Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CIV, No. 7/8July, 2004

Bill Crow

Jack Block told me about his early days in New York, hanging around the Village jazz clubs to listen to Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. He said, “Zoot’s playing gave me more joy and pleasure than anyone I’d ever heard, and I’d go to hear him as often as I could afford.” Jack began asking Zoot for lessons, but Zoot explained that he didn’t feel he could teach. Though Jack persisted, Zoot remained friendly, but uninterested in teaching. One night when Jack made his usual pitch, Zoot said, “Look, you already play the saxophone, right?” “Yeah,” said Jack. “Then,” said Zoot, “why don’t you go home and play the saxophone?”

When William Zinn was a member of the first violin section of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra during the 1948-49 season, Leonard Bernstein toured with them as guest conductor. As they rode with him in a railroad car, Bernstein boasted that he was the only artist in the world who did three things at once. “I perform as a piano soloist,” he said, “I conduct the orchestra while performing, and I’m playing music that I composed.” Zinn piped up, “So what’s the big deal? I can do four things at once!” Bernstein was dubious. “Like what?” Zinn said, “I perform a violin concerto as the soloist, conduct the orchestra with my bow, and I also composed the concerto.” Bernstein snapped, “That’s only three things! What’s the fourth?” Zinn answered, “I also carved the violin I’m playing on!” Bernstein shouted angrily, “You don’t expect me to build a piano, do you?”

Herb Gardner says it’s sometimes difficult to decipher requests. A young girl wanted the Stan Rubin band to play the song where the whole band stands up and yells “Eight thousand!” And when a group of Argentinians requested “Imachinin” from the Smith Street Society, the band was stumped until one of the requesters began to sing: “Oh when the saints imachinin…” Robbie Scott got a request for “Somebody Obvious,” which was a poser until the customer hummed a few bars of “Samba de Orfeus.”

Drake Smith, up in Connecticut, says the featured soloist with the Coast Guard band in April was trombonist Slide Hampton. The story in the local paper referred to Slide as “Lionel Hampton’s son.” Drake discovered the probable source of the error in Slide’s bio which was printed in the concert program. Slide said his first professional playing experience was in his father’s band, but didn’t mention his father’s name, which may have led to the misassumption. On the way out of the auditorium, Drake heard a little old lady remark to her friend, “Well, he is pretty good, but certainly not like his father!”

Remembering the late Elvin Jones (see obituary, page 8), Jon Berger told me about going to see him at the Vanguard during the late 1970’s. After hearing a set, they called him over to their table and told him they were drummers studying percussion in a conservatory program. After a nice chat, Elvin’s parting admonition was: “Enjoy the misery!”

John Gill, down at the Cajun at Eighth Avenue and West 16th Street, was tuning his banjo between tunes on the last set. Joe Hanchrow, his tuba player, asked, “Why are you tuning up? There’s only one more tune to play tonight.” John deadpanned, “I’m tuning up for tomorrow.”

Last March I got an e-mail note from Carlos Burns remembering the late Brew Moore’s birthday. He passed along a letter from Swedish pianist Lars Sjösten which contained the following story: “Once in the beginning of the seventies we made a tour in the south of Sweden with Rolf Ericson, Lars Gullin and Brew Moore. We came to the small village of Hultsfred. Lars had a few sextet arrangements that we rehearsed in the afternoon. On one tune the drummer had problems with the tempo, and Brew was not happy. After dinner, we went back, and the drummer began to hammer a few nails in the stage floor so the bass drum wouldn’t slide. When Brew heard that, he called across the stage, ‘That’s right! Now you’ve got it! That’s the right tempo!’”

Larry Siegel was leading a Dixieland gig on banjo. As he was tuning up and strumming a few chords to warm up, washboard player Larry Eagle said, “Hey, could you turn that down?” Siegel replied, “With a banjo, the only thing you have the option to turn down is the gig.”

Doug Proper, who has a guitar shop up in Vista, New York, accepted a refinishing job on a Martin guitar. He told his customer that it would take at least six weeks for him to get the guitar back to him, but the guy called Doug once or twice every week to see how the job was going. When the guitar was finished, Doug called the customer and set up a day for him to pick up his guitar. That same day, another guitarist brought in for minor repair a Martin that looked exactly like the one Doug had just refinished, except that it was a left-handed model. Doug couldn’t resist. When the first customer showed up, he presented him with the left-handed Martin, and said, “It came out beautifully, and the left-hand conversion worked just fine.” Doug said the expression on the guy’s face was priceless.