Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CVII, No. 9September, 2007

Bill Crow

Fred Griffen sent me a couple of stories from his career as an orchestral horn player: “My first job out of college was with an orchestra in Texas. During my first season there, Andre Previn was a guest conductor. One of the local TV stations did an interview with him. The interviewer, an obviously star-struck young woman, asked Maestro Previn what he thought about as he waited in the wings before going on stage. Expecting some deep cosmic insight into this great musician’s psyche, she must have been disappointed when he replied, ‘I just want to make it to the podium without falling down.’”

Fred also said, “I had the privilege of working with Siegfried Landau in both the Brooklyn Philharmonic and Music for Westchester. Once we were rehearsing a piece with a large percussion section, which included a couple of musicians named something like Leibowitz and Horowitz. Anyway, their names both ended with “-witz.” At one point Maestro Landau stopped the orchestra and addressed the timpanist. “Mr. Horowitz, I wonder of you could play that passage a bit softer?” The timpanist replied, “Certainly, Maestro, but I’m Leibowitz. Horowitz is on the snare.” Maestro Landau immediately replied, “Oh, I beg your pardon. I can see I’m going to have to keep my ‘witz’ about me.”

Herb Gardner was sitting in with the Salty Dogs band one sweltering Sunday morning at the Connecticut Jazz Festival when Lew Green announced to the audience, “If you’re wondering why it’s been so hot all weekend, it’s because Friday night we all died and went to Hell. Now, here you are, and we’re your band! And you’re our audience! And here’s your singer from Hell, Miss Carole Leigh!” Then, recognizing a face in the crowd, he said, “Reverend! What are you doing here?”

Artie Azenser contracted an eight-piece band for a black tie event at the West Palm Beach convention center. It was decided that a string quartet should be hired for the cocktail hour, so Artie called a contact for string players that he was given at Lynn University in Boca Raton. When he told the lady he was in the market for a string quartet, she asked him, “How many string players will you need?”

I had to take down my collection of photos when Local 802 renovated our second floor offices recently. The union painted the walls, put in new carpet, and installed new desks and file cabinets. While I was re-hanging a few photos the other day, Howard Williams and I were admiring a shot that the late Doug Allen had given us of a percussion date he once played for Igor Stravinsky. Howard told me that when Doug had applied for unemployment benefits a little after that date, he was asked who his last employers had been. He replied, “Lester Lanin and Igor Stravinsky.”

In the 1960’s, when Wally Besser was playing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra directed by Buddy DeFranco, the band bus was on its way to a posh Southern country club. Their bus driver, Jack “Leadfoot” Giles, got lost enroute, and by the time he found the place, it was nearly starting time. Reed player Richy Barz, the band manager, told everyone to get dressed on the bus so they would be ready to play when they arrived. They pulled up in front of the club, where many club members were lined up at the entrance. As Richy pushed his way past them to the door, a mink-clad lady stopped him and said, “Oh, the Glenn Miller Orchestra! I just LOVE the Glenn Miller Orchestra! Are there any of the original members?” Richy growled, “Never mind that crap, lady, where are the microphone stands?”

When Lee Cohen was a student in Philadelphia, he attended a recital by Jascha Heifetz at the Academy of Music. The house was sold out, but fortunately Lee got one of the stage seats. In seats all around him were a group of young violinists from Curtis Institute, who tore Heifetz apart after every piece: “His vibrato’s too fast, his bow arm is all wrong, his tempo was too fast, too slow,” etc. After three encores, the audience gave Heifetz a long standing ovation. As Lee left the stage, he heard one of the students, a kid of about 14, say, “I guess we’ll all go home and take up the viola.”

Wayne Wright sent me a story he found on the internet: In 1931 Nicholas Slonimsky was in Paris conducting the second of two concerts of American modern music. One of the pieces, Wallingford Riegger’s “Three Canons” for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, had mixed time signatures, and so the Parisian musicians needed a conductor. Slonimsky said, “Some instrumental parts were written in 5/8 and others in 2/8. I started beating time in 5/8, whereupon the binary musicians began to gesticulate at me to show their discomfort. What was I to do? OK, I said, I will conduct 5/8 with my right hand and 2/8 with my left. I was so delighted with my newly found ambidextrous technique that I applied it in other pieces as well, notably in the second movement of Ives’ “Three Places in New England.” Someone quipped that my conducting was evangelical, for my right hand knew not what my left hand was doing.”

John Simon sent me an interview with Ahmad Jamal, in which he said, ‘‘I once heard Ben Webster playing his heart out on a ballad. All of a sudden he stopped. I asked him, ‘Why did you stop, Ben?’ He said, ‘I forgot the lyrics.’ ‘‘

Steve Cohen found this one in Jeffrey Zaslow’s column in the Wall Street Journal: Otto Klemperer never praised his orchestra, but one day at a rehearsal he uttered a curt, “Good.” Stunned, the musicians burst into applause. Klemperer silenced them with a tap of his baton. “Not THAT good,” he said.