Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CII, No. 1January, 2002

Bill Crow

Frad Garner is translating Baron Timme Rosenkrantz’s memoir of Harlem, written in German, into English. Rosenkrantz was a good friend of Louis Armstrong, and included this story: Arthur Jackson once told of how Louis had been to a little late-night gathering in a speakeasy. It was in one of the toughest parts of lower Harlem, on a pitch-dark street. No sooner had he stepped out the street door than two young hoodlums jumped him from behind. One held a knife at his throat and the other said, “OK, give us your loot, Daddy.” Louis looked at them. Flashing the smile, he said in that deep, gravelly voice, “Now listen here, fellas, you can’t do that to Pops, ’cause I have to go downtown to make one of those good ole ones today at the record studio, and I can’t blow my horn…” The two hoods jumped back and pleaded, “Oh, Pops, we didn’t know it was you. We’re sorry, man…we’ll never do that again.” Whereupon Louis gave them a lecture and some money, and told them to straighten up and fly right.

Harvey Kaiser told me about visiting the Smithsonian Institution some time ago. He knew there was a jazz section, but had trouble locating it. He asked a couple of museum attendants to help him find it, but no one seemed to know where it was. Being a tenor player, Harvey was especially interested in seeing Ben Webster’s horn, which he had heard was in the Smithsonian’s collection. (Actually, it resides with the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers.) Wandering through the galleries, Harvey finally noticed an alcove with large photographs of Duke Ellington and Katharine Dunham, and, as he moved closer to the jazz display, he saw a tenor saxophone in a showcase. He hurried over to it and read the inscription. It said the saxophone had belonged to President William Clinton.

A classic tale of the Nighthawks, from Herb Gardner: An obnoxiously loud, drunken woman on the dance floor pointed at leader Vince Giordano and bellowed, “Hey, play String of Pearls!” Vince, who was not eager to honor such a rude request, said politely, “I’m sorry, we don’t know that one.” She danced by again and yelled, “I said, play String of Pearls!” Vince again declined and ended the set.

During the break the woman got louder and managed to antagonize everyone in the club. Just as the band was returning to the stand, the owner physically removed her from the premises. Herb looked at Vince and asked, “923?” “What else?” replied Vince. And so, as the woman was being ejected from the front door, she could hear the band playing “String of Pearls,” which drew a standing ovation from the patrons inside.

After playing at a wedding Russ Moy was approached by one of the guests, who expressed an interest in studying the drums with him and asked for his business card. Russ reached into his wallet and handed a card to the man, who said how impressed he was that Russ could run a drum studio, play gigs, and also have a medical practice. When he asked if Russ’s nurse could book him for a lesson, Russ realized that something was very wrong. He discovered that he had mistakenly handed the guy a business card that had been given to him by his surgeon.

Last summer I went out to Scott Russo’s musical warehouse in Freeport to buy some things to send to a Russian music school. Scott is the son of my old friend and fellow bass player, the late Don Russo. Scott said that he used to go fishing with his dad quite often, and sometimes a friend of Don’s accompanied them. While the three were waiting for the fish to bite, Scott fell into the habit of entertaining the two older men with tales of his youthful adventures with the opposite sex. He had no idea that his father’s friend would in later years become his father-in-law. When he married, Scott said to his father-in-law, “I hope you’ll forget all those stories I told you.” The reply was, “I’ll forget when I see my first granddaughter!” Scott and his wife soon obliged with twin daughters, and Scott asked his father-in-law, “Does this wipe the slate clean?” He said, “Yeah, but I’m still going to remember those stories – they were some stories!”

Allen Eager, the jazz saxophonist, is now living in Florida. He will be 75 this month. Arlyne Mulligan tells me that he is now listing himself as Allen Reluctant.

On a European tour with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band, Eddie Bert had no trouble carrying his trombone in its soft case onto airplanes as hand luggage until the last flight, from Frankfurt back to New York City. A uniformed attendant at the Frankfurt airport stopped Eddie, pointed to the trombone case, and said, “You can’t carry that onto the plane with you.” Eddie said, “It’s my trombone. I always take it with me.” The attendant said, “What if everyone took a trombone on board?” Eddie said, “You’d have a big band!” The attendant laughed and let him board the plane with his horn.