paul-shaffer“his carefree feeling about time …….. was coming from a higher spiritual plane”

From We’ll Be Here For the Rest of Our Lives: A Swingin’ Show-biz Saga by Paul Shaffer.

Every time I called Sammy Davis Jr. to try and select a song or discuss rehearsal he was either working or sleeping. He never did return my calls. The morning of the show I was feeling some panic. Sammy was flying in, and we still didn’t know what he wanted to sing. At 10 a.m., the floor manager said I had a backstage call. It was Sammy calling from the plane.

‘Once in My Life’ will be fine, Paul’ he said. ‘Key of E going into F.’

‘Great!’ I was relieved. I was also eager to work out an arrangement. … We whipped up a chart, nursed it, rehearsed it, and put it on tape. That way when Sammy arrived, he could hear it. Then another backstage call. Sammy’s plane had landed early, and he was on his way over. When I greeted him at the backstage door with a big ‘We’re thrilled you’re here’ I was a little taken aback. He looked extremely tired and frail. He walked with a cane.

‘We have an arrangement, Sam. You can rehearse it with the band.’

‘No need, baby. Gotta conserve my energy. I’m just gonna go to my room and shower.’

‘I wanna make it easy for you. So I’ll just play you a tape of the arrangement on the boom box. That way you’ll hear what we’ve done and tell me if it’s okay.’

‘Man, I know the song.’

‘I know, Sam,’ I said, ‘but what if you don’t like the chart?’

‘I’ll like it, I’ll like it.’

‘But what if the key’s not right?’

‘Okay, if you insist.’

“I slipped the cassette in the boom box and hit ‘play.’ To my ears the chart sounded great. Sammy closed his eyes and, in Sammy style, nodded his head up and down to the groove. He smiled.

‘It’s swinging man,’ he said ‘but think of how much more fun we could have had if I hadn’t heard this tape.’

His words still resonate in my ears; the notion still haunts me. Sammy swung that night but as he was performing I couldn’t help thinking that his carefree feeling about time — as opposed to my lifelong notion of the pressure of the time — was coming from a higher spiritual plane. As a musician, I’ve always thought I rushed. I still think I rush. The great players never rush. It reminds me of that moment when I watched Ray Charles turn to his guitarist, just as the young guy was about to solo, and say ‘Take your time son. Take your time.’