Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CII, No. 5May, 2002

Bill Crow

Maura Gianini passed along a letter she got from Paul Grosney in Ontario: At an affair at the Beth Zedek Synagogue in Toronto, a guy came to the bandstand and made some odd musical requests. The leader asked him, “Which side are you on, the bride’s or the groom’s?” The guy said, “The bride’s.” “Get the hell out of here,” said the leader. “This is a bar mitzvah!”

Paul also told the one about two jazz musicians who meet on a street in Toronto:

“Joe, I haven’t seen you around.”

“Haven’t you heard? I’ve been in L.A. for the last six years.”

“No, I hadn’t heard.”

“Yeah, I’ve really done well. Two TV series, nine movies and a mini-series.”

“No, I hadn’t heard.”

“I’ve been so busy writing that I haven’t had time to keep my trumpet chops up. I sat in last night at the Rex, and it was awful.”

“Yeah, I heard.”

Lee Evans spoke to his Jazz History class at Pace University about the Ellington-Strayhorn tune “Satin Doll.” On a Swing Era exam soon after, one student referred to the tune as “Sad and Dull.” Lee is working on his enunciation.

I ran into the trombonist Joe Bennett at the A&P last January, and we stood in the dairy department talking over old times in the music business. Joe remembered working for Richard Himber, a bandleader who was also an amateur magician. He worked a little sleight-of-hand on Joe once while paying him: Himber counted out $175 into Joe’s hand, but when Joe recounted it there was only $150. He called Himber’s attention to the shortage, Himber again counted out $175 for Joe, and Joe’s recount still only came to $150. Joe handed him the bills and said, “Look, just write me a check.” Himber complied, but when Joe got the check home he discovered it was blank. Himber had written it with disappearing ink.

Richard Zalud sent me an article from the Aug. 26, 1946, issue of Down Beat magazine which reported that Jules Lavan’s seven-piece band was playing at the Coronet Restaurant in Philadelphia for only two people – the owners, Joe Fine and Dan Gerson. When they bought the club they found that Lavan had five weeks to go on a contract signed by the previous owner. They were closing the club until some time in August and wanted to let the band go, but Lavan demanded five weeks’ pay. The owners agreed, but insisted on music for their money, so the band continued to play out their contract in the closed club. Zalud says the article failed to mention that the bosses turned off the air-conditioning, so Lavan made the band uniform T-shirts and undershorts.

Burt Collins remembers a date he did at the old Olmstead studios that had a passage for two muted trumpets in unison with orchestra bells. He and Joe Wilder were having trouble staying with the bell player, who wasn’t playing exactly what was written. Joe leaned over and whispered to Burt, “That fellow ought to get the no-bell prize!”

Jim Miller wrote to say that tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna, a Woody Herman veteran, teacher and first-call musician in Philadelphia, was approached by a gentleman during a break at a gig last summer. “How long does it take to learn how to play one of those things, anyway?” the man inquired. Larry modestly explained that he himself was still practicing, and that it depended on how much time and effort one was willing to put in on the instrument. “Oh, I don’t have a lot of time to devote to it,” said the man, “but I’m not talking about anything complicated. You know . . . just bebop.”

Leo Ball told me about an audition for singers wanting to study at the Manhattan School of Music. Nancy Morano was judging and Mike Abene, Harvie Swartz and Justin DiCiocco were accompanying them. When the singers gave the trio their lead sheets, Abene would reharmonize everything, making it difficult for Swartz to guess what bass notes to use. Swartz said to Abene, “Why don’t you just play the chords on the sheets, so we can get this together and get out of here?” Abene replied, “My mind tells me I should be playing those chords, but my fingers just won’t obey.”

While driving across town together one afternoon last winter, Jerry Dodgion and I were reminiscing about our late friend Pepper Adams. Jerry said that Pepper had once told him that his uncle used to have a one-man band, but had to give it up. Couldn’t get the band to play together. Then he had a jug band. But by the time they got tuned up, everyone was too loaded to play.

Singers are sometimes faced with the problem of gender-specific lyrics that don’t match their gender. A guy has to want to sing “The Man I Love” or “He’s My Guy” pretty badly to go through the awkwardness involved in changing either the lyric or his gender. A song with a woman’s name in the title presents similar problems for female singers. Herb Gardner tells me he once heard a girl in a nightclub sing an impassioned version of “Sidney by Starlight.”