World War II was over and I didn’t have to sail to Europe or Japan. I was on the streets of New York and anxious to see the big city. I was born in Nevada, Misouri, and believe me, Nevada, was a lot further from New York than a couple of bus tickets. I was still in uniform, but then so were a good third of the people I saw walking around. I spent the night at the Y.M.C.A with a couple hundred of my closest friends. I ducked out early in the morning and just went where my feet and the world took me.
Although I wasn’t confused, I might have had that look on my face. “Piccola Italia!” I turned around to see another G.I., who was a good six inches shorter than me. He repeated, “Piccola Italia.” Little Italy that’s where you are. He had that New York kind of accent that reminded me of many major league ball players and their followers. “I’m not lost,” I said. “Yes, you are or you soon will be when the streets start filling up.” he said. He continued, “Walk around with me. I grew up here, but there’s a new crop of kids here now. And, I’ve been away for some time. My name is Arturo Mineo. Just call me Art.” I called him Artie. It turned out Artie had never been to the front, but stayed in America where he created arrangements for the Army Band as they toured the country raising money for the war effort.
Artie always had stories. When the U.S. Army band wanted him with them, he didn’t fit in. You can’t march playing a piano or a bass fiddle. The conductor asked Artie if he could learn to play the trombone. Artie said, “Sure.” He was handed a trombone told he had thirty minutes. When the conductor came back, Artie played a scale and improvised a tune. He was welcomed aboard. I laughed at his story and soon we were talking about records, music, singers, and musicians.
We talked, we walked, we drank coffee all morning long. Finally, Artie said, “Let’s go to one of my favorite places.” I was expecting an Italian cafe or restaurant, but no it was a record and sheet music shop. Artie nodded to the owner and we went into a little booth with an old upright in it. Artie played a little tune and said, “Whadya think?” I thought a second or two and then said, “A little too Italian.” Artie nodded his head and changed the the key. We both looked at each other and shook our heads yes. Soon we were talking lyrics and refrains. After about three hours Artie called in Luigi, the shop owner, and played the tune and sang the song. Art is not a singer, but he is a stylist. Luigi, said, “I could sell that.”
After a week or so, Nevada was calling to me, but I refused to answer. I was enjoying the food of “Piccola Italia,” the meats of the delicatessens, the coffee, and working with Artie. We had sheet copies made of several of our tunes and people actually bought them . . . not enough to live on, but when you’re young you can live on applause and accolades for quite some time. We even picked up a couple of gigs in some local bars. Eventually, though Artie had an offer to travel with a band doing arrangements and playing piano. I wished him well and we promised to get together and write songs all day long again. Artie had dreams of Broadway and opera houses.
Eventually, Artie traveled to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest where he fell in love. He created the music of the Bubbleator at the Seattle World’s Fair and helped the local band, The Wailers become national hit makers. He moved and lived in Tacoma until he died. I can still hear his voice and his music. I enjoyed the short time we had together. We would have made a great song writing duo.
This story isn’t real, but Art Mineo is. Actually, I wasn’t even born when Artie was in the army. I met him in the mid 1990s. We live only half a mile away in the Ruston area. I spent many mornings with him in his studio with his grand piano and often had coffee with him and his wife Toni in their kitchen. Toni has her own grand piano in their living room. I have a baby grand in my living room. Artie almost always wore his New York Yankees baseball cap. He remarked several times that we should have been born and lived in the Tin Pan Alley days of New York City. My story is a tribute to what if . . .