Pine Nuts: The night ‘Take Five’ came to Tahoe |

Pine Nuts: The night ‘Take Five’ came to Tahoe

McAvoy Layne

Longtime Incline resident General Hal Strack spent his life developing missile systems and playing the saxophone.

He was best friends with the man who wrote and played sax on the best selling jazz single of all time, Paul Desmond.

When Desmond died in 1977 he bequeathed the royalties for “Take Five” to the Red Cross, which has been receiving about $100,000 a year ever since.

And, he bequeathed his beloved saxophone to his dear friend, Hal Strack.

The General, approaching 91 now, frequents Azzara’s restaurant here in the Village on Wednesday evenings. His hearing is not what it once was, so they call him from the bar to dinner now with a salvo of artillery fire. But his mind is still bristling with good energy and scintillating stories.

One recent Wednesday some regulars asked Hal if he might bring Paul Desmond’s saxophone down to Azzara’s and play “Take Five” for them.

He said he would, though while practicing during the week the General decided he should call the greatest saxophone player in the Basin (perhaps the world) Baron von Remmel of Homewood to be at his back.

Of course the Baron accepted and was kind enough to call me on his way over there and invite me down for the fun.

We plied the General with a couple drinks, hoping to spur his courage up to a reckless pitch, but he deferred to Remmel, whose eyes lit up and lungs filled with helium at the thought of playing “Take Five” on Paul Desmond’s saxophone.

Sam Azzara silenced Mr. Pavarotti and the place grew very still. You could hear a mouse peeing on cotton, really. Remmel explained that Paul’s saxophone was actually left-handed, and that he himself was right-handed, so this was going to be a challenge.

He also explained the difficulty in playing in E-flat minor and in quintuple (5-4) time. That being said, Baron launched into the most magnificent version of “Take Five” that anybody has heard since 1977. Jaws dropped like lanterns, the General beamed a broad smile, and everybody got chicken skin.

There are rare moments in life, Woodstock comes to mind, or closer to home, Paul McCartney joining the house band at Moody’s, when you appreciate that you are being treated to something extraordinary, and when one of those moments spans two generations, well, you’ve got a straight flush my friend. And that’s what happened at Azzara’s last Wednesday.

Like most folks I enjoy our Olympic Games, Super Bowls and Oscar Awards, but truth be known, you can’t beat an intimate evening when something spontaneous links the past inextricably to the present.

I won’t be able to tell you at this time next year who won the Oscar for best actor for 2014, but I will be able to tell you what happened at Azzara’s on a Wednesday night in January…

Learn more about McAvoy Laye at

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