Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CII, No. 9September, 2002

Bill Crow

Sam Levine passed along a story from a friend of his, Jack Moser, about a gig he had played with a Washington leader named Dave Littlefield for the opening of the Rockville, Md., metro station. Littlefield had sold them two bands for an hour each, but it was the same band. For the first hour they were the Sheiks of Dixie. Then the plan was for the clarinetist to change to tenor sax, the tubist to string bass, the cornetist to trumpet and the banjo player to guitar, while they all would change from bow ties and vests to long ties and blazers to become the Sultans of Swing. Just as they were finishing the first hour and getting ready for the big switch, the lady who had hired them asked if they could play a few more numbers because the other band hadn’t shown up yet.

Steve Cohen was having breakfast one morning with his wife, Andrea, and their two children. Their older son, Charlie, was doing a unit on economics in his eighth grade social studies class, and his teacher was having them “buy” stocks with imaginary money and track their progress. He asked his mother, who was reading the Wall Street Journal, to tell him how his stocks were doing. “Okay, sweetie,” she said. “What’s in your portfolio?” “Let’s see…IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Enron…” His mother said, “Enron won’t be there…it’s de-listed.” At which point their nine-year-old, Eliot, began singing, “It’s delightful, it’s de-listed, it’s de-lovely!” Steve thinks they must be raising their kids right.

Joe Levinson, out in Chicago, sent me another story about guitarist Joe Romoro. Joe, bassist Tom Beranek (now the vice-president of Local 10) and drummer Jim Giannis were booked to play a summer festival beside a lake in Wisconsin. Traffic was terrible, all the acts arrived late, and Romoro’s trio had to face a very disgruntled audience. The bandstand was a raft tied to a pier, with the audience seated all around on the beach. After playing a tune or two, Joe asked, “Does it look like the audience is getting smaller?” An angry customer had undone the rope that held the raft to the pier, and the trio discovered they were drifting out into the lake. Levinson gave me no details about their rescue.

Herb Gardner got this one from Rick Stepton: A musician was called by Buddy Rich to do a tour, but he said he had settled down and bought a dog, and that he just couldn’t take living on the road any more. Buddy snapped back, “What? You’d rather stay home with your dog than play with my band? I’ve gotta meet this dog!”

John Barbe sent me two stories about famous road rat Al Thomson. John worked for about a year with Al on Buddy Morrow’s band. Then John retired to Georgia, and many years later he saw Al again when he passed through Atlanta on a tour with the Tommy Dorsey band. John dropped by the ballroom and saw Al, sitting in a corner, trying out clarinet reeds. John went over to him and said, “Hello, Al, it’s great to see you after all these years!” Al’s reply was, “I can’t find any f—ing clarinet reeds.” The second story has to do with the time when Lee Castle’s road manager left his band. Thomson, a member of Castle’s sax section at the time, told Lee, “I’d like to have that job. I’ve got a lot of experience.” It was true. Al had been on the road with dozens of bands, and knew every bar in every town. Lee said, “Well, I might consider that, but where would you keep the painting?” “What painting is that?” asked Al. Lee said, “The oil painting of me making you the road manager of my band!”

Brian O’Flaherty heard a good line during a preview of Thoroughly Modern Millie. Larry Farrell’s two daughters attended the performance and came to the pit during intermission. Larry asked how they liked the show. They said it was great, but that there was a man sitting next to them who kept telling them to be quiet. When the older daughter asked what she should say to him if he complained again, someone in the pit said, “Tell him, ‘My daddy’s got a gun!'” Percussionist Charlie Descarfino immediately changed that to, “Tell him, ‘My daddy’s got a trombone!'”

On a job we played together last spring, Fred Stoll told me about a jazz brunch he once played on a Superbowl Sunday. Since all the customers were abuzz about football, the musicians were trying to think of a tune appropriate to the game. No one could think of anything until Bobby Pratt suggested, “How about ‘Giant Steps?'”

Tim Ouimette, flying from Kennedy airport shortly after the 9/11 disaster, expected security to be tighter, but he was surprised to have his bags looked through by three different security agents on the way to the plane. Just before boarding, another suspicious agent pointed at the trumpet bag he was carrying and demanded, “Is there anything sharp in there?” “Yeah,” replied Tim, “a trumpet!”

When Bill Krinsky was twelve years old, he got his first job as a musician at a very small hotel in the Catskills. As he was about to go onstage for his first show, he noticed a sign over the door that read, “Positively No Blue Material To Be Used Onstage.” So Bill went back to his room and changed into his brown suit.