Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CVIII, No. 1January, 2008

Bill Crow

William Zinn was a first violinist with the Indianapolis Symphony during the 1944-45 season, under the baton of Fabian Sevitzky, who Zinn says was a tyrant, much disliked by the musicians.

At the intermission break of the first rehearsal, Sevitzky announced that there would be an audition for seats in the string sections. Since Zinn had a contract that specified “fifth stand outside, first violins,” he assumed the audition was for the local players, and not the imported musicians like himself. But the orchestra manager told him everyone had to audition, regardless of what their contract said. Zinn objected and decided not to play, planning to take the matter up with the local union if necessary. He sat down to listen to the other players. After the violins and violas had played, the cellists were called to audition. After the last cellist had left the stage, Sevitzky spotted Zinn, who was dozing in the front row. He pointed at him and yelled, “I didn’t hear you play!” Zinn borrowed a cello and bow from one of the cellists and went onstage. Sevitzky barked, “Play a solo!” This was the first time Zinn had ever held a cello. He found C on the A string and made a feeble stab at playing Saint Saens’ “The Swan.” His attempt at reading a written passage was even worse. Sevitzky demanded Zinn’s name, and glared at the roster on his music stand. “You’re in the violin section! Why are you on cello?” Zinn replied, “I already have my seat in the contract. But I love the sound of the cello, and would be happy to play in the cello section.” The angry conductor stamped off stage, and later, to everyone’s amazement, Zinn found himself assigned to the second stand outside, first violins. He suspects that Sevitzky put him there in order to keep an eye on him.

On tour in one city, the musicians were occupying rooms on the fifth and sixth floors of their hotel. Zinn, on the fifth floor, pressed the elevator call button one morning on his way to breakfast. When the doors opened, the elevator was crowded with musicians from the sixth floor, with Sevitzky standing at the front. He was holding a black cane topped with a gold handle. Zinn performed an elaborate bow and cried, “Good morning, Dr. Sevitzky!” The conductor showed his annoyance with a sour expression, banging his cane on the floor of the car. Zinn didn’t enter the elevator, allowing the doors to slowly close. Then he ran down the stairs to the fourth floor and pressed the call button there. The elevator door opened, same group of musicians, same sour face on the conductor. Zinn again bowed and repeated his greeting, and Sevitzky again banged his cane on the floor of the car. Zinn raced to the third floor where he repeated his greeting, and Sevitzky, now florid with anger, banged his cane so vigorously that the handle came off, revealing a dagger that was hidden there. In his hurried efforts to re-sheathe the weapon, he managed to alarm the musicians in the car, who pushed past him in a panic and made a dash for the stairs along with Zinn, who was a few steps ahead of them.

In the crowded restaurant, Zinn found that the only seat available was at the counter, right next to Sevitzky. Zinn sat there and ordered a huge breakfast. When the check arrived, he pushed it over in front of Sevitzky and told the counterman, “My father will pay my tab.” As he left, he said once more to the startled conductor, “Good morning, Dr. Sevitzky!”

Turk Mauro ran into some friends in a Greenwich Village restaurant one night, and he joined them at their table. Among the group was Bradley Cunningham, the owner of Bradley’s, a jazz club on University Place. Turk had already had dinner, so he just ordered a scotch, but when the waiter handed him a menu, Bradley quickly snatched it away. “Nothing for him,” he said. “He gets nasty when he eats.”

Judd Woldin told me about a night at the old Half Note when Al Cohn and Zoot Sims were playing there with their quintet. The drummer that night was a bit avant garde. During his featured solo Al and Zoot left the bandstand and sat at the bar below. As Zoot sipped a Dewars, he studied the drummer’s innovations. At the climax, the drummer suddenly began playing in mid-air. Zoot yelled, “Hit something, man! Hit something!”

Linc Milliman told me about a gig he did a few years back for the late Andy Zoob in a swing band at a dance club. Andy told the band, “Some chicks are going to dance to some disco records. There’ll be five tracks, so on the fourth one, come back to the bandstand so we’ll be ready to play again.” The band headed for the bar as the sound system began to crank out some loud, ugly music. After a while, Mike Carubia said, “I’ve lost track already… is this number one or number two?” Ray Kennedy listened to the tuneless clamor for a moment and said, “Man, it’s all number two!”