The Band Room

Volume 124, No. 2February, 2024

Bill Crow

I was sorry to see that my old friend Dave Bailey passed away on Dec. 28. He was a fine drummer, a pilot, and headed Jazzmobile for several years. I first met Dave when Gerry Mulligan called me in 1955, inviting me to join his sextet. I was delighted to have the chance to play with Gerry, Zoot Sims, Bob Brookmeyer, Jon Eardley and Dave. Dave and I became personal and musical friends right away. Soon after I joined the sextet, we went on a European tour. We sailed on the Andrea Doria, a beautiful Italian Lines liner that sank the following year. We landed in Naples and played a concert there, and then moved on to Genoa, where we played in a large old church. When we arrived at that venue, we saw a huge banner that covered the whole front of the building. In huge letters, the banner proclaimed, STASERA, IL SESTETTO GERRY MULLIGAN, con ARLYNE MULLIGAN, ROBERT BROOKMEYER, PHYLLIS BROOKMEYER, WILLIAM O. CROW, e SAMMY DAVIS JR. Gerry’s wife Arlyne was our road manager, and Phyllis was Bob’s wife, but was not part of the sextet. Jon Eardley and Zoot Sims weren’t mentioned. As we went inside, Zoot kept handing Arlyne his tenor case, saying, “You’re the one they came to hear!” They had evidently taken our names from our travel papers, but I couldn’t imagine how they had mixed up Dave Bailey with Sammy Davis Jr.  Dave explained that his legal name, listed on his passport, was Samuel David Bailey Jr.


Another dear departed friend, John Frosk, was one of the finest trumpet players in New York. We played Broadway shows together, and we were both on the band that Benny Goodman took on a tour of the Soviet Union in 1962. Here’s a laugh we had together one day:

At a brass quintet rehearsal at John’s house, his Husky came in and sniffed at all the instruments and said hello to us. But as soon as I played one note on the tuba, the dog hurried out the kitchen door, across the yard and into his doghouse! John said, “Gee, I never saw him do that before,” and called the dog back in. He came in, I played another note, and the dog went right back outside. I still play the tuba anyway.


I was sitting in Basin Street West one night listening to the Woody Herman band when trumpeter Doug Mettome staggered in. He was dressed in a tuxedo, and he looked quite disheveled. He sat down next to me, and I could see he had been drinking a bit. He said that he had just finished a wedding club date, and that he was exhausted. He leaned back in his chair and listened to the tune Woody’s band was playing. When they finished, Al Porcino, in the trumpet section, leaned over the edge of the bandstand and said, in the slow manner he was famous for, “Hello, Doug, Met-tome…what, would, you, like, to, hear, the, band, play?” Doug, with his eyes closed, and his head hanging back over his chair, whispered, “High notes!”


Ray Alonge was one of the first-call French horn players during the recording boom of the 1960s. He told me about a date he played for Eddie Fisher, who had a nice voice, but was challenged in the “meter department.” On one arrangement, he messed up many takes by not coming back in correctly after an orchestral interlude. Ray and another French horn player had a unison high note on the ending, and they nailed it on every take, but Fisher messed them all up. Ray said that, finally, after several more takes, as their chops were tiring out, Fisher came in correctly, and Ray saw the producers in the control room shaking hands. “And we hadn’t even hit our last note yet!” Fortunately, they didn’t miss it that time, either.


Rich Shanklin sent me the following two stories:

In the early 90’s, Bob Brookmeyer was the guest conductor for a concert of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra. He was in residence for six days, and he used every minute of rehearsal time. Unlike some other guest conductors, Bob was very specific about what he wanted, and we welcomed that. Bob felt that our drummer could have been more active and aggressive. At one point, he stopped the band and said to the drummer, “Pretend you’re a dentist.”

“A dentist?,” replied the drummer.

“Yeah. If you see a hole, fill it!”


Rob McConnell was the guest conductor of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra for a week. At our first rehearsal, he counted off the first tune, stopped us after three bars, and said “It’s too loud.” On the second pass, he stopped us again and said, “It’s still too loud.” The third time, he stopped again after a few bars, and just looked at us. Dead silence in the room. Rob said, “Guys, in my band, I tell the FLUTES they’re too loud.”


Bill Wurtzel sent me this email:

On our gig at the American Folk Art Museum, Jay Leonhart and I played “Body and Soul.” After I took a solo, Jay bowed one magnificently. When we finished, a lady in the front row said, “Play some jazz.” Rather than say what I would like to have said, I called a down-home blues. She was happy.