The Band Room

Volume 123, No. 7July, 2023

Bill Crow

Lloyd Chisholm posted this on Facebook:

Once in the early 1990’s, I did a jazz concert and talk at a conference for the Florida public school music programs. I’ve forgotten which city they held it in, but there were well over 1,000 kids there and their band directors. I had a quintet with George Allgaier, Kenny Drew Jr., John Jenkins, I believe Billy Pillisary on bass, and myself.

The set went great, and the kids were very responsive. Then, when I spoke, I said that they needed to be equally aware of our great jazz composers like Ellington, Monk, Gigi Gryce, Dizzy Gillespie, as they are the great American composers. And I saw this blank look on their faces.

I asked for a show of hands from all who knew who Duke Ellington was. NO ONE! Then I said, Charlie Parker? NO ONE! Then I said “You see, America has great, important composers, the same as the Classical composers of Europe. I mean, you all know Mozart and Beethoven, and you should be aware of Monk and Duke.” And I saw this collective blank look again. So, I said, “Wait a minute, who knows who Chopin is?” Nothing! “Mozart!” Nothing! “Beethoven?” And a little girl yelled out, “Sure, he’s a cartoon Saint Bernard!” And everyone laughed.

I said, “Don’t worry about this, it’s not your fault, but please sit back and enjoy the rest of the concert. And if you like the music, please check out more music by the people who wrote the tunes we are playing for you, I’ll leave a list of the tunes and composers on this blackboard.”

After the concert, I asked all the band directors for a moment in the backstage lounge, and I reamed them out for not hipping the kids to ANYBODY! How could that happen?

Needless to say, I was never invited back to perform at one of those annual events. That was 33 years ago. Since then, many school music ensembles have become extra-curricular activities. It’s a crying shame, and unforgivable for a modern, supposedly advanced country.


John Daniel told me:

Once, while I was playing Leonore 3 off stage in a performance, a couple of stagehands came sprinting up the stairs, through a door and ran at me while I was playing, trying to get me to stop. It was surreal. I kept playing, but I was very close to having to pull my horn off my mouth, because if I didn’t, one of them was about to do it for me. At the last second, he realized that I was part of the performance. Those stagehands got a very quick tutorial on orchestral repertoire.

Don Roberts had a similar experience. He was working with the Manhattan Transfer doing a show at Radio City Music Hall in the 1980s. On every show, during two tunes that he didn’t play on, he would leave the stage when the lights went down. He was standing behind the curtain when the backstage security guy wanted to know who he was. He couldn’t explain to the guy’s satisfaction, and was escorted out of the building.


Dr. Benjamin Blank sent this story:

Chet Baker’s last concert was with the NDR Big Band (Hamburg) which took place in Hannover, Germany on April 28, 1988, two weeks before he passed away. Chet had arrived at the concert looking in very bad condition, and the doorman at the building where the concert was to be held, knowing nothing about Chet, at first thought he was a homeless person, and didn’t want to let him in.

The lead trumpet player of the NDR Big Band at that time was Lennart Axelsson, who was talking to Chet before the concert. Chet said to him, “You can play higher notes than I can play, but I make $250,000 per year, and that’s something you can’t do.”


Duane Benjamin once was hired to play in a performance of Ellington’s “Nutcracker Suite.” He said, “The conductor was an older white gentleman who started out by telling the almost all black orchestra that Ellington never meant for the piece to swing. When half of the best jazz musicians in Los Angeles started to walk out of the rehearsal, he said, ‘I know you gentlemen think I know nothing about jazz, but I’ll have you know I played French horn in the Stan Kenton Orchestra!’ It was at that point the other half of the band walked out.”


Alex Leonard told me:

When I saw the Benny Goodman band years ago, the great Jack Sheldon came to the microphone and said, “Benny this coat is too small for me. Hell of a way to find out I’m taking Ruby Braff’s place!”


Jim Ford, a pianist in Binghamton, sent me this:

Several years ago, our Mason Warrington Orchestra was playing for a dance at an American Legion in Endicott, New York. The emcee asked for a show of hands: “How many of you have been married for 25 years? 35?, 50?”, etc. When he got to 65 years, only one hand went up, that of our trombonist Chuck Louden. The emcee asked him, “To what do you attribute your long marriage?”

Without a moment’s hesitation Chuck said, “I keep my mouth shut.”