Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CVIII, No. 5May, 2008

Bill Crow

Buddy DeFranco was interviewed by Steve Voce a couple of years ago. Steve recently posted the transcript on the internet. Here are two stories from it that I like:

“When I was with Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Shavers was in the band. He was a great musician, but he was also a sleeper. So much so that people thought he was a junkie. He had a legitimate sleeping sickness, and once in a while Tommy would have to squirt him with a water pistol on stage, to wake him. He could go to sleep sitting next to Louis Bellson’s drum solo. Louie used to hit him with a stick occasionally, to wake him up. In a recording studio, when Charlie fell asleep and started snoring, Tommy had all the mikes turned on and the recording machines started. Then he asked Charlie some ridiculous, raunchy questions, and Charlie answered with a snore. It was one of the funniest tapes I ever heard.

“Once, in a theatre, when Tommy squirted Charlie with the water pistol to wake him up, Charlie came back with his own water pistol and squirted Tommy. Then Tommy got giddy…once in a while he’d get giddy instead of angry…and he started squirting the whole band. This was on stage, don’t forget. So the whole band went out and bought water pistols, and we had a water fight on stage…the audience had no idea what was going on, or why. 

“Tommy went out to look for the best water pistol he could find, and finally came back with a huge thing that looked like a tommy gun.” 

DeFranco received a lot of offers for work in Hollywood, and thought he might like to settle down there as a studio musician, but when he left Dorsey, he spent about nine months looking for work without results. “I think I worked one Sunday afternoon job with Corky Corcoran in a nine-month period.” Then Dorsey called and asked if he was ready to rejoin his band. DeFranco said, “I did go back, and I later learned from Ziggy Elman that Tommy had engineered the whole thing. He blackballed me in California, so I’d have to rejoin him.”

Henry Newberger says that when Bruce McNichols was loading his car one day for a gig with his band, he noticed a flock of crows nearby and decided to try out the crow call that he had in his sound effects bag. He blew a few caws, and so many crows landed in his driveway that he had to take refuge for a while inside his house. Henry says the bad news is that the birds didn’t carry off Bruce’s banjo.

Saxophonist Ken Simon was doing a single at a South Street Seaport restaurant, playing his soprano sax outdoors on the veranda. Three very scruffy looking men were sitting on a bench nearby. Ken thought they looked like trouble. After he had played a couple of tunes, one of the men, wearing a mean scowl, waddled over and stood in front of Ken while he was playing. When Ken stopped, the man said politely, “My friends and I would like to know what instrument you’re playing.” When Ken told him, the man thanked him and returned to his bench. The second man walked over and stood looking at Ken with an even meaner and nastier look than the first. After a while he wandered off, and the third man came over and put four dollars on the table beside Ken. “This is for respect!” he said. Then he asked for “Blue Moon” and went into the restaurant to use the facilities.

As Rich Siegel was getting into his tuxedo for a gig at the 21 Club, his three-year-old daughter Emily came into the room. “What are you doing, Daddy?” she asked. “I’m getting dressed for work, honey.” “What do you do at work, Daddy?” “You know, Daddy plays the piano.” “Yes, but what else do you do, Daddy?”

When I was playing the original run of “42nd Street” on Broadway, I sat across from the late John Leone, who was doubling on baritone sax and bassoon. John had played a number of hit shows in his career, but “42nd Street” was his longest run: it may have lasted for eight years. He told me that when he got the call for the first rehearsals, he wasn’t sure about it. He said, “I did some serious calculations to see how long the show would have to run to make me more money than if I just sold the bassoon!” I’m glad he decided to take the show, since it gave me many years of his delightful company.

I got a nice note from guitarist John Porrazzo, who has been a member of Local 802 since 1938. At 93, he is still playing in Rockford, Illinois. When he was in France during World War II, he had the pleasure of playing with his hero, Django Reinhardt, for four evenings, and the memory still lingers, after all these years.

Lee Cohen sent me these stories about our friend the late Phil Bodner: 

A large orchestra was recording at Columbia Records’ 30th Street studio. The chart, a ballad, closed with Phil holding a high note on the piccolo, with a diminuendo that lasted for eight bars. Phil played it perfectly, with impeccable pitch. When the producer said “take ten,” hornist John Barrows yelled out, “The piccolo player with the Philharmonic can’t do that!”

When the Benny Goodman sextet was at the Rainbow Grill around 1970, Goodman fell ill during his second week there. Bodner subbed for Benny for the rest of the week, and nobody asked for their money back.

Lee says he enjoyed Phil’s presence on the Dick Cavett show, where the section also included Walt Levinsky and Eddie Daniels. The music was especially good during the audience warm-ups. But he was most amazed during a Hugo Montenegro date at the 34th Street RCA studios. There were three reed players in a huge orchestra, and Phil had nine or ten instruments with him. Every solo for all three sessions was on Phil’s stand, and he played them all brilliantly. As they packed up, Lee said, “Phil, the guy hasn’t been born yet who can do what you’ve just done.” Phil, his face reddening, just mumbled, “Aw, c’mon, Leon.” Lee’s final words: “Rest in peace, my friend. You were the greatest.”