Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CIX, No. 3March, 2009

Bill Crow

Thom Pastor, who is the secretary-treasurer of AFM Local 369 (Las Vegas), spent some time in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s playing lead alto on Si Zentner’s band. One New Year’s Eve they were playing at the Sahara. A middle-aged couple who had evidently invested a good deal of their retirement money in ballroom dance lessons kept shouting requests as they whizzed by the band during a long medley of tunes. When the music stopped, they came to the bandstand to reiterate their requests. They were dressed alike, the man in a plaid tuxedo jacket and the woman in a matching plaid skirt with a crinoline petticoat. Si was in the middle of calling out the next set of tunes, but the couple persisted in calling his name to get his attention. He turned around, looked at the way they were dressed, then grabbed the mike and said, “Hey, fellows, look at this! I didn’t know Purina made clothes!”

During the 1960’s Joe Muranyi worked at Atlantic Records for Nesuhi Ertegun. One day Ertegun told Joe that Coca Cola had sponsored an international jazz contest, and the winning group was to be recorded by Atlantic. He wanted to give a party for the German group that had won, and to invite a lot of famous New York jazz musicians to meet them. He asked Joe for a list of the mainstream musicians that were around, and said he would invite the modern jazz players. The party took place at the original Birdland, for an hour and a half in the early evening. Joe says the place was mobbed. It was a who’s who of the New York jazz scene, with Dizzy Gillespie, Miff Mole, Pee Wee Russell, Ornette Coleman, Herman Autrey, Bud Freeman, Charles Mingus, Joe Thomas, the McPartlands, Red Allen, Cannonball Adderley, Coleman Hawkins, etc. Most of the Atlantic artist roster was there, and all the hangers-on from Jim and Andy’s bar. Drinks were free, and everyone had a great time. When Birdland tried to end the party at the appointed time and get the club ready for the performances that night, nobody wanted to leave.

About a month later Ertegun called Joe into his office and showed him a letter from Coca Cola along with Birdland’s bill for the party. He said, “They want to know if there’s some hanky-panky on the part of Birdland. Coca Cola thinks it’s impossible for a party that lasted an hour and a half to drink this much booze!” 

Trumpeter George Maniere has been making his living building houses, but was recently telling his friend Dale Kirkland how slow the building trades had become. He said he was reminded of a line of jazz trombonist Jimmy Knepper’s: “It’s better to be wanted by the police than not to be wanted at all.”

When Scott Robinson gets a chance to play baritone sax on Duke Ellington charts, he often uses a split octave sound, where the reed produces a high note simultaneously with a middle register undertone. At a concert in Muskegon, Michigan, while playing Duke’s “Warm Valley,” Scott played some exposed Harry Carney parts with his split octave sound. Afterward, Loren Schoenberg said to him, “You should get a double for that.”

Among Robinson’s famous collection of odd musical instruments is a vintage Moog theremin. The early electronic instrument is in a large, heavy wooden cabinet with antennae and a speaker covered with old grill cloth. When he played it at the Jazz Standard with Maria Schneider’s orchestra, trombonist Keith O’Quinn commented, “Every time I look over at that thing, I think I’m about to hear one of FDR’s fireside chats!”

While Bob deBenedette was out with the Harry James band last summer, they stayed overnight at a motel in Hanover, PA. While Bob and Matt Koza were checking in at the desk, they noticed a carefully printed sign on the wall that read:


Ronny Whyte played a very elegant private party on Park Avenue. They didn’t have a real piano, but one of those Yamaha electronic grands. It had a full keyboard and weighted keys, but was only about two feet deep. It looked odd, but sounded fine, and Ronny enjoyed playing it. As the party went on, a lady said, “That’s a very strange looking piano!“ Ronny told her, “It’s electronic.” She asked, “Are you really playing it?” Ronny replied, “No, they just hired me to sit here in my tuxedo and smile.”

Bill Wurtzel had a jazz cruise to book, and someone suggested an agent who could help him choose the artists. Bill called the agent and asked him how familiar he was with the jazz business. “Are you kidding?” he replied. “Do you know who I booked… Dizzy Jillespie!” Bill thanked him and said he would keep him in mind.