Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CX, No. 1January, 2010

Bill Crow

In 1980, while I was playing a production of “Man of La Mancha” at a dinner theater in Nanuet, I had to take a week off for some minor surgery, and got Steve Johns to sub for me.

At the beginning of the show, after the overture, we always turned off our music stand lights as the theater went into darkness for a few minutes while the cast proceeded slowly down the aisles to the stage. We had memorized the music that brought them down, and we played it in the dark.

Since Steve was going to be sight-reading the show, I didn’t want him to have to memorize anything, so I found a roll of the glow-tape that the actors used to mark their locations in the dark.

I pasted the tape over the memorized passage, drew staff lines on it and wrote in the notes of my part. The tape absorbed energy from the music stand light during the overture, and when the lights went out, there were the notes, glowing on the page.

I didn’t tell Steve about my invention… I knew he’d enjoy the surprise.

When Jon Berger was playing a Broadway revival of “La Mancha,” some of the markings from the original show remained in the drum book. The opening duo of drums and acoustic bass had been marked “snare drum played with fingers.” The present musical director asked Jon to play it softly with sticks, but when composer Mitch Leigh attended a performance, he told the conductor to have Jon play the entire show with his fingers. They obliged until Leigh left town, and then went back to sticks. But after that, before every show, bassist Paul Ivory would say sternly to Jon, “Play with your fingers,” and Jon would obligingly twiddle his fingers playfully.

Outgoing President Mary Landolfi told me this one: Her husband Pat and another tuba player, Lew Waldeck, had arranged to meet at the Carnegie Tavern after a benefit at Carnegie Hall. The major attraction at the benefit was Frank Sinatra, and when Lew came into the Tavern afterward, he was all agog. “Pat,” he said excitedly, “I just met Frank Sinatra, and he spoke to me!” “What did he say?” asked Pat. “He was coming down the stairs just as I was going up, and he said, ‘Get the f*** out of my way!’”

Brent Hahn got this story from trumpeter Al Porcino:

When Al was just getting established in New York City, he called his parents in Florida.

“Ma, great news! I’m going on the road with Frank!”

“Slow down, darling. Who’s Frank?”

“Sinatra, Ma. In the music business, when you say ‘Frank,’ everybody knows who you mean.”

“Well, that is good news. Let me tell your father. (yelling) Honey, Albert’s on the phone. He’s going on the road with Frank!”

The senior Porcino yelled back, “Who’s Albert?”

John Altman once had Al Cohn as a houseguest, and Al took John to meet Woody Herman. Al introduced him, saying, “John has a big band.” Woody grabbed John’s outstretched hand, looked earnestly into his eyes, and asked, “Why?”

Jazz drummer Shelly Manne once attended an orchestral rendition of a large Bartok work, conducted by Andre Previn. Shelly went backstage after the performance to tell Previn how much he enjoyed the music. Previn introduced Shelly to the orchestra manager, who said to him, “I didn’t think that people like you liked this kind of music.” Shelly replied, “That’s not true. Big bands are coming back!”

Here’s a tidbit from the Internet:

Years ago, UK bassist Peter Morgan went to hear Slam Stewart when he played at The Canteen in Covent Garden, London. At the bar in the crowded nightclub he discovered the entire string bass section of the London Symphony Orchestra. Evidently Slam found out who they were, and turned up the heat on his performance, amazing and delighting them all.

Sean Fox told me about visiting Abraham Lincoln’s home in Illinois. The National Park ranger who was the tour guide ended his story with: “…and after the election, Lincoln waved goodbye from the last car of the train, rode away, and never returned.” A voice from the crowd: “Where did he go?”

Randy Sandke was once playing trumpet at a party for the World Wrestling Federation at the Rainbow Room. While the band was on a break, Randy sat down at the piano to play a few tunes. A big hulking guy who was walking by suddenly tripped and fell over Randy onto the piano. He made sure Randy was okay, apologized, and Randy continued to play. Tenorman Gary Keller, on his way back to the bandstand, said, “Wow, you were nearly wiped out by Gorilla Monsoon!”