Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume 112, No. 1January, 2012

Bill Crow

Abby Mayer sent me a story she got from Arthur Goldstein. When Arthur was playing a Broadway show, one of the trumpet players realized just before curtain time that he had left his mute in his locker. He rushed out of the pit through the narrow passageway to the band room and crashed into an incoming woodwind doubler, sending a clarinet, an oboe, a flute, a saxophone and a bassoon flying to the floor. The trumpet player said, “Man, I’m sorry! It was my fault! Please take everything to Sam Ash and have them repaired. I’ll pay for everything!” The doubler replied calmly, “Don’t worry. They’re rented instruments… from Sam Ash!”

Saxophonist Greg Thymius told me two stories from trumpeter John Guess. (They were on tour together with “Miss Saigon.”) John told him that in Florida, where he lives, he and Ken Peplowski were called by a contractor to play a show. Every time the guy called with new information, he would ask Ken, “So, you really play the bass clarinet?” Ken would assure him that he did, but the contractor seemed so worried about it that Ken decided to put him on a little.

At the first rehearsal, Ken spread a large clarinet fingering chart on the floor beside his music stand, and when he was sure the contractor was looking at him, he began looking at the music, then at the chart, and deliberately putting his fingers on the keys, one at a time. The other musicians did their best to keep straight faces as the contractor turned pale.

When “Miss Saigon” played Nashville, Greg and John were invited, with the rest of the musicians and cast, to participate in a benefit concert where they were to play music of their own choosing. The musicians were encouraged to write arrangements, and some tried who hadn’t arranged before. One of those musicians asked John if he would mind giving her a quick demonstration of his trumpet mutes. “Sure,” said John, cheerfully. He picked up a mute from the tray in front of him and let it drop, and did the same with the rest, in turn. “This one sounds like this when I drop it, and this one sounds like this…”

Trumpeter Brian Davis, in Australia, follows this column online. He sent me this story: Brian’s trio was playing a wedding reception back in the late 1970’s, when, during the after-dinner dancing, an argument broke out between the groom and his best man. It turned into a fist fight, and soon the bride, still in her wedding gown, joined in, slapping at both men. The band continued to play, and the drummer began catching the punches and slaps, with rim shots and heavy accents with his bass drum. The pianist joined in with excerpts from the 1812 Overture.

The fiasco ended with one of the contenders unconscious on the floor, the other with a bloody nose and a messy tuxedo. The bride ran screaming from the room, and didn’t return. The father of the bride came to the bandstand, thanked and paid the musicians, and said, “I just knew something would go wrong tonight. The drummer answered, “I haven’t had so much fun since Granny broke the elastic in her knickers.”

Maestro Fritz Reiner was conducting a rehearsal of the Pittsburgh Symphony and spent a lot of time fine-tuning the French horn section. As they blew a chord, he tested each of the four horns to play a hair sharper, a hair flatter, a hair louder, a hair softer, until they sounded perfectly balanced and in tune. The rest of the orchestra sat patiently, admiring the maestro’s ear. During the break, William Zinn of the first violin section asked the horn section if they could repeat that level of perfection on the concert. They agreed that Dr. Reiner had a superior ear, and that they would try to produce what he wanted.

Zinn decided to test the maestro’s ear. He got the whole orchestra to agree that, at the next rehearsal, the oboe would sound a B-flat for tuning, instead of an A. The next morning, the oboe sounded a B-flat, and everyone in the orchestra responded with B-flats.

Reiner announced Beethoven’s Third Symphony (in E-flat), and conducted the first chord. He suddenly stopped, and yelled, “The orchestra is a half-tone flat!” As he peered perplexedly at the score, nobody laughed. The orchestra then realized that Reiner had good relative pitch, but not perfect pitch. One of his cronies later let him in on the joke.

At his studio in Atlantic Beach, Florida, Denny LeRoux has been recording some music from the late 1800’s featuring banjo, tuba, high saxophones and brass band. He had two dates booked on a Sunday, one with that band, and one with a group of rock-and-rollers. He told the rockers that he had postponed the other band until the next day because the euphonium player had made a mistake and double booked himself for the Sunday. All the rockers asked the same question: “What’s a euphonium?”

John Barbe wonders if Mount Rushmore was named for a drummer.