Bill Crow’s Band Room

Bill Crow

Randy Sandke gave me a new Benny Goodman story. Benny was well known for his absent-mindedness, especially when it came to the names of his side musicians. On one concert Benny had been especially ornery during the sound check, and the musicians didn’t feel like helping him out when he began to fumble the introductions. So Goodman just began inventing names. When he came to Michael Moore he said, “And on bass we have Major Holley.” Michael calmly grabbed a microphone and said, “And, ladies and gentlemen, how about a big hand for Woody Herman on the clarinet!”

At another concert Goodman was bringing on Carrie Smith to sing the old Bessie Smith tune, “Give Me a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer.” He announced, “Here’s someone I know you’re going to enjoy. Please welcome … Cary Grant!”

Parke Frankenfield — who now lives in Vero Beach, Florida — told me that when he had a band in Pennsylvania his trumpet player, Frankie Burd, had a day job with the postal service. Parke said that Frankie was a lovely, lyrical soloist, but he didn’t have the chops for high notes. One night during a solo he attempted a gliss to a high F and splattered the note all over the bandstand. He looked at Parke, shrugged, and said, “That’s why Doc Severinsen is at NBC, and I carry the mail in Belvedere, New Jersey!”

I saw an article in the New York Times noting that the 19th century French violin that Jack Benny played for 40 years recently brought $84,800 at an auction at Sotheby’s in London. That reminded me of Jack’s old radio shows. He had developed his famous comic persona as a stingy man who played the violin badly. On one broadcast, while playing a melody deliberately out of tune with a thin, vibratoless tone, Jack paused and mused, “If this isn’t a Strad, I’m out fifty bucks!”

Lee Evans wrote to say that he was saddened to see Bob Reisenman’s name in a recent Allegro Requiem column. It reminded him of an occasion many years ago when Lee told Bob that, in concert, he had just performed the “Rhapsody In Blue.” Bob quickly responded, “Big deal! I can play it in any color!”

Willie Kaplan wrote from Florida with a couple of stories about violin doublers: Many years ago, Willie was playing accordion on a pre-heat in Brooklyn with several violin doublers, including trombonist Gene Brusiloff. The affair was being given by the waiters’ union. When one of the guests asked Gene to play “Stardust,” he immediately replied, “I’m sorry, it’s not my station.”

He described another job where 20 violinists, most of them doublers, were playing in the Waldorf ballroom. Someone mentioned that Jascha Heifetz was appearing at Carnegie Hall for a reported $50,000 fee. Saxophonist Jerry Pachter, one of the violin doublers, asked the player next to him, “Do you think Heifetz is 25,000 times better than me?” In those days, a violin doubler was paid only two dollars extra for his efforts.

Russ Rizner told me a story from backstage at Miss Saigon a couple of years ago. One night Rick Henley wanted to sit down on a comfortable sofa in the musicians’ backstage area. But Dan Culpepper was already sitting there, chatting with Jack Gale. Rick surreptitiously pulled out his cellular phone, dialed the backstage number, and soon the stage doorman called, “Dan Culpepper — telephone!” Dan jumped up to take the call and was surprised to find nothing but a dial tone on the other end of the line. And when he returned to the sofa, he found Rick happily ensconced in his spot.

While Sam Levine was with the Sammy Kaye band, the musicians developed a sight gag that amused them. Tenorman Chubby Silvers was the largest member of the band and, whenever he sat down, the rest of the band would leap a few inches into the air, as though they had been displaced by his weight. The bit always got a laugh from audiences — but it wasn’t so well received by the other passengers on trains and airplanes, where the band repeated the gag whenever Chubby took a seat.

Drummer Dave Gibson told Randy Sandke about an elementary school clinic he once led. First, he asked the class if anyone knew anything about drums. One kid waved his hand, stood up, and proudly exclaimed, “Yeah! Just say ‘no’ to drums!”