The Band Room

Volume 121, No. 8September, 2021

Bill Crow


After Gerry Mulligan and Thelonious Monk did a recording together, Gerry invited Monk to a rehearsal with his quartet (Gerry, Bob Brookmeyer, Dave Bailey and me.) He said to us, “We’ve been playing the same material for a while. Maybe if we play with Monk, we’ll come up with something new.” Monk came in and sat at the piano and started playing one of his tunes. When he came to the end of it, he started over again. We realized he was waiting for us to learn it by ear, so we felt our way through it a few times until we could play it. His left hand notes were so strong that I had to change my way of thinking about bass lines while I played with him. After I had worked my way through three or four of his tunes, I said, “Man, I’m getting a headache from all this learning. Could we just play one standard tune?” Right away Monk started playing “Tea for Two.” We fell down laughing, because he wasn’t using any of the original chords while he played the melody.


In late 1974 I was part of Leo Ball’s house band at the Nanuet Theatre-Go-Round. One of the bills we played for a couple of weeks was Billy Eckstine and Redd Foxx. We accompanied Billy as he sang all his old favorites, and we laughed a lot at Redd’s nightclub act. He would light a cigarette, pour himself a drink, and look quizzically at the audience. “Yeah,” he would say, “I smoke. I drink. I fool around with the women.” Long pause. “You gonna feel foolish lyin’ up there in the hospital, dyin’ from NOTHIN’!”

Redd would sometimes notice someone at a ringside table who seemed put off by his scatological language, and would say, “Oh, I know what’s wrong. They came here to see Fred Sanford. F___ Fred Sanford! This is me!”

On our day off, we did a show for the inmates at Sing Sing prison, in Ossining. They took us across the Hudson in a bus, with all our equipment, and the security was very tight. We had to get off the bus while they searched it inside and out, and we had to open our instrument cases to prove that we weren’t carrying any munitions.

Once inside the prison, we were taken to an auditorium stage where we set up, and then a large group of prisoners was escorted in by a number of armed guards. Eckstine sang a few songs for them, and then turned the stage over to Redd Foxx. Redd came out to the microphone, surveyed the room and said, “Oh, I like this audience! Y’all can’t walk out on me!”


After subbing for Ron Zito during the first year of the first production of the Broadway show Chicago, drummer Lee Appleman went out with one of the show’s national tours. Many local cities did not have a player who could do the bass-tuba double that was in the original production, so they would hire an extra player for tuba and squeeze him in with the brass on the upper level of the onstage bandstand.

The tour carried a black Kay upright bass. Lee said the local bass players would complain because that bass was not set up in their particular way. So eventually the tour stopped carrying the black bass and let the locals use their own.

Lee rejoined the tour in ‘08/’09 because it was going to Bangkok. The rider that the company sent ahead still listed that a black upright bass was required. When they arrived in Bangkok, they found that the Thai bass player had taken heavy-duty, flat-black foil, the kind that you sometimes see around stage lights, and had meticulously covered his entire bass with it, even artfully cutting out the f-holes. Lee said, “The conductor and I got a big kick out of it. We didn’t tell the bass player it wasn’t necessary.”


Ron Mills tells me that this used to be on the back of Los Angeles trumpeter Irving Bush’s business card:

“There are two sides to a trumpeter’s personality: There is the one that lives only to lay waste to the woodwinds and strings, leaving them lying blue and lifeless along the swath of destruction that is a trumpeter’s fury. Then there is the dark side. ”


Lewis Porter wrote me: A long time ago I was playing piano as a sideperson at a “door gig,” where we were paid from the receipts at the door. Nobody came, so we made nothing. The venue was also a bakery and sold beautiful baked goods. As we packed up, I hated to see that they were going to throw out those baked delights. The owner came up to us and said, “Hang on, I’ll give you guys some bread.” My mouth watered in expectation, but he came back with $20 for each of us. The one time I really wanted some bread, and all I got was “bread”!