Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CI, No. 12December, 2001

Bill Crow

Shortly after Rolf Ericson arrived in the U.S. from Sweden he joined the Charlie Spivak orchestra, where he met drummer John Perilli. John told me that Rolf was living in a new apartment in Queens at that time. Most of the rest of the band stayed at the President Hotel on West 48th Street when the band was in New York. The band bus was scheduled to leave the President very late one night for a college date the next day in North Carolina. When it was time to leave, everyone poured out of the President bar and onto the bus, and manager Charlie Russo took a head count. Rolf was missing. They held the bus for an hour and then rolled without him.

The next night, about an hour into the gig, John saw Rolf making his way toward the bandstand among the dancing couples, carrying his suitcase and his trumpet. As he prepared to play, John asked, “Rolf, what happened? The bus left at two AM!” Rolf replied, “AM, PM, FM . . . what do I know?”

Judd Woldin wrote to tell me about a British book he’d received as a gift, called “The Best of Jazz Score” – a compilation of conversations and anecdotes from a program by that name on BBC2 in Great Britain. By a coincidence, I had just bought the book at a second-hand shop in Peekskill. One of the stories we both liked involved a singing group headed for a new venue in Nottingham. They pulled the bus up beside a policeman to ask directions, but he said he had never heard of the place. As the driver pulled away, the drummer leaned out the window and shouted, “No wonder you guys could never find Robin Hood!”

Judd and his wife live on Greenwich Avenue, just six blocks from ground zero at the World Trade Center disaster area. Judd spent many years playing piano at Windows on the World at the top of tower one. His wife used to say that his trip to work was farther vertically than it was horizontally. His colleagues will be happy to know that they are both okay, though considerably shaken up.

Lou Caputo told me about working with the late Sal Nistico on the Nat Morell band at an October Festival in Long Island, performing under a large tent. A fierce thunderstorm developed, causing problems with the gasoline generator that was providing electricity for lighting the tent and the bandstand. Every time the generator cut out the band would be left in darkness and, since the band was reading Nat’s arrangements, the music would grind to a halt. In the midst of all this, a tipsy customer climbed onto the bandstand and started conducting in a comically animated manner. Dave Tucker in the trumpet section called out, “Just what we need . . . a conductor.” Nistico responded, “I’ll be a son of a bitch if we ain’t following him!”

One afternoon as I passed the phone booth on the corner near the 802 office, I noticed a little boy standing there in deep conversation. He wore a Puerto Rican flag as a cape and had a paper cap on his head and, with the phone cord stretched down as far as it would go, he could just barely reach the handset he was talking into. I wondered how he had been able to get it off the hook, which was high above his head. Then I saw his mother standing beside the phone booth, chatting with him on her cell phone.

Frank Vicari told me that when he was Woody Herman’s road manager, they wore white turtlenecks with their band jackets on informal jobs, and white dress shirts with neckties on the fancier ones. Sal Nistico discovered that if he put a dress shirt on backwards it could pass for a turtleneck, saving him the expense of buying a second set of shirts. So every night before the job, Sal would call Frank and ask, “Fronts or backs tonight?”

One night in Los Angeles, Woody told Frank, “Those band jackets are looking ragged. Get some new ones.” The next day Frank took everyone’s size to a men’s store and found an acceptable model – but because there were some very large musicians on the band at the time, he was told that the store wouldn’t be able to fill his order right away. Frank noticed some dashikis, which came in sizes large enough for everyone. He bought enough for the whole band and they wore them on the bandstand that night. Woody came in dressed in a tuxedo and looked a little put out when he saw the dashikis, but he got so many positive comments from the customers that he kept them for casual gigs. “But,” he told Frank, “make sure everyone is wearing the same kind of shirt sleeves!”

Pete Brush called my attention to a weekly column in Parade magazine in which Marilyn Vos Savant responds to letters from readers on a wide variety of subjects. Last June she listed some questions that she had received over time that were unanswerable. The one Pete liked was from S. P. in Huntsville, Alabama: Do you believe in the big band theory?