The Gift of Giving

One of the great joys about making a recording is how it develops a life of its own. Musicians often use recordings as promotional tools and I certainly have done that, but the greatest rewards have come when I simply give them away with no expectations. 

That is not to say that I’m completely free of wanting a favorable response – The making of a recording is no little matter. Recordings are our musical paintings. They document what we are feeling at a given point in our lives. Whether it is an interpretation of J.S. Bach or music of our own, recordings reflect our deepest being.

Back in 1984, I had the honor of giving the actor Dustin Hoffman my newest recording.

It was 8:00 am on a Sunday morning, and my wife Rie and I were living on West 72nd Street, three floors above guitar maker Thomas Humphrey. Rie went out to buy cat food for our high-spirited cat Yuki. “You are not going to believe who is at Cake Masters right now!” “Who?” “Dustin Hoffman!” 

 Cake Masters was a shop next door to us. Dustin lived in the neighborhood. In a crazed state, I grab my recording of Bach Transcriptions for Guitar. I put on the closest footwear near me (clogs!!!), run down the stairs, and walk in to the very narrow bakery. Less than a room away at the end of the store is His Greatness. As my daughter Mitsuko used to say, “OMG!” Next thing, my knees shake.

I was so paralyzed by nerves that I was literally stuttering. I couldn’t get his name out. There I stood in front of my hero, unable to produce a full sentence. “I,IIII ammmmm noooottttt an acccctor” – you get the idea! – “I’m a musician and you have been a great inspiration. This is my new recording that I wanted you to have.”

He looks up at me and replies, “Thanks.” I turn and begin my exit. As I reach the door, Dustin shouts out after looking at the cover of the cassette, “Hey, so you’re Benjamin Verdery?” “Yeah, that’s me.” “You in the book?”

I walk back to my building. As the day passed, I thought he would most likely dump the cassette in the garbage. So be it. I met him and it was an encounter I will never forget.

But the next day, when I get home, Rie greets me, asking, “Guess who called you today?”

I immediately turn on the answering machine and hear this man’s voice saying, “Hello, Mr. Verdery, this is Richard from Punch Productions regarding your meeting with Dustin Hoffman. Would you please call us at your earliest convenience?”

I call the next day and Richard tells me that Dustin liked my cassette very much and wanted to offer me two tickets to the show he was in at the moment, Death of a Sales Man. If I were to come on a Wednesday, please come to the matinee as he didn’t feel he always did his best in the evening performance. He said Dustin insisted on meeting me. I stood there, gaping at the answering machine.

Rie and I went to the Wednesday matinee – a memorable performance, to say the least. After the curtain fell, we both were so taken emotionally  drained we could  barely move. Then began the journey back stage to meet Mr. Hoffman. Perhaps a hundred people were hovering around the back stage door waiting for the stars to emerge. Somehow, we managed to get ourselves close enough to holler my name at the guard who found Verdery on the guest list and let us in.

From there we walked through a series of checkpoints manned by fellows speaking through walky-talkies. Finally, we reached the Great One’s dressing room.  It was tiny. There he was, lying back on a sofa like couch, looking exhausted. He looked at me and with out missing a beat exclaimed, “Ben, Come on in, your tape is great, my wife and I make love it to it all the time!” This is the review I probably should have put at the tops of my clippings a long, long time.