Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CVII, No. 3March, 2007

Bill Crow

Lynn Welshman told me about a summer gig he had in the mid 1960’s, playing with the Guy Lombardo band and with the pit orchestra for the Musical Mardi Gras at the Jones Beach Theatre. In the middle of the play there was a set by the Louis Armstrong All Stars. Near the end Lynn would jump out of the pit and join the Lombardos for a rousing version of “South Rampart Street Parade,” with both groups marching around in a battle of the bands. With Louis’s group were Buster Bailey, Tyree Glenn, Marty Napoleon, Buddy Catlett, Danny Barcelona and the actor Joel Grey. After the Armstrong set, actresses portraying Carrie Nation and her prohibitionists would come and break up the saloon. Tyree always brought down the house with his comic attempts to escape the ladies in black carrying axes. Lynn said, “In the battle of the bands, we lost every night.”

Here’s another item from Lloyd Wells, down in Nashville: Arnold Gross was the second keyboard player in the pit of the original Broadway production of “Company.” His reading material in the pit was the classifieds in the free weekly papers that carried only advertising. He would scour the musical sections, sometimes with a magnifying glass, looking for amusing typos, which he collected in a scrapbook. He would occasionally pass his collection around the pit. One read: “F-Blat clarinet, used, $25.”

A guitarist friend of mine down in Tennessee accompanied his son to the local courthouse to help him straighten out a seatbelt violation that was preventing him from renewing his driver’s license. The courthouse was a new building, quite grand, with four security gates, and two armed cops per gate. Before passing through the scanner, my friend emptied the contents of his pockets into a plastic bowl. There was some change, a pen knife, a nail file and his keys. One of the items on his key chain is a tuning fork, with a hole drilled in it to take the chain. One cop picked up the fork, shaking his head as he turned it over in his hand. My friend asked, “Do you know what it is?” Both cops studied the fork seriously, and one of them said, “You can’t go inside with this.” My friend said, “What… do you think I’m going to go in there and try to pull everybody up to pitch? Okay, I’ll wait here.” The other cop said, “You’ll have to leave the building,” and sent him outside in the cold to wait for his son. The courthouse was safe.

Back in the 1950’s, at a rehearsal of the Minneapolis Symphony, conductor Antal Dorati asked the strings to play even softer than the pianissimo that was written in their parts. He wanted the full string section sound, but soft as a whisper. As he continued shushing them, William Zinn lifted his bow off the strings but continued to move it back and forth as if playing. When Dorati called for even softer a sound, Zinn raised his bow higher off the strings. This continued until Zinn was bowing with his arm at full length over his head. Dorati spotted him, and said, “Zinn, can’t you play any softer?” Zinn replied, “Sorry, maestro, this is the farthest I can reach!” The orchestra members stamped their feet in approval.

Lee Evans’s society orchestra often played for Jerry Berns, the late co-owner of the legendary 21 Club in Manhattan, both at the club and at his parties in the Hamptons. At those events, of course, Lee was always dressed in a tuxedo. But once, at a filling station on the Long Island Expressway, Lee, dressed in casual wear, noticed Mr. Berns in the next car. He walked over and said, “Nice to see you again.” Berns clearly was drawing a blank, and so Lee reminded him who he was. Berns raised his eyebrows and said, “Oh, gosh, I didn’t recognize you without your clothes on!”

Another sartorial item: On the JazzWestCoast newsgroup, Gordon Sapsed, in England, recalled an appearance that Bud Shank made at the Concorde Club. The club has a dress code (smart casual, no denim, gentlemen may not wear earrings, etc.). Gordon mentioned that Bud’s blue jeans presented a dilemma for the club’s receptionist. In an online response, Bud’s wife, Linda, commented: “Bud could care less about clothes. I can never get him to wear anything but jeans. He doesn’t flout a dress code… he just doesn’t know it exists. They had to crowbar him into a tux for a performance for the royal family of England. I have given up on trying to get him to wear anything nice or appropriate. He thinks his playing says it all.”

Randy Sandke recalled a jazz party in Colorado Springs where the director insisted that guitar players double on a banjo that he provided. The late Kenny Davern found a quick and simple solution. He put the banjo in front of the band room door where the first person who opened it knocked it over and broke its neck.

Randy was with Kenny on tour in Germany. In a department store he found a T-shirt with the logo (in English), “F*** the Sound.” Knowing Kenny’s deep aversion to microphones and sound men, Randy bought the shirt and presented it to him. Randy said, “He was really touched…you’d have thought I’d given him a gold clarinet.”