Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CI, No. 1January, 2001

Bill Crow

At a rehearsal of Ted Blumenthal’s big band, Pete Hyde gave me this one: When Charles Mingus’ jazz group was playing in New York, Bob Zottola dropped by the club to hear the band and to visit his friend, Paul Bley. Paul told Mingus that Bob was a good trumpet player and Mingus immediately said, “Get out your horn and come on up.” When the music began, Mingus started a tune and then pointed to Bob, who took a couple of choruses. Near the end of the second, Mingus yelled, “Blow another!” He played another, and Mingus ordered, “Keep on playing!” Bob put down his horn after many choruses. Mingus leaned over and growled, “Bird could have said it in two!”

After six years as the music director of The Mike Douglas Show out of Philadelphia, Joe Harnell followed the advice of several major stars who had appeared on the show and moved his family to California, to take a shot at composing for films. The stars weren’t as helpful as they had promised to be, but some friends who were active film composers suggested that he take the film scoring program Earle Hagen gave each year. Joe called Earle and asked if he qualified for the course. “Of course you qualify,” said Earle. “Not only that, you won’t even have to pay the usual tuition for the program – which, by the way, is a box of Titleist golf balls.” Joe protested, but Earle said, “It wouldn’t be right for me to accept a fee from you, when it was because of you that I bought my Rolls!” When Joe expressed bafflement, Earle asked, “Do you remember what was the B side of your hit single, ‘Fly Me to the Moon?'” “Sure,” said Joe, “it was a lovely tune called ‘Harlem Nocturne.'” “Well,” said Earle, “I wrote that tune – and with the royalties that record earned, I bought my first Rolls Royce. No golf balls from you, Joe…no way!”

Don Robertson works with a band called the Buffalo Rhythm Kings. They were under consideration for a wedding reception, but when they quoted their fee to the father of the bride, he replied, “Why, I can get a deejay for that!”

Bob Kross wrote from Cincinnati with this one: His first gig after returning from the service in the late 1940s was fronting a five-piece group across the Ohio River in a club in Newport, KY. On opening night the owner gave him his two-week notice, saying he had just sold the club. Later that evening the new manager called him over and said, “Get rid of that trumpet and get a violin player.” Luckily his trumpet player, Bob Mavity, also played the violin. Kross spent the next day rewriting his trumpet book for violin and they made the change that night. After a couple of sets with the new setup, the new manager said, “Bob, do me a favor. Get rid of that violinist and bring back the trumpet player.”

From Bill Blacher, retired in North Carolina, a story about the legendary tenor Frankie Socolow: In the early 1970s, while Bill and Frankie were playing a dance at the Belmont Plaza Hotel, a particularly curvaceous young lady swayed past the bandstand. Bill nudged Frankie and pointed at the beauty. “What do you think of that?” he asked. Frankie gave her a quick appraisal and responded, “Nah. Too effeminate.”

At the Southold, N.Y., Jazz Festival last summer, Ray Mosca reminisced about his days playing drums with the late Dorothy Donegan. He recalled a worried remark she once made: “People are dying who never died before!”

Last summer Joe Colombo played a wedding at a posh North Shore golf club. The bride and groom and their families were very full of themselves, with many instructions for everyone. Just before the downbeat Rich Dimino, the leader, came to the bandstand and said, “You should see the list of tunes they don’t want us to play!” Trumpeter Jack Daney said, “I’d like to add a few.”

When Andy Fitzgerald was on the road with the Bob Crosby band, he ran into Billy Butterfield, who had just been in Europe with Ray McKinley’s band. When Andy asked how the tour went, Billy paused a moment and then said, “They shot the wrong McKinley.”

Jimmy Cassata tells me that he and Chasey Dean were sitting in the sax section on a not-so-great big band gig. After one tune that wasn’t too successful, Chasey remarked, “Half the band was in the wrong key.” Jimmy replied, “And the other half didn’t know it!”

During his youth, Kenny Davern spent some time on the road with Ralph Flanagan’s band. When he came back home, his grandmother wanted a report on the tour. She said, “So, Kennet, vare you vas?” Kenny told her that they had played all through the Deep South: Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. His grandmother looked worried. “Kennet, vasn’t it the home of the Ku Klux Klein?”