Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CVIII, No. 6June, 2008

Bill Crow

While we were getting ready for a concert at St. Peter’s church with Lou Caputo’s Not So Big Band, guitarist Jeff Tillman told me about a jazz concert he once played with Harold Lieberman when Harold was the music director at Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey. As they were setting up in a nice new outdoor band shell on campus, Harold had said, “I told them not to build it here.” Evidently he had recommended a different location, but the wife of the dean had convinced the powers that be on the current location because she thought it would look better there. The bandstand faced a large hill across the way. The concert began with “Basin Street Blues,” and when the trombonist played the traditional opening phrase, before the band could play the traditional response, they heard a loud trombone answer, echoing from the hill. Harold looked and Jeff and said, “That’s why I told them not to build it here.”

When Alan Kay was starting out as a musician in the 1980’s, he formed an ensemble with some friends. He did a lot of searching for places to play, and was pleased when he found the Jewish Association for Services to the Aged, a stone’s throw from Lincoln Center, which had a nice auditorium. When he asked a staffer if they would like to have a free concert, he was told that they would be delighted. She said that the group would have a built-in audience of people coming upstairs after enjoying the lunch that was provided there daily. On the day of the concert, Alan was disappointed to find only 13 people had come into the auditorium. He told one of them, an elderly gentleman, that they had been promised a large audience. The man replied, “I know what happened! You came on a fish day… you should have come on a chicken day!”

Bryan Reid spent many evenings at the old Jazz Showcase in Chicago, listening to Dizzy Gillespie’s band. One night Dizzy was telling a story between songs, and somewhere in it used the word “boy.” A flashily dressed young tough guy, sitting at a table with several ladies, took loud exception to the word, and announced that nobody called him “boy.” Dizzy shook his head as if to say, “You’re wrong,’ and continued with his story. The man stood up and loudly repeated his challenge, and the whole place froze. Dizzy put his horn down, stepped off the stage and walked over to the man, gently took his hand, looked him in the eye and said, “Son, your mama called you ‘boy’ and you said, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ just like the rest of us.” The man threw up his hands in surrender, laughed, and sat back down. Dizzy returned to the bandstand and played a brilliant version of “A Night In Tunisia” and walked off to a standing ovation.

Luther Rix, who lives not far from me in Rockland County, sent me an article from the local newspaper, with the comment: “Glad I wasn’t on this gig!” The story told of a bride and groom who were arrested at their wedding reception. The bride had approached the band and demanded live music. The band demurred, having been instructed to only play when the disc jockey was finished spinning his records. When she didn’t get the live music she wanted, the bride threw a tantrum, during which she knocked over the conga drums, a speaker and some other equipment, doing over $1,500 worth of damage. The police were called, and a battle broke out between the police and the bridal party, three of whom were arrested, including the irate bride. The article didn’t say whether the band played “Here Comes the Bride” as they marched her out.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, jazz pianist Dodo Marmarosa spent some time in Chicago. He played a few gigs and hung out with Bob Cousins and Jack Maheu. Bob tells me that Dodo expressed an interest in hearing some classical music. Bob got three first-row Gallery tickets to a Chicago Symphony matinee performance, with Fritz Reiner conducting Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony. On the day of the concert, Bob, Jack and Dodo went to Orchestra Hall, took the elevator to the sixth floor and entered the Gallery seating from the rear. Getting to their first row seats required descending 23 rather steep steps. Bob and Jack went down to the first row and looked back to find Dodo at the top of the stairs, pacing back and forth. “Come on, Dodo, just hold onto the railing,” they said. “No, man!” said Dodo. “I can’t do it!” They were unable to persuade him to come down the stairs, and as standing wasn’t allowed in the hall, Dodo had to leave. He spent the next two hours walking up and down Michigan Avenue, waiting for his friends. It was Dodo’s last attempt in Chicago to hear some classical music.

The guitarist Wayne Wright passed away at the age of 75 on May 9. He had been a Local 802 member since 1962. He was a funny guy, and a fine musician. I remember catching him once at the Cookery, playing for Big Joe Turner. Between sets, I asked him if he was enjoying the gig, and he said, “Yeah, but we haven’t gotten out of the key of C all week!” The group I remember him best for was the quartet put together by Ruby Braff and George Barnes, with Michael Moore on bass. It was a wonderful group that made a couple of fine record albums, but it was doomed because neither Ruby or George could stand being second banana to the other, and they never worked out an amicable co-leadership. I subbed with them once for a week in Buffalo when Michael had to take off. He gave me the records, and I memorized all the arrangements so I wouldn’t have to be reading parts on the gig. At the end of the week, I mentioned to Wayne that I was a little surprised that neither Ruby or George had made any comment on the fact that I had played all the bass parts perfectly, with no rehearsal. Wayne said, “They were too busy hating each other to notice.” After becoming an invalid and giving up his playing career, Wayne continued to make a long list of friends, including me, happy with daily e-mail messages, passing on funny or amazing things he had run across on the Internet. I miss him.