Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CVII, No. 12December, 2007

Bill Crow

For a couple of years around the turn of the last century, I played with a bebop trio in the restaurant portion of a club called Scores, on East 60th Street. Their main feature was a showroom filled with dozens of beautiful young dancers who worked with hardly any clothes on. Originally, the place had been one huge showroom, with dancers everywhere, but Rudolph Giuliani, who was then the mayor, attempted to limit the areas where “adult entertainment” took place in New York. A judge applied a strict reading of the so-called “60-40 requirement” in the zoning law, which said that if at least 60 percent of an establishment’s space was used for other purposes, the remaining space could be used for adult entertainment. To comply with that ruling, Scores built a wall across their showroom, making the larger portion of their space into a restaurant with private dining rooms. On the restaurant side of the wall was a bar, and behind the bar was a remnant of one of the show stages.

Nick DiVito is a saxophone and clarinet player from Connecticut who supplements his musical income as a woodworker. When he was hired by Scores as a carpenter and handyman, he suggested to the manager that he put a jazz trio on the small stage in the restaurant. They agreed to a trial gig, and Nick hired me and pianist Alan Eicher. The boss liked our music, and gave us a steady gig on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Our audience was the diners at the tables, and the showgirls. When they weren’t dancing, they relaxed at our bar, dressed in evening gowns.

We played our jazz repertoire, but we’d take a request if we knew the tune. One evening one of the young dancers came over and asked me, “Do you know any Madonna songs?” “No, dear,” I answered, “That’s children’s music. This is adult entertainment.” I thought she would laugh, but she just nodded and went back to her martini.

Playing at a jazz party, Randy Sandke noticed that drummer Jake Hanna was having trouble with the rest of the rhythm section, which was a little sluggish. On the last chorus of one tune, Randy asked Jake if he wanted the bridge. “No,” said Jake, “because I might jump off it!”

Randy also told about a night when Jake was playing the Merv Griffin show. Jake got a good laugh out of Jack Benny, one of the guests. Jack was talking about a cheap hotel in Atlantic City where he had stayed. Merv said, “I think Jake Hanna stayed there, too.” He looked over at the band and asked Jake, “Didn’t they change the name of it?” Jake shot back, “They changed everything but the sheets!”

Ian Finkel (pronounce his name EYE-an), who bills himself “The World’s Greatest Xylophonist,” stopped by my desk at Local 802 recently and handed me a copy of the manuscript for his new book, “You’re Not Supposed to Be Here.” In it he tells entertaining horror stories about his musical life traveling the world with a xylophone and a box of cigars. He’s done a million tours and cruise ship gigs, and has found much to complain about. “I played across the U.S. and abroad, and find that there are lousy people all over,” he writes. “Yeah, yeah, there are nice people as well, but I don’t find them as interesting to write about, and much harder to find.” Here’s an example of his writing style that I liked: “…[O]ne night in Seoul, Korea… the audience was not in a good mood… The show opened with a very poor singer who was booed off the stage. So bad was this vocalist that three minutes into my act, the audience began to boo him again.”

Back in 1974 I was playing Joel Grey’s one man show at the Nanuet Theatre. After his opening number, Joel would tell the audience, “And now, I’m going to sing a country tune.” And he would rare back and sing, “Rumania, Rumania, RuMANIA, Rumania, Rumania….” When the audience laughed, he would give them a quizzical look and inquire, “Rumania is not a country?” I suspect it was shtick he got from his father, the musical comedian Mickey Katz.

Larry Routt used to play in a band in Louisville that had no leader. No one in the band wanted his name on the music stands or checks, so they invented a fictitious leader. The music stands and checking account read, “Les Dantz and his Orchestra.” Larry said it was amazing how many people came up and asked to meet Les, as their sister had dated him, or his brother was in the army with him, or he knew the guy who used to live next door to him. The musicians always made up a story about why Les wouldn’t be there that evening.

Kenny Berger played a date at the Waldorf a couple of years ago in the orchestra backing Natalie Cole. The music stand lights were very dim, and the musicians were having trouble seeing their parts. Frank Wess leaned over to Kenny and said, “I gotta get me a dog that can read music!”

On hearing of the passing of the world famous mime Marcel Marceau, Herb Gardner asked everyone to observe a moment of noise.

Leo Ball, trumpeter and administrator of the union’s payroll service Legit 802, is on medical leave until January. Friends can e-mail him at Local 802 wishes him well and we will keep readers updated on his progress.