Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume 111, No. 6June, 2011

Bill Crow

Ed Berger posted on the internet a part of an interview he did with trumpeter Joe Wilder. They were talking about his travels through the South with Lucky Millinder’s band, which was integrated at the time.

Joe said, “One time, we went with Lucky’s band, which had five white musicians at the time, to Charleston. We were there about five hours early, and were waiting for the ballroom to open. Up comes the sheriff’s car with the sheriff and his deputy. The sheriff gets out and says, ‘Who’s in charge here?’ Lucky says, ‘I am.’ ‘Well, I’m tellin’ you, boy, there ain’t gonna be no mixed bands down here in Charleston, South Carolina!’ And Lucky says, ‘Well, this isn’t a mixed band.’ The sheriff looks around and says, ‘You mean to tell me those aren’t white musicians over there?’ ‘No,’ says Lucky.

“So now, the sheriff walks up to each white musician and asks, ‘You colored?’ And each guy said ‘yes.’ He looked at the deputy in disbelief. He gets to Porky (Solomon) Cohen, our first trombone player, and says, ‘Now, you gonna tell me that you’re colored, too?’ And Porky, who had a pronounced lisp, answers emphatically, ‘Why, thertainly!’ We were almost doubled over, laughing.

“Finally, he turned to the deputy and said, ‘Well, if they all say they colored, ain’t nothin’ we can do about it.’ And they got in the car and drove off.

“Many years later, I’d run into Porky in New York in the middle of the theater district, and ask him, ‘Are you?’ And he’d say, ‘Why, thertainly!’”

In 1969, Howard Danziger’s wife Lori was booked for a week at the Caribbean Hotel in Aruba, followed by a week at the Intercontinental Hotel in Curacao. At the first hotel, Howard, her conductor, noticed that the lead trumpet player was writing feverishly on his part for the opening number. When he asked him about it, the trumpet player said, “Senor, the writing helps me to play the music better.” Not being able to read Spanish, Howard didn’t argue, and the gig went well. But at the hotel in Curacao, Howard asked the trumpet player there to explain the writing on his part. The man said, “Amigo, it’s a letter from my brother, Hernando. He’s too cheap to buy a stamp and an envelope.”

Ian Royle has a son, Tony, a trumpet player like his father. Tony recently sent Ian the following message:

“I did a gig with ‘Scratch the Cat’ on Saturday night at a golf and country club in Norwich. It was a good crowd. However, rather too much alcohol was consumed, and a guest kept trying to grab my trumpet, and was doing the usual fingers in the ears in front of my bell. I kept my cool. In a break from playing, I went into the audience to check the levels, and this same guy came staggering up. He said I was very noisy, and by the way, what was my name? I said, ‘They call me golf ball.’ He asked me why. I said, ‘Like a golf ball, you can push me around and play games with me, but if I hit you, it will really hurt!’ He stood open-mouthed as I smiled and excused myself. It worked perfectly… he gave me a wide berth for the rest of the night.”

Herb Gardner tells me that, when he is leading the Stan Rubin band, he likes to keep the guys happy by not playing the same songs every week. He often asks for their input on charts that they like. During one break, he asked lead trumpeter John Eckert, “Is there anything special you would like to play on the next set?” John thought for a minute and then said, “Trumpet?”

Ronny Whyte dropped by the 55 Bar one evening to hear the music. On their break, the musicians were speaking to some of their friends and fans in the house, many of whom were also musicians. Some of them were asking each other what instruments they played. An attractive young lady joined the group, and someone asked, “Are you a musician?” “No,” she replied, “I’m a singer.”

Jimmy Wisner told me about a wedding he once played in Philadelphia with a violinist leader who decided to serenade the bride and groom at their table during dinner. He went and stood beside them, near a small table that bore the wedding cake. The newlyweds responded to his music with delight, and the leader became more energetic in his efforts. He finished, after a dramatic high note, with a sweeping low note that carried his bow hand right into the wedding cake, causing great damage and embarrassment. Jimmy regrets that no video was being made at the time.

Mike Melvoin sent me this scenario: A guy calls the musicians’ union to get a quote on a six-piece band for a wedding. The rep says, “Off the top of my head, I’d say about $2,000.” The guy says, “Are you kidding… for music?” The rep responds, “Let me suggest that you call the plumbers’ union and ask for six plumbers to work from six to midnight on a Saturday night. Whatever they charge you, we’ll work for half!”