Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CVII, No. 6June, 2007

Bill Crow

George Avakian told me about a European tour made by his wife Anahid Ajemian and her sister Maro. Ernest Krenek had written a double concerto for them and they were driving from Paris to Baden Baden for the premier performance. At the German customs, two young inspectors asked if Anahid was bringing in her violin in order to sell it. When she said no, she was asked if it was new. She said it was quite old, and showed them the original Amati label inside the instrument which said it was made in Italy in 1636. There was consternation, and a delay while the inspectors’ boss was consulted. Twenty minutes later, he came in and asked to see their passports. When they were produced, he said, “Ah, Amerikaners! Alle ist O.K.!”

Eddie Caine remembers a matinee day when he was playing Sid Caesar’s “Little Me” on Broadway. He visited a friend after the early show, and when he returned to the theatre just in time for the evening show, he dashed out of the subway into a pouring rainstorm that had just begun. By the time he reached the stage door, just five minutes before the downbeat, he was soaked from head to toe. He rushed into the pit past the contractor, Henry Topper, whose horns were all beside him on a stand: tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute and piccolo. Eddie’s wet coattail caught on something, and he heard a big crash. He looked around and was horrified to see all of Henry’s horns lying on the floor. Topper was laughing, and said, “Don’t worry, I can’t play them anyway. Sit down… sit down!”

I met Scott Robinson on a job recently and was surprised that he had only brought a tenor sax and a cornet to play. I’m used to seeing him show up with some of his collection of odd instruments like heckelphones, ophicleides, slide saxophones and twin-belled cornets. He told me about a huge contra-bass saxophone he has, about eight feet tall. He said he had used it on a midtown gig and was about to take it back home. He had parked his old VW bus at the curb and was carefully inserting the behemoth sax through the side door when a passerby did a double-take and came back to look. “Wow,” he said. “Do you want to sell it?” Scott told him, “No, this is my baby. It’s not for sale.” The guy nodded, and then said, “They sure are great cars.” He hadn’t even noticed the giant saxophone… he coveted the Volkswagen! Scott said he laughed all the way home to New Jersey.

As soon as this happened, Herb Gardner sent me a message: Carrying his tuba home from a gig, Vince Giordano passed an outdoor flea market. One of the bargain hunters took a look at Vince’s horn and remarked approvingly, “Oh, wow! What a find!”

Frad Garner passed along a story from Tony Mottola Jr., editor of Jersey Jazz. His father, the great guitarist, was a friend of the late Bobby Rosengarden, who called Tony Senior one evening while the family was having dinner. His 11-year old daughter Nina picked up the phone. “Hello, little girl, can I speak to your daddy?” Rosengarden asked. “Sure, who’s calling?” Bob said, “Just tell him it’s the world’s greatest drummer.” Nina called into the kitchen, “Daddy, it’s Ringo Starr.”

Wayne Wright sent along this story, which he got from banjoist/record producer Bill Dern. Bill was remembering the Yankee Doodlers, the Dixie band that used to play at Yankee Stadium for the home games. Johnny Carisi was their regular trumpeter. When one of the banjo players used a substitution on an Irving Berlin standard they were playing, Carisi indignantly yelled out the correct chord. An argument ensued, but it was impossible to win an argument with Johnny about harmony. Finally, the banjo player said, “Okay, John, I’ll play it your way, just for you.” Carisi yelled back, “Don’t play it that way for me… play it that way for Irving Berlin!”

Russ Anixter’s partner Don Rice used to play in an R&B band. On a gig, during a sound check, a young man came up to Don and said, “Your organ is smokin’!” Don said, “Thanks!” but the guy said, “No, no… it’s on fire!” Sure enough, a transformer had blown.

Listening to a cable TV service’s jazz channel, Bill Kirchner was amused at one of the “info-bites” that appeared on the screen while the music was playing: “Cool jazz saxophonists generally played with little or no bravado.”

On a duo gig in a restaurant last year, Ron Mills and his singer Kate were competing for the attention of the crowd in the bar with the televised Final Four basketball game. Just as Kate finished a song with a neatly placed sharp eleventh, a thunderous cheer broke out around the television set. Kate winked at Ron and said, “And you thought they weren’t listening!”

This report from the Mike Morreale/Ray Scro big band was sent to me by pianist Alex Leonard: Mike announced “One O’Clock Jump” by saying, “This tune needs no introduction.” Bassist Ken Gotschall called out, “Does that mean we start at letter A?”