The Band Room

Volume 123, No. 9October, 2023

Bill Crow

When I was a teenager, I sometimes went to the Palomar Theatre in Seattle. The Palomar featured singers, vaudeville comedians and exotic dancers. There was a small pit band that provided any necessary musical accompaniment, and I was fascinated by the drummer. His left arm ended at the elbow, and so he played everything with his right hand. He was amazing with that single arm, catching everything that moved on stage. He would sometimes hold two sticks between his fingers and could play rolls that way. When there were skits that required no music, he sometimes played one of the acting parts.

One week, there was a father and son act that required music. On a matinee performance that I attended, the father disliked the way the son was playing his part, and he crossed in front of the kid so the audience couldn’t see him to give him a whack on the head. But the drummer caught the movement and accentuated it with a roll on the drum and a crash on the cymbal. The father laughed, and reached down across the footlights to shake the drummer’s hand.


When I got out of the Army in 1949, my first civilian clothes were by mail-order from Fox Brothers in Chicago. They specialized in zoot suits, with drape shapes, box backs, and high waisted, deeply pleated trousers. I wore that extreme wardrobe when I first came to live in NYC, just as the men’s clothing style was moving toward the dignified Brooks Brothers look. Too poor to buy anything new, I was stuck with that zoot suit wardrobe for the first two years that I was here.


Marc Barron told me that he has a friend who is a professional organist, who was hired to play for a butcher’s funeral. At the church, the butcher’s widow told his friend that she wanted this hymn played at the service: “Sheep May Safely Graze.”


From a comment posted on Facebook by Gabe Villani:

Frank Sinatra and his friend, comedian Phil Silvers, did a USO tour together in June 1945. Sinatra played the fall guy to Silvers, a routine usually performed by Silvers’s comedy partner Rags Ragland, who was another close friend of Sinatra. In 1946, Rags Ragland tragically and unexpectedly passed away from uremia at only 40 years old. Both Sinatra and Silvers sat at his bedside until he was gone. Sinatra sang at the service and Silvers delivered a eulogy. A few weeks later, Silvers was contracted to open at the Copacabana in New York, and he wasn’t allowed to cancel. Sinatra was in Hollywood filming “It Happened in Brooklyn.” Phil Silvers said, “After six sleepless nights, and arranging for Rags’s funeral, I arrived in New York to open at the Copa. I was devoid of emotion and material, since most of the routines had to be done with Rags. At the Copa, I was sitting in the dressing room. The club was jammed with professionals. This was a sort of requiem, for they all knew Rags, and I imagine they knew what this night meant to me emotionally. I sat there wondering what to do, what to go on with. It had all been planned with Rags, but now I was on my own. Then the door opened, and a voice said, ‘Hi, what do we open with?’ I blinked. I thought I had flipped. Standing in the doorway was Frank Sinatra, who I knew was in the middle of making a picture in Hollywood. I knew Frank. You don’t thank him. You don’t say, ‘Gee, Frank, you came.’ So, I said, ‘Well, I’ll do a few minutes first, and when I touch my tie, you appear, and we’ll do our routines. You know them all.” Phil and Frank did an hour and three quarters of material, many of which were skinny jokes, and they received a standing ovation. Silvers, almost crying, managed to say, “May I take a bow for Rags?” and then he rushed off in tears. In his dressing room, he suddenly noticed how quiet it was outside, and when he went back, he found that everyone in the audience had their head bowed. Silvers concluded, “As I said earlier, gratitude embarrassed Frank. I looked for him to thank him for this expression of love and complete friendship, but he was gone, back to Hollywood, where he had caused a two-day delay because of this gesture. That was Sinatra. You don’t thank him. You just lean back and accept it.”


Tom Samuels posted this newspaper clipping on Facebook:

Al Jolson and Irving Caesar, composer, were working patiently In Jolson’s bungalow at United Artists on a new song for the picture, “The New Yorker.” Harpo Marx listened outside until he memorized the tune, then burst in and said: “ Listen, boys, I’ve got a great new song for my next film. Listen, it goes this way,” and then proceeded to hum the tune he had just learned, to the amazement and consternation of Caesar and Jolson.

Brad Kay added this comment to the post above:

This is the first time I’ve ever heard of Al Jolson actually WORKING on a song with a composer. Till now, I had understood that Jolson usually gave himself a cut as “vigorish,” for plugging the song, but he never contributed a note or a word. I would like to think otherwise, but I have had no evidence till now.