Bill Crow’s Band Room

Bill Crow

Gunnar Jacobsen attended the Flip Phillips 80th Birthday Party that was given by Arbors Records in Florida. Matt Domber, who heads Arbors, asked Gunnar to help Barney Kessel with his wheelchair after the concert. But Barney’s wife said she preferred to handle the chair herself, and asked Gunnar to sit with Barney while she went to get it. Soon a guy came over and began fawning over Barney — telling him he was the greatest guitarist ever, saying that he was extremely honored to be in the same room with him, and going on in this vein for so long that Gunnar and Barney both felt embarrassed. The guy finally came to the end of his tribute and, as he prepared to leave, told Gunnar: “I have always admired Kenny Burrell’s playing.” Barney can’t talk much but he grabbed Gunnar’s arm, shaking with helpless laughter. The next morning, as Barney’s wife wheeled him through the lobby on their way to the airport, she stopped to say goodbye to Gunnar. “And Kenny says goodbye, too,” she added sweetly.

Dan Block told me about the time Tom Melito played a job at a site that was partially under construction, with his drums set up in front of some scaffolding. While playing, Tom noticed that everyone else was fleeing the bandstand. Then the scaffolding collapsed onto the stage. Fortunately the heavy sections missed Tom, but a large piece of canvas engulfed him and his drums. Undaunted, he continued to play. As the rest of the band came to his rescue, reedman Doug Lawrence applied the tagline from a well-known wristwatch commercial: “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking!”

Here’s a report of another disaster in the rhythm section: Joe Levinson tells me that when Chicago drummer Hal Russell was with the Glenn Miller ghost band under Tex Beneke’s direction, they played the Holiday Ballroom on Chicago’s south side. Each section was on a separate riser and Hal was on the tallest one, 16 feet above the stage. During a lengthy drum solo, Hal’s drum seat worked its way back until he suddenly began to fall backward. Trying to save himself, he grabbed the drums, and took the whole set with him as he crashed to the stage floor. The band stopped playing and everyone rushed to his aid. Tex leaned over the crumpled drummer and shouted, “Hal, are you all right?” Hal opened his eyes and looked at the circle of musicians standing over him. “Y-yeah,” he stammered, “I kind of d-d-dug it!”

Gene Riordan played a Mardi Gras party in Connecticut with Roger Young, Joe Ragusa and Craig Grant. During breaks, the host turned on a CD player that kept getting stuck just before the end of an instrumental rendition of “Birth of the Blues.” The “and they made that” phrase would repeat endlessly until some annoyed guest would walk over and swat the machine. This would cause the song to start again at the beginning, only to hang and repeat the same phrase again.

When the band returned from its break, Roger began the same tune in the same key, and the band recycled the phrase just the way the CD had done, getting a big laugh from the audience with each repetition. Gene said he couldn’t get the song out of his mind for the rest of the evening, and is still laughing. He called Roger the next day and got his answering machine, so he left a vocal version of the repeated phrase instead of a message.

Back in the early fifties, jazz harpist Robert Maxwell was booked to perform at the Traymore Hotel in Atlantic City. Giving him very few particulars, his agent told him the date was for an oil company convention in the main ballroom. When he arrived at the hotel, Bob saw a sign in the lobby that read: “Shell Oil delegates, mezzanine floor.” Without looking further, he unloaded his harp from his station wagon and took it to the mezzanine, where he found a ballroom and a band rehearsing other acts. He waited his turn, passed out his music and had a good runthrough with the band. Then someone showed him to a dressing room, where he changed into his tux. When he returned to the ballroom a man came running up, screaming, “Where have you been, and what are you doing in this room?” It turned out that Texaco Oil was also having an affair, in a ballroom down the hall. Bob collected his music, hurried to the other ballroom and had a quick talk-through rehearsal before the performance. It went beautifully, but Bob wondered why no one had noticed at the first affair that he wasn’t supposed to be there.

Bassist Joe Levinson told me about alto saxophonist Lenard Druss, who used to play around Chicago. Druss was playing in an octet with Joe and had written some good charts for the book. One was on “Harlem Nocturne,” on which Druss gave himself a lengthy solo. He wrote a four-bar bass break for Levinson, a tricky solo passage that changed the tempo and led into the alto solo. Joe had it down cold and played it many times – but one night, for some reason, he played a very obvious clam. At the end of the set Joe climbed down from the bandstand, feeling terrible. He said to Druss, “Gee, Lenny, I don’t know what happened on the break . . . I just blew it.” Druss put an arm over Joe’s shoulder and said, “Don’t worry about it, Joe . . . everybody said they didn’t notice!”