Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CII, No. 12December, 2002

Bill Crow

Richard Sussman passed along a story that the late Jimmy Maxwell told years ago while riding on the bus with the Lionel Hampton band. Jimmy was remembering an earlier bus ride to Chicago with the Benny Goodman band. He had a portable phonograph in his seat, and was listening to a Duke Ellington record when Goodman came by and asked, “Why are you listening to that?” Jimmy replied, “Because it’s the best band in the world!” Goodman fired him on the spot. That night, Jimmy went to a Chicago club and sat in with the band. Goodman and his road manager walked in, looking for a replacement for Jimmy. In the dark club, Goodman couldn’t see who was playing, but he liked what he heard and told his road manager to hire the trumpet player. So Jimmy was back in the Goodman band the next day.

Trombonist Paul O’Connor, now the Secretary-Treasurer of Local 427-721 in Tampa, played with the bands of Bobby Sherwood, Jerry Wald, Hal McIntyre and Charlie Spivak, among others. While he was with Spivak in Williamsport (Penn.) in the mid-1950s, the late Dodo Marmarosa was hired to fill the piano chair. Dodo came down from his home in Pittsburgh, and without fanfare and only a few hellos, sat down at the piano. After a couple of sets, Spivak noticed that Dodo hadn’t opened the piano book. Dodo was playing flawlessly, but Spivak warned him that the next set would contain a complex Manny Albam chart that he might want to look over. Dodo looked up at Spivak and said, “Don’t worry, Charlie, I won’t need the music.” He ran a chromatic scale up the piano. “Either it goes up…” he quickly reversed the scale, “…or it goes down.” The whole band laughed, Spivak tapped off the tune, and Dodo played it perfectly. Paul said that during Dodo’s tenure with the band, the piano book stayed in its box, and Paul never heard any clinkers from the piano.

David Berger gave me a story told to him by bassist Paul Kondziela. Paul played bass with Duke Ellington for a while in the late 1960’s. One night when Duke was playing a duet with Paul, he hit one of those dissonant chords that was his specialty. Paul, who had studied at Berklee for several years, looked over Duke’s shoulder at the keyboard and said, “Ah, double diminished!” Duke spun his head around and said, “Oh, is that what it is?”

Eddie Tone told me about a gig he once worked in New Jersey with Carl Janelli, Mousie Alexander and Johnny Knapp. A guy came up to the bandstand and said, “I sing with the Ray Charles singers,” and invited himself to sing something. He picked a tune, and Knapp asked him what key. “I sing everything in C,” he replied. So Johnny gave him a G7 arpeggio. The guy thought a minute, then turned around and said, “Better make that C minor.”

Erik Lawrence had a unique opportunity to take a lesson with Benny Carter. Erik’s father, Arnie, had played with Carter. Arnie asked Carter if Erik could send him a cassette of his playing for evaluation. Erik marshaled his nerve and called Carter at his home in Los Angeles.

“We spoke about some of his recent work and he said some very kind words about my father and his playing,” said Erik. “He agreed to have me send a tape out, and said he’d get back to me when he had a chance to listen to it.”

Erik sent two very different tracks, one playing alto in a very free duo setting with bass, and another on tenor playing “Do Nothin’ ‘Til You Hear From Me” in the style of Ben Webster. He sent it the next day.

Eager for Carter’s comments, but aware that he was a busy man, Erik planned to wait a few weeks before calling him again. He was quite surprised to get a call from Carter only a week later. “I want to thank you for sending out that tape. I’ve enjoyed listening to it,” said Carter. “It’s always great to hear what you young guys are doing.”

“Mr. Carter,” said Erik, “is there anything you can tell me about my playing?”

“Well, Erik, have you listened to any of my more recent recordings?”

“Actually, I have. Your ‘Over the Rainbow’ with the sax section is great, and the CD you made with Phil Woods is, as well.”

Carter said, “Let me ask you, Erik, is there anything you can tell me about my playing?”

Erik says it was one of his greatest Zen lessons ever.

Frad Garner sent this one by e-mail: Don Robertson, the drummer and editor emeritus of the Jersey Jazz Society newsletter, at a concert at Bridgewater, was approached by a lady who said, “I want to know how old Dick Hyman is.” Never wanting to get into personal details, he fended her off with: “Old Dick Hyman is fine.”