Bill Crow’s Band Room

Bill Crow

Gene Riordan passed along a story he found on the internet, attributed to record producer Orrin Keepnews: In the mid 1950s, when Red Garland was with the Miles Davis quintet, Miles took a weekend gig at a small club in Brooklyn. They were supposed to hit at nine, but Red didn’t show until after 10:30. The place was packed and Miles was furious. When Red finally walked in looking upset, he said, “Gimme a drink! You won’t believe what happened! I was waiting in the subway at 42nd Street when all of a sudden this cat throws himself in front of a train that was pulling into the station! He falls under the wheels, there’s blood all over the place, people are screaming. The cops came, the medics came. It was horrible! The cops started questioning everybody. All the trains stopped running. Nobody was allowed to leave. They kept us there nearly two hours. As soon as the trains started running again, I got over here as quick as I could.”

Miles calmed down and the quintet played two long sets, and everyone was happy. After the gig – when Miles, Coltrane and Philly Joe Jones had already left – Red sat at the bar as Paul Chambers packed up his bass. Paul said, “I’ll ride back to the city with you on the subway.” Red replied, “You don’t have to take the subway, man . . . I’ll take you home. I got my car outside.”

Stanley Schwartz was playing a very orthodox Jewish wedding early last spring, with the men in traditional dress on one side of the room and the women on the other. As the age-old ceremony solemnly progressed, a late storm outside suddenly filled the air with snowflakes. A little girl opened the door and rushed in to her mother, shouting, “Mama! Mama! It’s Christmas!”

On a job in the Caribbean this spring, as bassist Dave Fink was boarding the boat that would take the band from St. Kitts to Nevis, trumpeter Jim Hines stopped him and said, “I have a club date next July 15 at the World Trade Center. Look in your book and see if you’re open.” Dave said he would, and got settled on the boat for the 45-minute trip. When they reached Nevis and began to disembark, Jim passed Dave and said, “I didn’t hear back from you, so I had to get somebody else!”

A recent item in this column jogged David Walter’s memory, and he sent in the following: The NBC Symphony was rehearsing the Gershwin Concerto one afternoon with Oscar Levant as soloist. During the break Roy Shield’s secretary entered with an announcement that the dress rehearsal, originally scheduled for three the next afternoon, would instead be at 10 a.m. Oscar, a notorious night owl, screamed, “Ten? I don’t even vomit until eleven!”

Joe Levinson came to New York to be a jazz bass player, but in 1961 found himself paying the rent with a job at the Mermaid Room at the Park Sheraton playing pop tunes and gypsy melodies with violinist Janet Vaughan and pianist Artie Kuter. He found the most difficult part of the job to be the revolving bandstand on which they played. It gave Joe motion sickness, and he had to take Dramamine to get through the gig. He found that he suffered less if he kept his eyes on the floor of the bandstand instead of looking out at the customers. Joe had to laugh when some detectives came in one night, showed him some pictures, and asked, “You seen any of these guys in the room recently?” Joe hadn’t seen anything but the floor.

Joe was happy to see the CBS radio crews arrive for their remote broadcast twice a week, since the bandstand had to be stopped when microphones and cables were installed. But on the first broadcast, Joe realized that his name was being announced during the sign-off. Not wanting his friends at home to know that he wasn’t playing in a jazz band, he talked the announcer into letting him change the script. On every broadcast night, Joe would cross out his name and pencil in something like “Mumford Zugg” or “Happy Horowitz.” For about 17 weeks, a different name for Janet Vaughan’s bass player was announced on each broadcast. Janet, wrapped up in her playing, never noticed what the announcer was saying.

Herb Gardner told me about a cornet player who, during a rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “Dippermouth Blues,” was attempting with limited success to play what Louis had played on the original recording. Whenever that tune is played, during the break on the last chorus, someone always shouts in emulation of the original, “Oh, play that thing!” But when the struggling cornet player in Herb’s story made the break, someone in the band shouted, “Oh, learn that thing!”