Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CIII, No. 12December, 2003

Bill Crow

My friend the late Tommy Mitchell was in the orchestra of one of my first Broadway shows, “The King and I.” He lived nearby in Englewood, New Jersey, but he seemed to have difficulty getting to the theatre with any time to spare. He often rushed into the pit, assembling his trombone as he sat down, just in time for the conductor’s downbeat. One Saturday he arrived just as the overture for the matinee began, and after the performance I found him in front of his locker, searching his pockets. “I must have dropped my keys somewhere,” he said. After we made sure they weren’t in the theatre, I suggested that we walk back along the way he had come from where his car was parked on Seventh Avenue. (In those days you could park there on weekends.) We slowly retraced his route, searching the curbs and sidewalks, but we saw no sign of the keys. When we got clear back to his car, I saw them. One key was still in the lock of the trunk, and the rest of the bunch were hanging there in plain sight. In a neighborhood where auto theft was not unusual, and where no sane person left anything valuable in their car, it seemed a small miracle that the keys had been hanging there all afternoon.

On another occasion at the same show, Tommy made the overture on time, but never returned after the intermission. Later, we discovered that he had gone into the contractor’s room to sit down for a few minutes in a comfortable chair, and when he tried to leave, found that the automatic lock on the doorknob had jammed. He pounded on the door, but nobody heard him until the show was over.

Georges Andre sent me a story from his days as principal bass at the Metropolitan Opera. Karl Boehm was conducting “Der Rosenkavalier”, when, at the beginning of the second act, two dogs that had been brought onstage as part of the scene became amorously involved. The actors were unable to pull the dogs apart, and the audience roared with laughter, to the displeasure of the very serious Mr. Boehm. Two days later, with the Flying Dutchman on the program, Andre encountered Boehm outside the elevator at the opera house. With a stern expression, Boehm growled, “No dogs tonight…FISH!”

Herb Gardner sent me a newspaper article about a trademark infringement suit being brought by the band Metallica against the Canadian band Unfaith. Metallica feels that two chords their band has been using since 1982, E and F, have become identifiable with them, and should not be used in that sequence by any other band without credit and royalties. Metallica’s Lars Ulrich is quoted: “We’re not saying we own those two chords individually. That would be ridiculous. We’re just saying that in that specific order, people have grown to associate E, F with our music.” He claimed that use of the two chords by other groups causes “confusion, deception and mistake in the minds of the public.”

Larry Siegel’s drummer, Larry Eagle, told him about a two-day trip he recently made to Greece with Andy Statman to play for a wedding. There was also a local Greek band there, swapping sets with Statman’s klezmer band. After one of the klezmer sets, one of the Greek musicians approached Eagle and said, “That’s great music, but how do you count it? I can’t follow the meter.”

Pete Hyde has a close friend who is music director at a summer camp in Connecticut. The camp musical this year was “Les Miserables,” a show Pete played on Broadway. Pete’s friend invited him to play the show in exchange for a bed-and-breakfast for a summer weekend, and Pete agreed. They were using a newly published student version of the score. Pete was interested to note that the computer-generated trumpet part had some sections that were evidently taken from the original score, since parts that the original trumpet section had simplified for playing had been restored to their more difficult form. But other parts must have been copied from the worn-out trumpet parts, because they included all the Broadway players’ penciled-in memos. On one piccolo trumpet passage, Pete had found an alternate fingering that involved pulling out his first-valve slide. But he had sometimes forgotten to push the slide back in at the end of the passage, so he had penciled in the word “slide” to remind himself about it. And there it was, in the student publication of the first trumpet part, in beautiful 10-point lettering, “SLIDE.” Pete thought it was an amazing long shot that he should be playing that part, since he was the only person in the world who would know why it was there. He is still mystified about how that memo got moved from his original third trumpet book to the published first trumpet part.

After an evening of playing bass with a jazz quartet up in Mahopac, NY, I was approached by an enthusiastic young waiter who said, “Love your cello! That’s MY instrument!”