Tenor saxophonist and arranger-composer Al Cohn wrote The Goof and I in late 1946 or early 1947. The title of the bebop melody with I Got Rhythm sensibilities and On Moonlight Bay overtones was named for baritone saxophonist Harvey Lavine [pictured], who Cohn coined "The Goof" for being absentminded. But there were reasons why Lavine was forgetful.
I asked Neal Spritz and Carrie Lavine to kindly shed light on their late father and the song's name. Neal wrote the following:
"Despite many spelling errors in liner notes and discographies, my father Harvey’s last name was spelled Lavine and pronounced LAH-vine. Al Cohn gave him the nickname 'The Goof' in 1946.
"My dad did forget a lot of things and was routinely late for appointments. My mom would typically get annoyed and ask, 'Where’s the Goof?' But my mom loved my dad, and everything was fine once he finally arrived.
"When my dad was growing up, he loved his mother very much. But she died when he was 14 years old and he wound up being raised by his mother’s sister. She loved Harvey as much as his mother had, and he called her 'mother.' She was a good woman who always took care of him, pushing him to play the saxophone. She also wanted Harvey to wear the best clothes, and he had exceptional taste in clothing because of her.
"Al Cohn [pictured] named my dad 'The Goof' for being absentminded. But what Al probably didn’t know, nor did anyone else, are the battles my dad had to endure during World War II and how lucky he was to have made it home alive. I’m sure his ordeals during the war helped him see things simply afterward and made what was difficult appear relatively easy by comparison."During the war, Harvey fought in five major battles but always had a knack for feeling at ease. He said his relaxed view was a result of knowing that the 87th Infantry was led by General George Patton. Wishful thinking, I’m sure, when you’re in the middle of a war at 20 years of age. I don’t know if the reason he made it back alive was because of Patton, but he did make it home. [Pictured: 87th Infantry Division shoulder sleeve insignia]
"During the war, Harvey endured enormous punishment and said that the heavy artillery was forever pounding in his ears and head. He always had a bazooka resting on his shoulder, and constantly waiting for the helmet tap to pull the trigger.
"The bazooka was a lot louder than a rifle, and each time he pulled the trigger he had to embrace it to make sure the weapon did not fall off his shoulder. I think that is why my dad had forearms like Popeye. He was a very powerful man. After going through all of this, it’s a wonder he could still hear and play that baritone sax.
"Ironically, my dad wasn’t supposed to see action during the war. After he was inducted, he played music and entertained the troops in an army band. But the needs in Europe were such that he was shifted to the infantry. He told us that he had the most trouble at the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest in 1944 and 1945. He said the temperature was so cold it reached 50 below. [Pictured: Members of the 87th Infantry in the Ardennes Forest]
"During the battle, my dad said, he had to make the biggest decision of his life. His feet had become so badly frostbitten that the medics told him they had to amputate them to save his life. My dad was in bad shape but he stopped them, saying he’d rather do what he could with frostbitten feet than lose them. When they insisted, my father lost his famous cool and the medics backed off.
"I’m sure my father wasn’t pleasant to the medics, but whatever he said worked. He made it back to Brooklyn with his two feet intact. Eventually, his feet healed. All he had to do was adjust to civilian life and get back into the music.
"But that task was not easy for him. He was shell-shocked and needed rest, to forget the two years of hell he went through. He had problems making the adjustment to civilian life, particularly with his bouts of battle flashbacks, sending him into a kind of dreamland.
"With his struggles to get beyond the battlefields of Europe where he had faced the constant threat of death, my father became forgetful. But he never lost his relaxed cool. The things that most people think are important weren’t particularly important to my dad.
"When he was 22 years old, he was sitting in his living room and his aunt said to him, 'Harvey, I heard Buddy Rich is looking for a baritone player. Why don’t you go and audition for him?' My dad said to himself, 'How bad could that be? I won’t be getting shot at and it won’t be 50 degrees below zero outside. Why not?'
"So my dad went to the audition and got the job. After all he had been through, my dad was still good enough to play in such a great band, with that great sax section. He loved all those guys and always talked about Zoot Sims and Al Cohn as though they were family members.
"My dad told me that no one could play the drums like Buddy. But admiring anyone else except Buddy out loud could get you in trouble. My dad said when the band was in Chicago on the bus at around 3 a.m., with the temperature outside about 10 below, he and a band-mate were discussing Max Roach and how great he played the drums. Somehow Buddy heard them and flipped out, throwing them both off the bus. Harvey had to rejoin them later at the gig. [Pictured: Harvey Lavine in Buddy Rich's band in 1948]
"My dad taught my sister and me that no matter what, stay cool and never worry. He always had a knack of saying just the right thing. And if anybody knew about staying cool, it was my dad. He always kept a cool head through good times and bad."
JazzWax tracks: Though Al Cohn named The Goof and I for Harvey Lavine, the first recording of the song was in January 1947 by Red Rodney's Be-Boppers, which featured Rodney (tp), Allen Eager (ts), Serge Chaloff (bar), Al Haig (p), Chubby Jackson (b), Tiny Kahn (drums). You'll find this recording here.
The song was recorded again live on the radio in March 1947 by Georgie Auld and Red Rodney. This version exists only on an LP. The following month, Allen Eager (ts) Serge Chaloff (bar) Jimmy Johnson (b) and Buddy Rich (d) recorded the song at an informal session. You'll find it on Allen Eager: In The Land of Oo-Bla-Dee (1947-53) here.
Buddy Rich with Harvey Lavine on baritone sax recorded the song live in October 1947. You can find it at iTunes, on the album Buddy Rich: The Ultimate Collection. The version by Woody Herman that put the song on the map can be found on Blowin' Up a Storm: Columbia Years 1945-47.
JazzWax clip: Here's Allen Eager (ts), Serge Chaloff (bar), Jimmy Johnson (b) and Buddy Rich (d) playing The Goof and I...