Bill Crow’s Band Room

Bill Crow

In 1943 Ray Beckenstein got his first chance to play lead alto in a name band, with Bobby Sherwood. This prompted him to begin studying with Joe Allard, the “maven” among teachers at the time. Ray was one of his best pupils, and Allard invited him to sub one night in the Telephone Hour orchestra under guest conductor Arthur Fiedler. The “Porgy and Bess Suite” was scheduled and Ray had the alto solo in “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.” At the rehearsal, Ray played it using all the smears and slides that were the vernacular of the day — causing Fiedler to stop the orchestra and shout, “No! No! No personality!” Ray proceeded to play it in the most classical way he could.

In 1993 Ray subbed with the New York Philharmonic in a Central Park concert under conductor Kurt Mazur. The same suite was on the program, and Ray had the same solo. During the rehearsal — remembering the incident nearly 50 years earlier — Ray played it very straight. Maestro Mazur took him aside quietly and asked if he could possibly interpolate some of the New York jazz sound. When he did, Mazur smiled broadly and gave him the thumbs up sign. Ray said, “One never knows, does one?”

A few years ago, Ken Rizzo played a club date with Julie Budd at the Rainbow Room. The room was noisy during the afternoon rehearsal, as the staff prepared the room for the evening. When it came time to fine tune the P.A. system, Julie asked for a few minutes of quiet while they worked out the microphone sound. The staff was obliging but, as the musicians went back to work, one sound continued to be heard in the distance. “Can we please get the Muzak turned off?” conductor Herb Bernstein shouted. Ken pointed out that it wasn’t Muzak, but the whirring of an industrial-size vacuum cleaner being pushed and pulled. “Wow!” said Bernstein, in amazement. “It’s actually the same sound!”

Herb Gardner played a big band gig in Rhode Island and recommended the food at the Mayflower Diner, a truck stop in Milford, Conn., about half way back to New York City. Herb especially touted the liver and onions, a dish almost everyone in the band said they liked. The truckers at the Mayflower must have been a little surprised when, about 3:30 a.m., two guys in tuxedos came in and ordered liver and onions. Ten minutes later three more guys in tuxedos did the same, followed a few minutes later by five more. Herb said a nervous-looking chef poked his head out of the kitchen to scan the room for hidden cameras and anyone who looked like Alan Funt.

Don Robertson played a big band job in Military Park in downtown Newark at a black-tie affair honoring Paul Robeson’s 100th birthday. An officious young catering manager needed to coordinate his routine with the bandleader, a trumpet player who counts off the tunes from the brass section’s back row. The catering manager said, “I expect the band leader to be up front!” One of the saxophonists responded, “Well, think of us as a Volkswagen!”

Milt Bernhart left this one on an e-mail site: In the Stan Kenton Neophonic Orchestra at the Los Angeles Music Center in the 1960s, Shelly Manne played drums and Frank Carlson played tympani and bells. Stan had written a piece for Frank in 5/4 time — a good idea, except that Stan didn’t know how to conduct 5/4 time. His arms described a large circle, which meant very little to those of us trying to play together. We ended up shouting out the bar count to each other on stage. At one point Stan asked, “Where are we?” Shelly answered, “At the Music Center in L.A., where else?”

Judd Woldin wrote to tell me he had recently had a quadruple bypass, “after ten years of having my x-rays retouched.” Learning that Judd was a musician, the surgeon came into the intensive care unit to pitch a CD he had made . . . a vocal trio along the lines of the Modernaires. Judd said, “Painful as it was, I fell out laughing. Durante was right: everybody wants to get into the act!”

At a Rahway public school, Randy Reinhart was part of a mature group of jazz musicians who were demonstrating their skills to the assembled students in the music department. The teacher wanted to impress on his pupils the fact that the music was all improvised, and no one was reading music. He asked them, “Now, what is it that we have in our orchestra that none of these musicians has?” One of the kids offered, “Hair?”