Drummer/vocalist Grady Tate, who will be at Mr. Y's Friday and Saturday, has a long history. It includes work with organist Wild Bill Davis, a stint with the Quincy Jones Band, concerts with the late Bill Evans and touring with Peggy Lee.
But he is among the select few jazz musicians whose faces and talents became known to millions by virtue of their membership in the "Tonight Show" orchestra. Johnny Carson, a longtime jazz buff and a drummer himself, has gone out of his way to give the music exposure during his tenure as host, hiring trumpeter Doc Severinsen to lead the orchestra and allowing him to fill its ranks with seasoned jazz players. Tate was with the show from the late '60s through the mid-'70s and during this time Dizzy Gillespie, Pete Fountain, Dinah Shore, Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett were among the hundreds who did guest spots.
Was it almost like going on live five nights a week?
"It was live," Tate insisted from his home in New York. "We'd have a rehearsal from 4 p.m. until 5:30 and we'd tape from 7 p.m. to 8:30. It would go on the air that night at 11:30. We had to do some patching maybe twice in eight years. There was just no margin for error. But because of your professionalism and your ego you didn't allow yourself to think about it as pressure -- you just thought about it as a job. But it was a great amount of pressure because we were coast to coast and it was the top TV show in the country at that time.