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I know it has been a while since Kurt’s passing, but I thought perhaps many of you would enjoy some of my memories of Kurt.

I would have to go back to around 1970 when I attended a concert at Catholic University in Washington D.C. It was the Hank Levy band. In those days their claim to fame was that they didn’t play anything in four. The band was tremendous. In the middle of one of their tunes the baritone sax player and the tenor sax player got into a battle of the saxes. Both trying to out blow the other. At the end of it both shook hands as if to say it was a draw. This was still in the middle of the tune.

So this was the legendary sax master of the greater Washington DC area. Kurt was very much in demand in those days, whether in a club band or doing a show he was one of the names that always came up in conversation when talking about the music scene in D.C. One story that I remember quite well was when Kurt was playing Peggy Lee’s show. He got up and took a solo and she loved it so much she gave him another chorus and at the end of the tune she asked him his name. She said D.C. was really lucky to have such a great horn player.

Kurt played in many bands in the D.C. area. One of the most popular was a band that had a steady jazz gig. It was a trio that consisted of bass and drums and Kurt playing primarily Baritone Sax. A lot of us would go down to the Tenely Circle Henry’s to hear the “Inscrotable Woo Brothers “perform. Bass, drums and baritone sax. Many of the local musicians would go down and sit in with the band. Years later when talking to Kurt about that gig, he remembered one thing that would happen with people that would sit in. The bassists Richard, whose last name escapes me, would from time to time stop playing. Now when you consider the instrumentation, that would leave drums and saxophone to continue to follow the structure of any given tune. Kurt said it kind of freaked him out the first time it happened. When he asked Richard about it, Richard said “Hey man, you know the tune, play it.!” Kurt said it really became interesting when Richard would suddenly do this when other people would sit in and the solo instrument would have drum accompaniment only.

Kurt and I became friends as we would meet from time to time on gigs in the D.C. area. In 1973 a few of us in the D.C. music community decided to leave the area and go to L.A. I had been in Los Angeles for a year or so when I got a call from Kurt one day. He was in the San Francisco area and was asking me about the music scene. Eventually he moved to L.A. We kept in pretty close contact for many years in L.A. We would gig from time to time together.

On one occasion a horn band I was playing in was losing its’ tenor saxophonist. I asked Kurt if he would like to come out and play as the band was about to go to Japan. Kurt showed up at the rehearsal and brought only his baritone sax. At the end of the rehearsal the band leader (a trombonist) and Kurt were in what I would characterize as a pretty intense discussion. Kurt had played well and everyone was real impressed with him. There was one point that the band leader and Kurt continued to argue. As I was loading my drums into the car I could sort of eavesdrop on the conversation. Without being too obvious what I gathered from the dialogue was the band leader’s desire to have Kurt play tenor and not just baritone. Kurt was saying that for him to play tenor the money would have to be considerably better. The intensity picked up a bit when the leader told Kurt that he couldn’t believe that Kurt really thought that he could make a living playing the baritone sax exclusively. To that Kurt responded “Well man you’re a trombone player, you play the trombone exclusively and your trying to make a living.” I could barely hold my laughter in as I finished loading my car.

Kurt and I would always talk about the gigging situation in L.A. Kurt had done a lot of work in San Francisco. He was writing, and arranging for many record albums that were produced by David Rubinson. Kurt would always have funny stories about many of his gigs that on the surface could be thought of as negative. But if you’d read between the lines there were always positive things that were lying beneath the surface of the discussion. His wit was very, very dry.

He did a record with the group called the “Meters” And on some of the tracks the “Tower of Power “horns performed. He would invite me over for dinner from time to time after these sessions and I would get the real scoop about what happened on the date. He told me that he had written a chart that the Tower horns would be recording. While they were in the studio apparently the Tower horns would raise their hands if they had made a mistake while recording the track. The first few times I guess Kurt was uncertain why they were raising their hands. Finally it seemed like invariably someone would raise their hand after each take. Finally they decided to go back in and repair the part of the track where the mistake occurred. They just could never get through a take without someone raising their hands. But no one ever said they made a mistake.

We use to talk about how the phone would ring off the hook for gigs when we would decide to take a vacation, especially one that would take us back east. And of course he got the call for the Zappa audition while he was on vacation or ready to go on vacation. This would be the gig that many of us had hoped Kurt would eventually get. What a great match, Kurt playing the music of Frank Zappa. So after he got the gig and started rehearsals the stories started to roll in. I was working a gig at the time at a place that was called the “Two Dollar Bills.” I am not sure if at the time it was still called that, but that’s where my gig was. I invited Kurt to come by after his Zappa rehearsals. He came in one night after the Zappa Band had what Kurt referred to as “beaming parties”. Apparently the synclavier would print stuff out with either no beams or wrong beams. When I saw the charts I immediately could see why there was a problem. The complexity of Zappa’s music made for tedious rehearsals. Even the beaming parties could be very tiresome. He came by my gig which was just a little gig where we would play original tunes with some really fine players. He came in and asked if he could sit in. I said sure and he came up on stage for the last set. We had a few drinks before we went on and we got about half way through the set when we decided to do a slow blues in twelve eight. You know the old school blues very laid back. Kurt always soloed as if it would be the last time he would every play. He had taken his first chorus and was working the second chorus building a little each time. Finally when we got to the last chorus Kurt ventured out into the audience, playing and interacting with them when suddenly he jumped up on to the bar which was a considerable distance from the bandstand. While standing on the bar Kurt proceeded to take four more choruses each one building into a wild frenzy with the audience going berzerk. People yelling, screaming, stripping, yes taking off clothes. We went into stop time. Kurt played like he was talking to the audience through his horn. People were going nuts. We played the tune out and got to the ending, going crazy, wild drum, guitar and yes baritone sax fills until Kurt cut us off by jumping off the stage into the audience. Doing that with a baritone sax hooked around your neck was at the very least……………………risky. But the people caught him as he jumped and he landed without incident. I asked him later what got into him that night and Kurt told me that he needed to play a simple blues to get an ear and brain douche.

I have so many stories like this about Kurt. I left L.A. to go back to Maryland in 1988. Kurt and I stayed in touch. Many of you probably know about Kurt’s affinity for Maryland blue crab. Now if you are from Maryland you know of this body of water called the Chesapeake Bay. The bay throughout the years has had its’ ups and downs with regards to pollution as it relates directly to producing blue crabs, and striped bass. Since returning to Maryland I have become a real fishing and crabbing enthusiast. So our conversations would generally center around the condition of the bay, crabs, size and amounts of crabs I would catch and striped bass. He visited Maryland last year and I didn’t get to see him because my 92 year old dad was having surgery and Kurt was going to spend quite a bit of time with his mom. Our schedules just weren’t going to allow us to hang out. I had just bought a boat and he told me he really wanted to go out fishing and/or crabbing with me and we would do it next time he was in town. I didn’t know of his death until about a week after he passed. I didn’t even know he was sick. But that was Kurt, never ever letting on that he was in pain.

On a personal note, probably one of the greatest musical moments in my life was when Kurt asked me to play on his demo. We did it at Devonshire studios in the mid seventies. When I got the charts I couldn’t believe how much the drum parts were completely written out. He knew precisely what he wanted to hear from the drummer. But I was always a pretty good reader. I had one run through with Kurt before the session. It was one of those deals where there wasn’t a lot of time to do takes over and over, so everyone had to be at their very best. Every tune was either first or second take. As with so many situations like that you never really know if you played well or not. You kind of just play and do the best you can and let others judge you. Kurt wasn’t the kind of person to hand out compliments easily, and never about himself or his tunes. His original music was like him, one of a kind. I can’t even begin to describe it. The experience was challenging but I really enjoyed the music. I still have the tape somewhere. Years later while talking to him on the phone he told me he was using some of those tunes on gigs he was playing with his own group. I asked him how the tunes were sounding and he said “Hey man you know who still to this day played those tunes better than anyone else every has?” “No who” I responded. Kurt replied “You man.” Talk about knocking me over with a feather. Through a mutual friend it got back to me that Kurt had a nickname for me. He called me “Instant groove, just add water.”

I really appreciate the things that are being said and done to keep Kurt’s legacy alive.I hope we will continue to remember him through the music and the memories he left us. He was truly an original. Perhaps not a household name but there will never be another Kurt McGettrick. You know a few years ago Kurt was asked to come back to his Alma Mater, Shenandoah Conservatory. He was going to be their featured speaker. He would be entering their hall of fame. One of their own had made it big. Kurt addressed the eager young musicians by telling all of them that they really needed to look into some other line of work because the music industry was not a good place to be. Who else do you know would have the balls to say that?..................................Only Kurt!

Rest in peace my friend. See you on the other side. We have a date to do some crabbing.

David Smith
Eldersburg MD
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