Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CVIII, No. 3March, 2008

Bill Crow

Back in 1974 Turk Mauro and Zoot Sims were riding an Amtrak train to Washington D.C. where they both had gigs at different clubs. Mitch Miller walked up the aisle and stopped to say hello to Zoot. The train was crowded, and Turk got up and gave Miller the seat beside Zoot. When the train reached Philadelphia, Miller, looking a bit perplexed, left the train, and Turk rejoined Zoot. “What were you talking about?” he asked. Zoot said, “I told him I was sorry to hear about his troubles with the I.R.S. and the jail time he served, and he said he didn’t know what I was talking about.” Turk told him he didn’t know Mitch Miller had a problem with the I.R.S. Zoot said, “Mitch Miller! I thought that was Skitch Henderson!”

Turk once played an early gig at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and was driving himself and Billy Mitchell back to Queens. Billy was dozing in the passenger seat. Hoping for a stop in the Village to hear some jazz, Turk said, “Dizzy is at the Blue Note, and we’re going right by it.” Billy opened his eyes and said, “That’s right!” and dozed right off again.

A friend of Wayne Wright’s named Euni was working as a substitute teacher at a school where the kids had just returned from spring break. They were having a class discussion about what the kids had done during their break, and one young man proudly announced that his family had gone to Australia to attend a wedding. Euni asked if there were any differences in the way they have weddings in Australia, and the kid said there was a difference at the reception. “All the D.J.’s had instruments.”

On a steady Thursday at a restaurant in Westport that bassist Linc Milliman has been playing with Richie Hart, the musicians have gotten used to being ignored by the diners. They manage to enjoy themselves by playing music they like. On a recent evening, as Richie was laying out an intro to “Pensativa,” a lady approached the musicians with a four-year-old in tow. He looked at the musicians hesitantly, and she said, “Go ahead, ask them.” Richie stopped playing and waited, and the boy asked, “Do you know ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’” Richie claimed he didn’t know it, so Linc said, “I’ll play it for you.” He did so, and when he finished, the audience went crazy with applause. Linc said to a customer at the nearest table, “Are you kidding? I’ve been playing bass solos all night, and I get a standing ovation for ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’?” The customer replied, “All that stuff is over our heads. We really like ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Later, the little boy came back over and solemnly handed Linc a $2 tip.

Another story from William Zinn: When smoking was still popular among musicians, the Masterwork Piano Trio was no exception. The pianist smoked cigarettes, the cellist a bulldog pipe, and Zinn, the violinist, smoked cigars. During rehearsals, the pianist and cellist puffed away while playing, but Zinn couldn’t smoke a cigar without hitting it with his bow. To compensate, he invented his “smoking violin.” He owned a cheap machine-made violin that he used when his Tononi was out for repairs. He sawed off the scroll, removed the stem from his flat Bole pipe, and attached it to the violin’s peg box. He sawed the ears off the scroll and cemented them to the sides of the pipe, making it look like a scroll. He removed the fingerboard and made a groove in the neck that would accept a piece of aluminum tubing that ran from the neck through the body of the violin to the tailpiece button. Flexible plastic tubing connected this to the pipe bowl at the scroll end and to a pipe stem at the bottom through which he could suck the smoke while playing. At the next rehearsal he filled the pipe bowl with some aromatic tobacco and lit up his violin. The other members of the trio thought his violin was on fire! He told them he wanted to play a “hot violin.” He told his neighbor, Snooky Young, who played the Tonight Show, that he would be willing to appear on the show with his invention and play “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

I played a school concert with Art Baron’s quartet at Lincoln Center recently. Jackie Williams was the drummer, and Richard Wyands was the pianist. Art did a nice job of getting a roomful of elementary school kids to participate in some fun with jazz. After some handclapping on the afterbeat and call and response scatting on “C Jam Blues” and some group “doo-wahs” on “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” Art brought some of the kids up to the microphone to ask questions. One boy asked Art, “Did you guys play rock before you got old?”