The Band Room

Volume 121, No. 11December, 2021

Bill Crow

Back in 1954 and ‘55 I was playing at the Hickory House on 52nd Street with the Marian McPartland Trio. Joe Morello was our drummer. He became famous after he left Marian and joined the Dave Brubeck Quartet, but while he was with us at the Hickory House, his reputation as a drummer had just begun to spread in the jazz world. Some articles had been written in the jazz magazines comparing him to Buddy Rich, Max Roach and Louis Bellson, and Joe was embarrassed when those comparisons would arise in conversations with fans and other musicians. To deflect those inquiries, Joe invented a drummer named Marvin Bonessa, who he said could cut all of them.

Bonessa was supposedly a recluse who never recorded, and who rarely came to New York. Marian and I loved the joke, and we abetted Joe in it, as did his friend Sal Salvador. We all sang praises of Bonessa’s playing. As the myth spread, Bonessa even began to accumulate votes in jazz polls. Someone finally explained the joke to a couple of jazz journalists, and they stopped trying to find Bonessa for an interview.


When drummer Gabe Villani was living in Houston, he did a short tour with Johnny Carson, Doc Severinson and Vikki Carr. In one town, they placed Gabe and the bass player, Arni Egilsson, on high risers at the back of the stage. After the first show, Doc whispered to the saxes that they were going into the second show with no pause. The saxes whispered to the trombones, who whispered to the trumpets. But Arni and Gabe were too far back for the trumpets to tell them, and so, after the last tune, Arni and Gabe got off their risers and were walking away when they heard the band playing the theme song. Gabe said, “We ran and jumped on the risers and started playing. Doc had a very strange look on his face. We explained, and were forgiven, but we were the only guys that ever missed the intro!”


Remembering the late Dr. Lonnie Smith (who died on Sept. 28, 2021), Zoe Matthiessen posted this on Facebook: One of the happiest moments in my life is the night Lonnie suddenly decided it was time to hop on my bicycle. I was warned that this would be his first attempt at riding in over 40 years. “Gimme that bike!” he commanded, determined to have some fun. He climbed on before considering potential outcomes, and parted the crowds of the New York elite like Moses parting the Red Sea. You should have seen their terror. It verged on panic! His feet weren’t even on the pedals — they were sticking straight out to the sides as if in electric shock. He howled with laughter as he barreled along, sending my pinwheel into overdrive, hoping for the best, with his tapestried gown whipping in the summer breeze. He was so free and happy, just enjoying himself, extracting the maximum amount of pleasure from a random moment in life. He wasn’t worried about crashing, looking silly or slamming into pedestrians. His eyes were like saucers, radiating pure childlike joy. He was so thrilled to be on a bike again that nothing else mattered — he was in the moment, his favorite place to be. I ran ahead of him, trying to clear the sidewalk to extend his spontaneous ride for as long as possible. “Look out people! Lonnie’s coming through!” This is just one of many unforgettable times with him.


And Dwayne Clemons posted this on Facebook: Mozart disliked a female opera singer named Adriana Ferrarese. Since she was known for lowering her chin on low notes and raising her head back on high notes, Mozart composed a special piece for her called “Come Scoglio.” It was full of sudden jumps from low to high notes and back to low notes. He said it was designed to make her head “bob like a chicken” during her performance.


Kenny Berger called me with a couple of Lee Konitz stories: Lee was playing at a little west side club called Stryker’s. It was on the ground floor of a brownstone, with no bandstand. The musicians played on one side of the room, and the tables were crowded together very close to them. As Lee was playing a cadenza, a lady with a loud voice, seated right in front of him, was drowning him out. After a moment, Lee took the horn out of his mouth and shouted at the lady, “You can have the next one!”

When Lee was rehearsing his nonet, he was trying to teach them a trick he had worked out with Lennie Tristano on “Donna Lee,” the line that Charlie Parker had created over the chords to “Back Home Again In Indiana.” Instead of starting the line where Parker had started it, Lee was starting it on a different beat, and it was difficult for the musicians to keep track of it without falling back into the original form. After several failed attempts, trumpeter Burt Collins said, “Okay, who’s the idiot who keeps playing it right?”