From time to time, www.dimitritiomkin.com receives Web mail from people who have a connection with Tiomkin or his music. Recently we were contacted by Ronald Simone, who, after reading our July 2007 article on The High and the Mighty, wrote to inform us that he was the pianist hired to play Tiomkin’s music in court during that case. Today Simone lives and works in Las Vegas, specializing in jazz band and Rat Pack music and performing with modern-day incarnations of the Harry James and Jimmy Dorsey orchestras.
Back in the summer of 1958, however, Simone was a member of a band performing at Green Mansions, a resort in the Adirondack Mountains in New York. The band’s arranger, Michael “Mickey” Leonard, was a cousin of Lou Dreyer, the New York attorney who at the time was leading Tiomkin’s defense in The High and the Mighty case. Dreyer was in need of a young, educated pianist to play the theme in court. Simone, a recent graduate of Yale, and Leonard were summoned to the Plaza Hotel in New York City to meet Tiomkin. At the hotel, Tiomkin placed his handwritten, four-stave score on the piano and asked Simone to play it while Tiomkin conducted. Simone obliged. Satisfied, Tiomkin replaced the score with a lead sheet for “Enchanted Cello,” the work that the composer had been accused of plagiarizing.
During the trial, on December 2, 1958, Simone was called on to play each of the two songs. Afterward, Tiomkin’s attorneys were livid; to their ears, Simone had made “Enchanted Cello” sound “too good.” Later, Sigmund Spaeth told Simone that he should have played only the one-line written melody. (Simone had used the lead sheet’s chord symbols to extemporize a left-hand accompaniment that did not sit well with Tiomkin’s team.) Next time, Simone was instructed, he was to play the piece in a plain, dull manner. In court on December 16, Simone did as he was told. This time, it was the plaintiff’s attorneys who objected, saying that Simone played the music “too fast.” The pianist explained that the piece was in cut time, prompting the judge to ask, “What’s cut time?” (In cut time, two half notes receive the beat in each bar, effectively making the tempo twice as fast.) This brought chuckles from the music professionals in the courtroom and resulted in the need to call more expert witnesses to testify, which only prolonged the court proceedings.
For the 23-year-old pianist, the experience—which Simone says is his most unusual music gig ever—provided the memory of a lifetime. His personal “verdict”? Simone says he saw nothing in common between the two songs.