The Band Room

Volume 123, No. 3March, 2023

Bill Crow

I posted this story on Facebook, and everyone liked it so much that I thought I would include it in this month’s column:

The Gerry Mulligan Sextet was pianoless, like his quartet, and so when there was no piano on the stage, we were using a tuning fork held against the top of my bass for a note to tune to. One day, while we were tuning, Zoot Sims dropped his mouthpiece cap, and it rang a very good A. So, from then on, we tuned to Zoot’s metal cap.


Jeanie Perkins says that her duo often plays at assisted living centers. She posted the following:

When we got there the other day, there was a gentleman in a wheelchair with a pretty little Pearl snare drum and a stick bag, and he asked if he could sit in. He said he’d been a professional drummer all his life. We welcomed him. Right before we started, he said “I never played a gig from a wheelchair before.” Bless his heart. He played BEAUTIFULLY. Mostly with brushes, and one rhumba with his bare hands. Not just an average drummer, but a superb and sensitive one. It was a pleasant surprise for us, and he really enjoyed getting to play again.


Mark Maniatt gave me a story that Ronnie Scott used to tell in his London jazz club:

A doctor told a jazz musician that he only had three months to live.  The jazz musician inquired, “On what?”


Paul Desmond’s amusing essay “How Jazz Came To The Orange County State Fair” was published in Punch magazine. One of the Brubecks posted it on Facebook:

Today we have a contract (an offer we should have refused) for two concerts at the Orange County State Fair in Middletown. 2 P.M. and 8 P.M. Brubeck likes to get to the job early. So, we pull up behind this hay truck around noon, finally locating the guy who had signed the contract. Stout, red-necked, gruff and harried (from the old New Jersey law firm of the same name), and clearly more comfortable judging cattle than booking jazz groups, he peered into the station wagon, which contained four musicians, bass, drums, and assorted baggage, and for the first and only time in our 17 years of wandering about the world, we got this question: “Where’s the piano?”


Back in the early 80’s Chuck Erdahl played a big band gig with Alvino Rey at the Avalon Casino on Catalina Island, which is located, as the song says, “26 Miles Across the Sea.” At that time, it was a three hour boat ride from Los Angeles harbor. That necessitated an afternoon departure around 1 p.m. to leave time for set-up and changing and eating before the gig. It also necessitated that the band stop precisely at midnight and make a quick bee-line on foot to catch the last boat out at 1 .m.. Chuck said, “The gig went great and most of us either did a quick change or just wore our tuxes as we fast walked to our boat ride home. There was even time to stop and get a taco on the way. Not for a sax player named Harry though! Just as we were to start boarding, promptly at 12:50, Harry ran up and asked a couple of us at the back of the line to take his horns, because he might not make the boat. He said that he had left his wallet in the dressing room, and had to run back and find it. He then fled back, so we grabbed his horns and told the contractor who was toward the front of the line. He tried to get the boat captain to delay the departure, but he was unable to do so more than a couple of minutes. Back at the casino, Harry found it dark and closed with nobody answering. So, he wandered the streets all night, got his wallet the next day, and made it back to L.A. in the afternoon.”


Alex Cauthen posted this: A friend of mine, who plays horn, studied in Germany for a year. He was walking through a national park when he came upon a waterfall, and was inspired. He had carried his horn on a backpack, so he pulled it out and NAILED Siegfried’s Call. Immediately, from the top of the waterfall, someone called out, “Siegfried, Act 2, Scene 2!”


Vinnie Burke, a wonderful bass player, was a demon about tempos.  It drove him crazy if one of the other musicians in a group he was playing with rushed or dragged the tempo the slightest bit.  On one gig, at a New York jazz club called the Composer, he was playing with two pianists, Eddie Costa and John Mehegan. Vinnie was happy with Eddie’s time, which was well centered, but when John got excited about improvising, he often rushed, playing way on the front end of the beat.  One night, Vinnie blew up. He started playing ahead of the beat that John was playing.  John looked up in alarm.  “What are you doing?” he asked.  Vinnie growled, “I’m rushin’. How does it feel?”