Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CX, No. 4April, 2010

Bill Crow

Mundell Lowe sent me a couple of stories that he got from Andre Previn when he was working with Andre’s trio.

When Previn was conducting the London Symphony in the late 1960’s, he found in his pocket a piece of paper his agent had given him, on which was written “1987.” He called his agent and said he had no idea he had been booked so far in advance. The agent replied, “Schmuck! That’s your phone number!”

And when Previn was conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony, Ella Fitzgerald was booked there for a concert, with Previn to accompany her. After the concert she told him she admired him, and he was thrilled…until she went on to say that she admired anyone who could live in Pittsburgh.

Joe Temperley dropped by the office recently to say hello, and told me, “I bought another baritone sax! It used to belong to Manny Albam.” Many people aren’t aware that Manny, well known as an arranger and composer, started out in the music business as a baritone saxophonist. “Manny loaned it to Al Epstein,” said Joe, “and Al kept it for 50 years! Now that Manny’s gone, Al sold the horn to me.”

A few summers ago, Steve Cohen got a call from Luellen Abdoo telling him that she would be playing a lunchtime outdoor concert with the Synergy String Quartet, and that they would be including five of the charts Steve had arranged for them. He attended the concert, enjoyed it a lot, and on the way back to his office, called his wife on his cell phone. She wanted to know which of his arrangements they had played, and he rattled off the titles: “April in Paris,” “Begin the Beguine,” Bethena,” “Ragtime Nightingale,” and…he couldn’t think of the fifth title. He finished the call and continued walking, and then a minute later, it hit him. The tune he couldn’t remember was “Unforgettable.”

Anton Del Forno told me about some of the nuttiness that went on in the orchestra at the Palace Theatre during the run of “Man of La Mancha” in 1978. The orchestra was split, with half on each side of the stage, including three guitarists on each side. Anton sat with Scott Kuney and Jack Wilkins, and during the run, the guitarists began playing pranks on each other. An instrument might be un-tuned at the last minute, to see how quickly the player could recover. One night near the end of the run, things got a little out of hand. Just before the exit music, Kuney whipped out a pair of wire-cutters and severed five of Wilkins’ strings. Jack just played his part on his one remaining string, as if nothing had happened.

George Avakian was one of the honorees at this year’s National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters presentation ceremony and concert. The next day, Jim Czak of Nola Studios called George to say that he was in a taxi while the event was being broadcast and the driver had his radio on. Jim heard George’s voice, and exclaimed, “Hey, that’s my friend George Avakian!” The driver said, “Wow – you know George Avakian? I’ve followed his stuff since I was a kid. My cousin Bobby Henderson was Billie Holiday’s pianist for years – they always said he’s a great man!” George told me, “How thoughtful of Jim to take the right taxi at the right time!”

When Chris Tyle was leading a band on Bourbon Street in New Orleans during the holiday season a while back, he was under strict orders from the management not to play any Christmas music. When one customer shouted “Play some Christmas music!” the band ignored him, but they fell out when he shouted again, “Play some Christmas music, for Christ’s sake!” When the band had pulled itself together again, they gave him a chorus of “Jingle Bells.”

From Richard Drexler: The symphony musicians had little confidence in their new conductor. At the very first rehearsal, the cymbal player, angered at the conductor’s obvious incompetence, gave a mighty cymbal crash during a soft, delicate passage. The music stopped, and the highly agitated conductor demanded of the orchestra, “Who did that? Who did that?”