Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume 111, No. 12December, 2011

Bill Crow

This story comes from an Internet post by John Altman:

The Basie Alumni Band was on tour in Europe. Checking into a hotel in France was Oliver Jackson, flanked by Marshall Royal and Harry “Sweets” Edison. When Oliver told the desk clerk the name of the band, the clerk replied, “Oh, then you must know Jo Jones.” Before he could answer, Oliver felt a foot pressing hard on each of his, one belonging to Sweets and one to Marshall.

Sweets said, “Nope, the name isn’t familiar to us. How about you, Marshall?” Marshall said, “Not me.” The clerk became agitated. “But you must know Jo Jones! The Count Basie Band?” Other band members had come up to the desk. “Don’t know him,” said Joe Newman and Buddy Tate. “No Jo Jones that we ever heard of,” said Billy Mitchell.

All this time the pressure on Oliver Jackson’s foot got more intense, so he said nothing. In the elevator, Sweets explained: “Look, Jo is notorious for doing moonlight flits, running up hotel bills and not paying. If we’d let on we knew him, he’d have stuck us with the check!”

Ron Wasserman quoting David Baker:

“During a gig with the George Russell sextet, I was taking a solo and I had my eyes closed. When I was done, I opened my eyes and Thelonious Monk was standing right there. He said, ‘They were right, you do look like me.’ A year later, I was playing with the same band in the same club with my eyes closed. I opened them and there he was again, but this time he said, ‘But you’re uglier.’”

In 1974, Bill Zinn’s Ragtime String Quartet made their first ragtime recording, and featured Eubie Blake’s “Chevy Chase Rag” as the opening number. The recording was successful, and Zinn decided to present Blake, who said he was 92 at the time, with copies of it. He and his son David visited Blake at his home in Brooklyn. Zinn asked Eubie how he felt about the revival of his music. Blake replied, “Too little, too late!”

Eubie was thrilled with the string quartet arrangement of his piece, and, as a return gift, presented Zinn with an autographed copy of “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” an early hit of his that had been used as Harry Truman’s campaign song.

When Zinn remarked on Blake’s verve and energy at his age, Eubie said, “I’m never going to die. The devil gets you at night when you’re asleep, when you’re vulnerable, when you least expect him. Every night I read the New York Times until daybreak, and then sleep until noon. The grim reaper never comes exposed to the daylight. I’m safe…he’ll never catch me unawares!”

Eubie Blake finally met the grim reaper in 1983 at the age of 96. He claimed to be 100, but his birth and social security records show his birth year as 1887.

Years ago, when Jonathan Tunick was touring with “Once Upon A Mattress,” he found himself in Spokane, Washington, a city not far from the Idaho border. After the show, Jon and drummer Leon Oxman and a couple of other musicians from the band went looking for a place to eat, and chanced on a restaurant that featured live music.

There was a drummer and a pianist. The keyboard man sat between a piano and a Hammond Organ placed at right angles, so he could reach either one, using the organ pedals to play bass notes while he comped on the organ keyboard and soloed on the piano. The drummer played the bass drum and hi-hat with his feet while playing a guitar.

They expected the worst with this setup, but were delighted to discover that these were two great jazz players. Jon and his friends got their instruments, sat in with them, and played most of the night. He said they had great time. The guys could play in any key, and came up with some of the most inventive chord changes he’d ever heard.

When they finally packed it in for the night, Jon remarked to one of them how unusual it was to find good jazz players in such an out-of-the way place. “Oh, we’re not from around here,” he said. “We’re from Montana.”

Back in the 1980’s, Scott Robinson was called for a gig for an Italian composer who wrote for a large ensemble with a lot of doubles. He had come to New York and assembled some top players including Lew Soloff and Howard Johnson. Scott brought a lot of doubling instruments from his famous collection of vintage stuff. At the time, he didn’t own an alto flute, so he borrowed one from a music store on 48th Street, where he had worked when he first came to New York.

Scott was sitting next to Howard Johnson, who looked over his arsenal of saxophones, clarinets and flutes. Then he looked at Scott and asked, “So, who did you borrow the alto flute from?”

Scott answered, “I got it from the shop. But how did you know that I borrowed that particular horn, out of all these?”

Howard replied, “That one’s too shiny…I knew it couldn’t possibly be yours.”