Bill Crow’s Band Room

Bill Crow

Sam Levine remembers a parade in New York that appeared to have more marchers than were actually present. The organizers were using the subway to transport the participants from the finish line back to the starting point to make additional laps down Eighth Avenue. Unfortunately, the band was expected to assist with the illusion. Sam’s story reminded me of a Labor Day parade in which Jack Gale and I played in Local 802’s volunteer band at the front of the column. When we finished at 65th Street we grabbed a bus and headed back downtown, where we had parked our cars. The side streets there were still full of bands and marchers who hadn’t started up the avenue yet. As we walked by one band carrying our instruments, the bandleader asked us, “You wanna go again? Twenty-five bucks.” We politely declined.

Ken Arzburger told me about a rhythm section rehearsal that Dick Maltby once called before an evening dance job. The rhythm section consisted of Sam Herman, guitar, Bob Hammer, piano, Bill Takas, bass, and Joe Boppo, drums. The rest of the band sat around listening. Frank Socolow sat down next to Ken and, after a few minutes, asked, “Kenny, have you taken a good look at our rhythm section lately?”

On the same tour, the band played a St. Patrick’s Day dance in Pottstown, Pa. During the last set a woman wearing a green cellophane derby and a cardboard leprechaun mask approached the band. She leaned towards Ken and inquired, “Dublin?” Ken replied, “No, lady, just saxophone.”

Howard Williams spent some time in the early 1950s playing the piano with an Air Force band at Tinker Field near Oklahoma City. Also at Tinker was a maximum-security prison that held some of the hardest cases from all of the services – murderers, rapists, etc. During one Christmas season the base chaplain decided to provide a little holiday cheer for the inmates. Howard got orders from his warrant officer to take an accordion over to the prison to play some Christmas carols. Howard told him, “I don’t know how to play an accordion. Never touched one before.” The warrant officer replied, “You’ve got 30 minutes to learn.”

Howard got out the accordion and fooled around with it for a while. “I found a button on the left side that played a G, so I figured I could play tunes in C or G and hit that button once in a while. But I never did figure out how to keep the air going on that thing.”

He headed for the prison, a forbidding-looking building that was heavily guarded, and was taken to a room with metal walls and ceiling. About a dozen of the meanest looking guys he’d ever seen were escorted in by twice as many guards, all armed with submachine guns. The inmates sat down in the rows of chairs that had been provided, and the guards kept their guns trained on them throughout the proceedings.

Howard was told to begin and he went into “Jingle Bells,” interrupting himself frequently when he forgot to keep pushing the accordion’s bellows in and out. At one point his necktie got caught in the closing bellows. While struggling through a few more carols, a glance at his audience confirmed Howard’s hunch: the only thing these guys were interested in was getting out of jail. Their intense, glowering stares deepened his confusion. As Howard reached the end of his medley, the chaplain stepped forward and began a homily about the best ways to get into heaven. Howard gratefully packed his accordion and slipped away, relieved to put behind him what he recalls as his most humiliating musical experience.

Tony Mottola saw our Requiem notice on the late Jack Andrews and was reminded of the NBC-TV Kraft Music Hall with Perry Como, on which Tony was the guitarist back in the 1970s. Andrews and Joe Lippman were the principal arrangers for the show, and they would bring their arrangements to a weekly reading rehearsal the day before taping. One day they were running down a chart that Jack had brought in and Como had a few suggestions, which he conveyed to Mitch Ayres, the conductor, such as: “Change the intro to brass instead of strings,” “Fuller string pad after the release,” “Don’t make the key change until after the bridge,” etc. After the rehearsal ended, Mitch conveyed Como’s “suggestions” to Jack, who inquired, “Where was he when the score pages were blank?”

Ted Rosenthal played at the Litchfield Jazz Festival in Goshen, Conn., last August. He saw an ad in the Waterbury Republican listing all the jazz stars slated to appear. His name wasn’t among them – but there was a Red Tosenthal in the lineup. Ted liked it so much that he’s thinking of making it his stage name.

I got a nice letter from Frank Visser, a jazz fan in the Netherlands, who said he bought a copy of my musical memoir, “From Birdland to Broadway,” in Amsterdam. When Frank looked at the sales slip he saw that the cashier had coded the book “REISGIDS,” which in Dutch means “travel guide.”