one of my duties was to assign dressing rooms to the guests on the show, and I held the keys to all of the dressing rooms. We were doing a rehearsal with the band In an old barn like structure on the back lot at 20th Century Fox. The lot originally had been a part of a ranch owned by Cowboy Tom Mix and it later became the site of the set for the expensive movie flop CLEOPATRA. When the movie became a financial burden the property was sold to developer William Zeckendorf and Alcoa Aluminum Company who turned it into a bunch of skyscrapers now known as Century City!
All the members of the Nelson Riddle orchestra were present along with Frank and Louis Armstrong. As they ran through the music Louis was standing there with Frank who was holding the score in his hands and Louis was standing next to him, but with no trumpet. Suddenly, Louis turned to me and said, "Ron would you mind going up to my dressing room and getting me the mouthpiece out of my trumpet case?"
Of course, I said, "Sure Pops, whatever you need." My heart was pounding with excitement.
He added, "You'll find a little compartment on the right side in the case. There will be two mouthpieces there. I need the longer one".
With heart beating rapidly, I ran across the stage and up the wooden stairs to his dressing room and opened the door. The well-worn leather case lay on his bed. It must have been very old. It had the odor of smoky nightclubs and bars and bus rides and all the stuff that was part of this great musician's life. That leather case contained the Holy Grail of Jazz! I was opening the Ark of Jazz! As I carefully unlatched the case, tears came to my eyes as I saw inside a row of carefully arranged handkerchiefs that partially concealed the sacred horn. The inside of the case was red velvet that showed the signs of wear and the little compartment was opened with a piece of ribbon attached to the door.
Inside, the two mouthpieces lay side by side. I took the larger one carefully in my hand and I suddenly now realized that my fingers were now touching the lips of this giant of Dixieland. I closed the top gently and left the dressing room quickly, almost forgetting to secure the door as I was so overcome with emotion and ran down the stairs, wiping my arm across my face to get rid of the tears before I gave the mouthpiece to Louis. He took it gently from my fingers, as Frank looked on, and said, "Thanks, man! Thank you very much!"
Nelson gave the downbeat and the orchestra began playing as Louis Armstrong put the mouthpiece to his lips and played his first 4 bars without the horn, but through his mouthpiece. When it came time sing, Frank sang very softly, saving his voice for the show. It was a strange duet, done so quietly. I don't even remember the song, but that moment remains vivid in my mind.