Bill Crow’s Band Room

Bill Crow

Henry Newberger makes his living as a schoolteacher and also plays trombone in dixieland bands. He told me about a job he was hired for many years ago, playing the tuba in a show at Yankee Stadium. He was given groundskeeper’s overalls and a sousaphone painted with patriotic designs. Henry felt a bit foolish in his getup, and was even more embarrassed when one of his students, who happened to be attending the game, recognized him. The boy came over, looking surprised, and said, “Mr. Newberger?” Henry replied, “It’s not me, Richie.”

I played in Ireland at the Cork Jazz Festival last fall. Guinness sponsors the event and for four days all kinds of jazz was played in pubs, hotels and art centers all over that lovely little town — except for a couple of pubs that had signs out front declaring their premises a “jazz-free zone.”

Tubaist Don Butterfield played with the West End Klezmorim in a concert for senior citizens in Tenafly, N.J., several years ago. Don’s son Warren and his girlfriend arrived late and found seats at the back of the nearly filled room, behind two old ladies who spent most of the concert gossiping, though they did listen now and then. Each member of the Klezmorim was featured on a solo. When the group’s leader, Harold Seletzky, introduced Don with many compliments, Don felt he should do something special. It was a time when the music world was holding many Gustave Mahler cycles and since Mahler wrote so many wonderful tuba parts, Don announced that he would play his own Mahler cycle. At this, Don’s son heard one of the ladies in front of him ask, “How on earth do you suppose he can play that thing and ride a motorcycle at the same time?”

Gene Riordan got this one from Nick Brignola and passed it along via e-mail: Arranger Ron Collier did an arrangement of Oscar Peterson’s “Canadiana Suite” and assembled a big band to rehearse it. At one point plunger mutes were called for, but one of the trumpet players didn’t have one. Ron said, “I can’t believe you don’t have a plunger! What do you do at home when your toilet backs up?” The trumpet player replied, “I use a Harmon.”

Johnnie Signorelli wrote to tell me about the last show at the Paramount Theatre before it closed back in 1952. He was with the Gene Krupa band on a stage show with Polly Bergen and Phil Foster. Gene played high above the band on a special riser just big enough for the drum set. During his feature number, “Drum Boogie,” Johnnie (on clarinet) joined tenor player Yano Salto and trumpeter Leon Merian to introduce the theme. When it was time for a 12-bar trumpet solo, instead of standing and playing in the trumpet section Leon raced up onto Gene’s riser, stood in front of him, took four choruses and then raced back to his seat in the brass section. This caused great confusion among the rest of the band but they managed to finish the arrangement together. When pianist Teddy Napoleon berated him after the show, Leon said, “There are two writers for Down Beat in the audience. I had to impress them.”

Doug Ramsey passed this one along via the internet: Trying for an unusual addition to the bombast and cannon shots at the end of the “1812 Overture” at an outdoor children’s concert, Paolo Esperanza, bass trombonist with the Simphonica Mayor de Uruguay, put a large firecracker in the aluminum straight mute of his new Yamaha bass trombone, and lit it. He later said, “I thought the explosion would make the mute fly like a rocket, and I thought the bell of my horn would protect me.”

The mute took off, all right. It hit the conductor in the stomach and drove him off the podium into the front row, collapsing the folding chairs of several members of the audience. The powerful firecracker also turned the bell of Esperanza’s horn inside out, drove him backward off the riser, and bruised his embouchure severely. It was a textbook example of the law in physics that every action has a reaction. Doug’s report didn’t deal with the conductor’s reaction to Esperanza’s deviation from the score.

Remembering our good friend, the late Bob Haggart, Tony Mottola told me about a jingle session for which Bob wrote the music back in the 1970s. He had booked a rhythm section, seven violinists and some singers. Haggart was discussing something with one of the vocalists when the producer called from the control room, “Let’s go, Bob, it’s two o’clock.” The rhythm section was ready but none of the violinists had taken a seat. As they milled around, Tony said, “Bob, they’re waiting for you to tell them where to sit.” Bob looked over at them and said, “Sit anywhere, fellas . . . it’s all unison!”