Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CII, No. 6June, 2002

Bill Crow

Alan Foust forwarded some quotes from the late Paul Desmond that were passed around the internet recently:

“I have won several prizes as the world’s slowest alto player as well as a special award in 1961 for quietness.” “I was unfashionable before anyone knew who I was.” “I tried practicing for a few weeks and ended up playing too fast.” “I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to sound like a dry martini.”

When Gene Lees asked Paul what accounted for the melancholy in his playing, he replied, “Well…, the fact that I’m not playing better.”

Though he was an English major in college, Paul didn’t pursue a literary career: “I could only write at the beach, but I kept getting sand in my typewriter.” “Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can’t be taught.” Of Jack Kerouac, he said: “I hate the way he writes. I kind of love the way he lives, though.” “Sometimes I get the feeling that there are orgies going on all over New York City, and somebody says, ‘Let’s call Desmond,’ and somebody else says, ‘Why bother? He’s probably at home reading the Encyclopedia Brittanica.'”

Paul to an interviewer: “You’re beginning to sound like a cross between David Frost and David Susskind, and that is a cross I cannot bear.”

And there is Paul’s much-repeated remark about his affinity for dating fashion models: “They’ll go out for a while with a cat who’s scuffling but they always seem to end up marrying some manufacturer from the Bronx. This is the way the world ends – not with a whim, but a banker.”

I recently re-connected with an old friend, drummer Dick Scott, who replaced Joe Morello when we were with Marian McPartland’s trio at the old Hickory House. Dick’s new name is Tox Drohar, and he lives in Pont Fornant-Minzier, France. In a letter, he reminded me of a trip he made to a concert with Marian in the late 1950s at the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Conn., where her husband Jimmy and Vic Dickenson were added to our group. Dick’s first wife, Betty, was in the car with him when he picked Vic up early that Saturday morning. As Vic settled into the back seat, he began a hacking cough which lasted for several minutes. When he stopped, Betty asked, “Vic, how long have you had that cough?” Vic thought for a minute and replied, “Since about 1927.”

Steve Covello told me about a club date office he once worked for that sometimes used as a subleader on club dates an office partner who tried to hide his lack of musical abilities by pretending to play a double bass. On one job, trumpeter Bernie Greenbaum gave the rest of the band an imitation of the subleader’s “playing” by plucking an “air bass.” With each pluck, Bernie said, “Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong…”

Henry Newberger wrote to tell me about a musical act he knows, “Banjo Bob” Fuhr and “Crazy Henry.” A client of theirs who had used them for many years at Mardi Gras parties hadn’t called for this year, so Bob called to see if they could book the job again. When the client agreed, Bob asked, “Can we get a raise?” The client responded, “I dunno. Can you guys play better?”

Business Rep Dave Sheldon walked into the Local 802 elevator one day along with a couple of actors headed for the credit union office on the fourth floor. As the elevator doors closed, Eddie Allen’s band could be heard rehearsing in the Club Room. One of the actors asked the other, “How many banks do you know that have a live band?”

John Signorelli, who lives out in Denver, Pa., told me about working with pianist Dippy Impolitto’s seven-piece band at Sherman Billingsley’s Stork Club back in the 1950s. They alternated with a Latin band between the hours of 8 p.m. and 4 a.m., and John says the music was non-stop continuous, even when they were changing bands.

The music had to be at one tempo, no matter what the song was. Every evening, Billingsley would send a waiter over to the bandstand to tell the leader, “The boss says to pep it up!” One night a uniformed Western Union messenger came to the bandstand and handed Dippy a telegram. He opened it with one hand while still playing. The telegram read, “PEP IT UP.”

Billingsley put up a large blackboard in the musicians’ room. He chalked nightly do and don’t messages such as, “Don’t park on this block between Fifth and Madison,” or “If I catch anyone making eyes at the new cigarette girl, I must ask for his resignation,” or “Don’t touch the food in the kitchen at any time.” The band had to enter and leave the club through the kitchen. One night on his way in, Joe Janelli, the bassist, saw a beautiful big green olive on a discarded dish. He popped it in his mouth and headed for the bandstand. After the last set, at 3 a.m., a waiter came over to Joe as he was leaving the club. He handed him a gallon of green olives and a note from Billingsley. The note read, “You’re fired.”