Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CVIII, No. 12December, 2008

Bill Crow

While I was learning to be a jazz bass player back in the 1950’s, I found some extra work on the New York club date scene. There, I met a saxophonist and violin doubler named Jerry Packtor, who had a great sense of humor. He kept the other musicians entertained, even at the stuffiest affairs. He had a bald head and a wide grin, and I was always glad to see him. As I was setting up on one job, I saw a guy in the sax section waving to me, but didn’t recognize him. Then he raised his toupee, and I saw that it was Jerry, who had added the hair to keep happy a leader who wanted a “young looking” band. 

Marty Napoleon told me that on a Jimmy Lanin gig, Jerry had found a seedy-looking bum outside the hotel, slipped him a couple of dollars and brought him to the bandstand. “Sit here and hold my saxophone,” he told the guy, “and when Lanin comes over, tell him Jerry couldn’t make the gig.”

One morning Marty got a message that Packtor had called him. When he returned the call, Jerry began telling jokes, and Marty spent the next 15 minutes laughing. Then he asked what Jerry had called about. “What did I call about?” said Jerry. “I just laid three jokes on you!”

At a dress rehearsal for a concert at Lehman College in the Bronx, the concert band was about to do Sammy Nestico’s “Tribute to Harry James,” featuring trumpeter Ron Lo Pinto. The conductor, Allan Hollander, asked Ron if he wanted to stand up in the section, or play his solo down in front of the band. Ron couldn’t decide, and Hollander asked, “What did Harry do?” From the trombone section, Wyn Walshe said, “He drank.”

Linc Milliman once played tuba at an Oktoberfest affair with a trombone player and an accordionist to whom Linc says “diminished” meant “a little softer.” After laboring through several German drinking songs, Linc couldn’t believe his ears when a gorgeous blond lady requested “Angel Eyes.” But when he asked her, “Do you really want us to play ‘Angel Eyes’?” she snorted, “What ‘Angel Eyes?’ I asked you to play “‘Edelweiss!’”

An Internet friend sent me a few lines from an interview with the legendary Hollywood trombonist Lloyd Ulyate:

“When I was younger I could see the notes, but I couldn’t play them. Now I can play the notes, but I can’t see them.”

“One of my biggest regrets is that when I had hair, I wasted it on a crew cut.”

“If the bells of the French horns faced the front, there would be a lot more humility in their section.”

“I’m playing better that I ever have. It just doesn’t sound as good.”

Herb Gardner’s daughter Abbie has a group called Red Molly. On their way to a gig in East Sandwich, Mass., they spotted a police cruiser with a big sign on the side that read “SANDWICH POLICE.” Abbie commented, “They must not have that much real crime up here.”

I got this story from Steve Voce in England, who interviewed Buck Clayton regarding the Hollywood movie “The Benny Goodman Story.” Buck said that while they were making the film, Benny lost his temper with the band and, in the band room, railed at the musicians, who stood in silence. His tirade over, Benny turned and stalked through the door, slamming it behind him. But, since he had walked into a broom closet, he had to back out again, and stalk out once more through the right door.

While I was chatting on the phone with Jim Hall recently, he reminded me of a guy we met while we were on tour in Europe for Norman Granz in 1959. A large, round, freckle-faced man with yellow hair and bright blue eyes came backstage. His broad accent marked him as coming from deep in the heart of Texas. He collected autographs from us all, and extolled our music in a rich West-Texas twang that delighted us. When I asked him what part of Texas he was from, he said, “Booda-Peyest!” It turned out that, during the war in Budapest, his home, he had met an American soldier from Texas from whom he had learned his English. I told him, “That’s the damndest thing I’ve ever heard!” “Ain’t it?” he agreed.

When Jon Berger was doing some summer theatre work, the conductor kept driving the band crazy by following erratic singers wherever they went, rather than keeping a relatively steady tempo. At a gripe session, the bass player commented, “This cat is a serial groove killer.”

In New Jersey the motor vehicle inspections are done at state operated stations. Don Robertson took his car to the one in Randolph, where he turned it over to a uniformed inspector. When the testing was only half done, Don saw the inspector get out of his car and walk over to the booth where he was waiting. Afraid something had been discovered seriously wrong with his car, Don was surprised when the inspector asked, “What’s that CD you’re playing?” Don had been listening to the Nashville-based Titan Hot Seven, and the inspector was a jazz fan. (The car passed inspection.)

Andy Stein told Herb Gardner about a motel clerk who, at check-in, advised Andy, “Come down in the morning for our complimental breakfast.”

Bob Keller told me that when Roger Kellaway played his first gig at the Half Note with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, Zoot’s greeting as he headed for the bandstand was, “No altered chords!”