Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume C, No. 5May, 2000

Bill Crow

At the late Ray Alonge’s memorial service at Local 802, his teacher and longtime colleague Tony Miranda shared many warm memories from their lives in the New York music business. He told of an Eddie Fisher record date, back in the days before tape, when errors required a complete new take. Fisher was famous among musicians for having trouble with meter, and he often required take after take before achieving one that was free of mistakes. (I once saw a stagehand wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed: “Eddie Fisher owes me eight bars.”) Miranda said that one of Fisher’s arrangements on that date finished with a bravura French horn duet ending on a couple of high notes, a passage which he and Ray nailed on every take. But Fisher kept messing up the part just before that, and it was always “one more time.” The horn players began to wonder how long their chops would hold out. “On about the twelfth take, Fisher finally got his ending right,” Tony said. “We could see the producers and engineers in the booth shaking hands and congratulating each other – and we hadn’t even played our last notes yet!”

Marion Evans dropped by the office to get some information about contracts. He was a busy and much admired New York arranger back in the 1950s, but he developed a successful career in investment banking that kept him out of the music business all these years. “I recently arranged the music for a CD for a singer I know,” he said. “I don’t know if that means I’m back in the music business or not.” Many of us certainly hope so.

While we were chatting Marion told me about a date he once arranged for the singer Dick Haymes. “Haymes had a reputation for not paying for his music,” said Marion. “I wasn’t worried, because I was getting paid by the record company. But at the end of the date I saw him going around gathering up the charts off the music stands.” Marion knew that Haymes planned to use them on his night club dates, and knew he wouldn’t volunteer an additional payment. He went over and told him, “I think you ought to know that the copyist who did the parts has developed a 24-hour ink that will disappear off the pages by tomorrow.” He also told Haymes that, for a fee, the copyist would spray the pages with a special fixative which would make them permanent. “I told him the copyist wouldn’t accept a check, so we agreed that Haymes would get the cash together while I took the music over to be sprayed. I went over to the copyist’s place and we watched television for a couple of hours. Then we got the cash from Haymes and gave him his arrangements.”

Joe Cohn told me about working at a club in the Midwest with the late Al Grey’s band. At one point Al announced, “And now we’d like to feature Rob Shep on a number of his own choosing.” Rob loudly whispered, “That’s Scheps. SCHEPS!” Al immediately stepped back to the microphone and said, “Thank you, Rob Scheps. And now, for our next number . . .”

A few years ago Joe Bongiorno bought a pocket date book for the new year, entered all his phone numbers and job bookings, but forgot to write in his own name, address and phone number. One day the book slipped out of his pocket in a taxicab, and he found himself without a clue about his future bookings. Fortunately the cab driver found it and called the number listed under “Mom & Dad,” and Joe was able to get in touch with him.

Getting the book back was a problem, though. The driver only worked part time, and he lived far out in Brooklyn. He told Joe that he wouldn’t able to meet him in Manhattan until the following week. Joe said, “Then you’ve got to read me what’s written down for this week!” The driver went through the week with him – “Carrolls at ten on Tuesday,” etc. But when he came to Friday, he said excitedly, “You’ve got a problem! You have one from 2:00 till 4:30, and another from 4:30 to 6:30! You’ll never make it!” Joe explained about the break time that contractors sometimes put at the end of one session and the beginning of another to accommodate busy musicians, and reassured him that everything was okay.

Henry Newberger wrote to tell me about a story he got from tuba player Norman Burbank. While driving home from a gig, Norman heard a traffic report on the radio warning of a car fire on the Hutchinson River Parkway. When he got home he found a phone message from Bruce McNichols, informing him that his car had burned up and letting him know that he’d have to send in a sub on the next day’s gig. Henry talked to Bruce later and got the story: He was driving along the parkway when another motorist pulled alongside and yelled, “Do you know your car’s on fire?” Bruce says he resisted the urge to reply, “No, but if you hum a few bars . . .” Henry said the good news is that Bruce managed to escape without injury. The bad news is that he was able to save his banjo.