"For me it was like going to school," Minger recalls. "That's where I got a taste of the real thing. It was kind of intimidating for me, because it was my first experience playing with a group of that caliber."
When Minger joined Basie's group, the heavies included tenor sax star Eddie "Lock Jaw" Davis, trombone phenom Al Grey, and Jimmy Forrest, another tenor sax standout.
"When you get 17 guys together, there are a lot of egos to deal with," Minger says. "Basie was a real gentleman. But he knew how to deal with different personalities. He kept everybody in line, but he did it diplomatically. And that's what made him a great bandleader."
Up until 1980, when he left the group, Minger played on numerous recordings and helped back superstar vocalists Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, and Frank Sinatra. "[Sinatra] would come in after the band was all rehearsed, run a couple of tunes, and get in his limo and leave," Minger recalls. "It was like, 'See you tonight, baby.'"
These days Minger is doing some singing of his own. A South Florida resident for 20 years, he's been performing recently with the Hard Bop Ensemble at Van Dyke Cafe in Miami Beach. But his true love is his regular gig -- playing and singing every Sunday as bandleader of the Solid Rock Pentecostal Church in Fort Lauderdale.
In fact, since becoming a born-again Christian in 1988, Minger has toyed with the idea of recording a gospel CD, for which he plans to play trumpet and sing -- a first for the brass player. "I've done a little scatting before, but no real singing," he admits.
He may even use his vocal cords for the 16th Annual Hollywood Jazz Festival, during which he'll perform with the Friends of Jazz 1998 Super Band. "I might jump up and scat a few. I know that Duffy is good at that," he says, referring to drummer Duffy Jackson. The six-member band also includes Hammond B-3 organist Dr. Lonnie Smith of Fort Lauderdale.
"We'll just reach back into the jazz catalog and pick out some stuff that everybody's familiar with," says Minger. "Exciting stuff. Bird tunes -- Charlie Parker -- and Max Roach. Who knows what's going to happen?"
-- John Ferri
The 16th Annual Hollywood Jazz Festival takes place November 14 and 15 at Young Circle Park in downtown Hollywood. Hours are from noon to 11 p.m. both days. Tickets cost $10 per day. See "Concerts For the Week" for the list of acts. Call 954-779-3032.