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“Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a bass down a narrow flight of stairs?” Brian Torff wrestles with an imaginary bass fiddle, leaning back into his chair under the weight of it and throwing his arms around its ungainly shape, tipping his chin out of the way of the invisible instrument’s neck. He demonstrates, rocking ponderously from side to side.

“That was a big night for me,” he says now. “Sinatra had a two-week gig at Carnegie Hall — I mean, no one gets two weeks at Carnegie Hall — and George Shearing and I were the opening act every night for two weeks. It got so that Carnegie Hall was like a club, you know, the same group of musicians every night, lots of the same fans in the audience, almost an intimate atmosphere — if it weren’t for the incredible presence of Sinatra. He just walks on stage and takes over a room. It’s amazing.

“So there I am, trying to get down these stairs one night without killing myself, and I hear somebody shout, ‘Hey, kid!’ and I look up through the banisters and there’s Sinatra at the top of the stairs, and he says, ‘You sounded pretty good tonight.’

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