Interview with Tony Campise

This is part of an interview I did with Tony about three or four years ago for a book I’ve never finished on the lounge gig scene.  What a treasure chest of humor Tony is. Coincidentally, Tony is recovering from brain surgery, thankfully, not self-performed. So please keep him in your prayers.

Tony Campise
Reedist, vocalist, composer Tony Campise lives in Austin, Texas, much to the delight of the other residents who appreciate the marriage of virtuosi jazz and humor. Campise’s soaring sax and flute work was prominently featured with the Stan Kenton Orchestra during the 1970’s and his solo recordings have received critical praise.

Scott: Toneman. Lounge provides an impetus for your work as a jazz and humor stylist. Am I right?

Tony: I’ve swum in that ocean while seeking to keep my head above it. Humor gives me ballast. Like a sax player buddy of mine in the Houston Symphony years ago who used to keep old hornpads and through them on the floor next to another player right before a downbeat. The otherplayer would look horrified, like “what am I gonna do?”, thinking it fell out of his horn. We were in a show with a really bad comedian onetime and the bass player rolled an old army surplus grenade canister on the stage during the show. Man, people just split!

Scott: He was an anti-lounge mercenary.

Tony: Yea.

Scott: I’m sure you had your fair share of gigs with crazed singers blowing up on stage.

Tony: Oh yea, of course, all of the time. There was Freddie’s Latin Fire Follies…man that was smokin!

Scott: I can imagine.

Tony: One of the more poignant lounge moments I remember was on a gig where we were backing Fabian. Remember that guy from the 60s? It was oh so lounge. And right in the middle of a ballad, during a quiet pause, the lead trumpet player broke wind and it reverberated throughout the Houston Coliseum. It was a show stopper.

Scott: What a contribution.

Tony: No one moved. The audience was frozen, and Fabian just kept going. And there was Bill back there red-faced. We used to call him Precious.

Scott: Did Fabian dock his pay?

Tony: Fabian should have docked his own pay. Speaking of low pay, which is another characteristic of lounge, the lowest paying gig I ever played was with Dan del Santo (God rest his soul) at The Ritz in Austin, Texas. I made $2.75 for the evening.

Scott: I love it when they give you change. I made $10.13 in Greenwich Village one time after practicing with this 9 piece band for a week. We play five sets and the guy says, “good job man, here’s ten thirteen.” I was excited. I thought he meant $1013. It ain’t a livin, unless you get a paper route to go with it. Of course, folks wouldn’t get their paper until late afternoon.

Tony: You have to have a car for that, and a license.

Scott: Tony, how would you define lounge?

Tony: Something that people buy … something that everybody gets into, but it won’t run. It’s full of fluids and stuff, but the motor is broken and the wheels are off-center.

Scott: And it has a faded two-tone vinyl roof that is ripped near the rear window, with rusty metal showing through.

Tony: Yea.

Scott: So what do you think is the attraction?

Tony: It’s wild. It connects with something inside people.

Scott: That is frightening and kind of depressing.

Tony: People like to cry, and laugh. Ya know, I’m getting tired of it all … tired of the lack of remuneration. I say I’m gonna melt my horns down and get my teeth fixed … maybe go back to my original profession — brain surgery. If I made footprints in the sands of time, then they’re all heel.

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