Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CXI, No. 1January, 2011

Bill Crow

The Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania publishes a very good jazz magazine called “The Note,” three times a year. Phil Woods had been a regular columnist there for several years, but took some time off to write his memoir titled “My Life in E Flat.” With the book finished, Phil’s column returned to “The Note” in the latest issue, to everyone’s delight. Here’s one of the items in it:

A beautiful young girl was hitting on alto man Gene Quill in Charlie’s Tavern and he was not paying much attention. She got pissed off and asked him if he was gay. His reply: “Gay? I’m not even happy!”

For more information about the Al Cohn collection and “The Note,” go to

Dan Wilensky has published a musical handbook titled “Musician!,” filled with advice and stories. One of them told about a job he had to play a jazzy version of Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” by the outer door of a church on lower Fifth Avenue when the bride and groom emerged onto the street. He arrived early, waited outside the church doors, and when they opened, went into his act:

“I saw several people coming towards the exit, so I busted into my swingin’ take on the happy tune. Heads turned, and I thought I heard a woman scream. Just as I really started jamming, I heard someone yell, ‘Stop that right now! Get out of here! What in the hell are you doing?” Another guy came running down the steps, looking like he was going to try to tackle me. I hustled my vintage Selmer to safety and braced for a confrontation. The angry fellow bellowed, ‘I don’t know who you are or why you would play such a sick joke, but you should leave right now or you’re going to get hurt.’

Assessing my options, I made a gentle inquiry: ‘Isn’t this the Parker wedding?’ ”

No, it was a funeral. The club date office had sent Dan to the wrong church.

In 1960, at a street fair in Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard, Larry Benz was playing guitar with a quintet on the sidewalk in front of the local movie theatre. They had just learned “How High The Moon,” and were playing it slightly wrong, When they finished, a woman walked up to Larry and said, “You know, the first time the melody goes up to a B-flat, and the second time is B-natural.” Larry said, “Sure. Thanks.” Then the lady said, “I’m Nancy Hamilton. I wrote the lyrics.”

Randy Sandke gave me this one, about a bassist Lew Tabackin knew of. The bassist wanted to play with an avant-garde pianist, but the pianist, fearing he wouldn’t fit in, told him, “I don’t think you understand my music. Even I don’t understand my music.”

Bill Wurtzel was playing solo guitar in a restaurant. He saw a friend of his come in the front door and head for the men’s room. When he came out, he went right back outside without crossing the room to where Bill was playing, to say hello. Later, Bill called his friend to ask about his odd behavior. The friend said he didn’t know Bill was playing there. He was just driving by and had to use the john.

The late Hale Rood, a fine composer and arranger, was also a prodigious eater. One evening, at the old China Song, (which became the musicians’ midtown hangout for a few years after Jim and Andy’s closed), Hale walked in with a couple of friends and sat down at a table. The waiter brought over the menu and stood waiting while Hale perused it. Hale then handed it back to the waiter and said, “That’ll be fine.”

Hale kept a large pet snake in his apartment. One night, while he stood talking to friends in front of the China Song, a rather nefarious looking individual sidled up to Hale and whispered something to him. Hale reached in his pocket and produced a couple of bills, which the man quickly pocketed as he disappeared around the corner. Hale said to the rest of us, “He’s my connection. For rats, for the snake.”

Another couple of items from Randy Sandke: He once heard the late trombonist extraordinaire Joel Helleny remark, “Playing someone else’s improvised solo is like wearing someone else’s underwear.”

And Randy told me about Spanky Davis, the jazz trumpet player who fits the appellation “Mr. Five by Five” as aptly as did Jimmy Rushing, the original owner of that moniker. Spanky squeezed into a cab one day and gave the driver the address of his gig in the Bronx, but the driver refused to go there. Spanky said, “Well, take me where you want to go, then, ‘cause I’m not getting out of the cab!”

Howard Danziger sent me an e-mail to let me know that the humorous definitions from the entertainment industry that I passed along in my last column were written my him, and appeared in his book “88 Keys to Failure,” which he wrote in 2001. Sorry about that, Howard. They were sent to me without attribution.