Bill Crow’s Band Room

Bill Crow

Abe Osser told me about his first steady job in New York over 60 years ago, playing at the New Yorker Hotel with the Bob Crosby band. After he’d been there for about a month Abe got Gil Rodin, the band manager, to fix it up with Robbins Music for him to write a stock arrangement of one of the band’s tunes. Abe was excited at the prospect of having his name on a published stock and looked forward to showing it to his friends back home. But when he got a copy of it he discovered that Robbins had, without permission, changed his name. Under the title it said, “Arranged by Ken Starr.”

During the recent presidential impeachment brouhaha Abe sent a note to Bob Haggart, at the time the only other surviving member of that Crosby band, saying, “Bob, you’re the only one left who knows that I’m the real Ken Starr.” Bob sent him a nice letter in return, enjoying the joke. Unfortunately, with Bob’s recent passing, Abe is now the last one to remember the “original” Ken Starr.

When the executive board meets each week, one regular item on our agenda is the correction of the minutes of the previous meeting. We’re careful about sentence structure since the minutes become the official record. During these exercises Recording Vice-President Erwin Price sometimes refers to board members as the “comma police.” But the improper placement of commas can cause misunderstandings. I saw such a case recently, a computer-printed sign in the window of a restaurant on Tenth Avenue, near the Local 802 office building. It read: SORRY BATHROOMS FOR PATRONS ONLY.

Eddie Bert has played the trombone with countless jazz bands during the past 56 years and is still going strong. John Eckert told me that while Bobby Short’s big band was playing a gig in Boston recently, a young fan approached Eddie after his name was announced. He asked, “Was that your father on Woody Herman’s band?” No, it was Eddie himself, 50 years ago.

This one comes from Bob Gordon, who works in the studios out in Los Angeles: Composer/arranger Artie Butler was called by a record producer who told him that a major singer was going to record one of his songs, and invited him to the recording session. A beautiful 45-piece orchestra began to run down Artie’s song, and he made the uncomfortable discovery that the arrangement was overwritten in the extreme. The young arranger had put in so much busy writing that there seemed to be no room for the singer to sing the song. The producer recognized the problem and asked Artie, “What should I take out first?” Artie replied, “Insurance!”

When they finished building the Verrazano bridge from Brooklyn to Staten Island, Leon Merian was called to play in the band that was part of the opening day ribbon-cutting ceremony. Leon was running a little late, and he drove up to the Brooklyn end of the bridge about ten minutes before starting time but he found no one there, and realized that the ceremony must be taking place at the Staten Island end. He could think of no better way to get there than to cross the new bridge, so he moved a couple of the sawhorse barriers and warning blinkers, squeezed his car through the opening, and headed across.

In the middle of the bridge he was suddenly surrounded by police cars with their lights flashing. When he stopped, an irate police sergeant demanded to know what he was doing there. Leon explained that he was supposed to be playing with the band on the other side and showed them his trumpet. The police decided to let him go to work, and escorted him across. When the rest of the band saw him, they began cheering. “Here comes the King with a police escort!” “King” was the nickname Leon had picked up on Elliot Lawrence’s band. And so, instead of the mayor or governor being the first person across the new bridge, that honor fell to King Leon.

Gim Burton, a fine banjo player, was surprised to receive a letter on an AFM letterhead from Secretary-Treasurer Thomas F. Lee, which began, “I just wanted to take a moment on behalf of the 112,000 AFM members to congratulate you on your recent Grammy award for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo.” It was exciting to think that the banjo had finally been recognized in the jazz world. But then Gim noticed that the letter, though addressed to him (C.G. Burton) at his home in Connecticut, carried the salutation, “Dear Gary.” Gim called Lee’s office and told them the Secretary’s secretary had the wrong guy. He suggested they send another letter to Gary (J.G. Burton) in Boston, so the vibraphonist could properly receive his congratulations from the AFM. Both Burtons are members of Local 802, and so we can be doubly proud.

Herb Gardner had two bookings on the same night, so he sent in a sub on one of them. The next time he saw the leader of that job, he asked, “How did my sub work out last week?” The leader raised an eyebrow and said, “That was no sub. That was a destroyer!”