Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CVII, No. 4April, 2007

Bill Crow

Doug Ramsey posted on his blog “Rifftides” this excerpt from André Previn’s biography “No Minor Chords,” which is now unfortunately out of print. Previn wrote:

Cole Porter was the most elegant of creatures, his manners as courtly as his dress. Only once did I hear him voice a vituperative opinion. I was working on the film version of “Kiss Me Kate,” and Cole had interpolated the song “From This Moment On” into the existing score for use as an elaborate dance number. “I have to warn you about something before you start making this arrangement,” he said to me, his voice quite angry. “This tune has been recorded by Woody Herman and his band. Have you ever heard of them?” I nodded eagerly.

“Well, ” he went on, “what they did to my tune is absolutely disgusting. It was turned into a loud, strident jazz mess, and the melody is just about unrecognizable. It’s a good example of someone not having any idea what the tune is about!” He stopped, thought for a moment, and grew less choleric. Finally he smiled. “But, what am I talking about? Your arrangements are always so theatrical and correct for the occasion, I’m sure I’ll love what you write.” And, indeed, when he came to the recording, he was fulsome in his praise. “That’s more like it,” he said, smiling. “I knew you would understand the song.”

I never told him that I had written the arrangement for Woody Herman as well.

(Doug Ramsey’s blog can be viewed at

Dave Kurtzer told me about an afternoon while he was playing the Broadway show “Sweet Charity.” It was Thanksgiving day, and Dave was relaxing around his Oceanside, Long Island house in his pajamas. The phone rang. It was Stan Fishelson, the show’s contractor. “Hi, Dave, how ya doin’? Listen to this.” Stan held the phone up so Dave could hear the “Sweet Charity” orchestra playing the overture to the special holiday matinee. Dave had missed the backstage notice at the theatre. Stan said, “Don’t panic… just get here as soon as you can.” Dave grabbed his bassoon and rushed to the train, wearing his blue suit over his pajamas, and arrived at the theatre just in time for the second act. He raced in, nearly knocking over Al Epstein’s horns, and finished the show, grateful for Fishelson’s imperturbability.

Jon Berger’s Australian in-laws were visiting them in Teaneck, New Jersey a few years ago over the Thanksgiving weekend. Since Jon and his wife had to work that day, they suggested that the in-laws go to a nearby restaurant, the Dallas BBQ. The Aussies went there and stood in a long line, and then everyone was ushered in at once and they were seated at a large table of friendly people. No one commented on their Aussie accents, and when they got ready to pay for their meal, one woman at the table told them, “It’s all taken care of.” Jon’s father-in-law thought, “Americans are so generous!” He later discovered they had unknowingly sat down with a visiting marching band.

Frad Garner asked Tony Mottola Jr., the editor of Jersey Jazz, whether his father, the famous guitarist, had recorded any straight jazz. Tony said his dad had done more than a thousand sessions in every genre, and recommended his album “Heart and Soul Guitar.” He added: “When Gene Bertoncini opened the show at Shanghai Jazz the other night, he said, ‘Back in the old days when we were in the recording studios and we saw Tony walk in, we all relaxed, knowing that since he was there, we’d be okay.’”

William Zinn was concertmaster with the Concord Hotel orchestra in the Catskills for over ten years. The contractor, Boris Malina, lived in Forest Hills, and often prevailed on Zinn, who lived in Bayside, to drive him here and there. After Malina moved to Florida, Zinn got a call from him saying that, because Zinn was such a nice guy, he was going to make him the contractor at the Concord. Zinn thanked Boris and later called the entertainment director at the Concord, who told him that they were no longer using any outside men for shows, and that he had told Boris to stay in Florida, as his services were no longer needed. Future acts would supply their own backup. Zinn said, “So I became the contractor of a non-existing orchestra on a non-existing job. Boris, rest in peace!”

The Westchester County Arts News Journal gave trumpeter Fred Smith a nice writeup, describing the lecture-demonstrations he has been doing with his jazz quartet at various schools in Westchester, giving children an opportunity to hear the music and to learn a bit of its history and how it is played. The writer of the article was enthusiastic in his praise of Fred, but not too well informed. He wrote: “Smith can nail those high notes and harmonies that Ellington had in mind when he wrote such standards as “Caravan,” “Stardust,” and “Take the L Train.”

Steve Voce reminded me of this one: Stan Getz, after playing a particularly brilliant tenor solo, turned to his pianist, Lou Levy, and asked, “Now who’s your favorite tenor player?” Lou quickly replied, “Al Cohn… isn’t he yours?”