Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CIV, No. 10October, 2004

Bill Crow

During the 1947-48 season with the Pittsburgh Symphony, William Zinn shared a room with the orchestra’s piccolo player. They hung out together, and wherever they went, his friend carried his piccolo in his jacket pocket. Whenever the spirit moved him, he would pull out his piccolo and play a passage from Tschaikovsky’s Fourth, or from the Stars and Stripes Forever. One evening they sat in the balcony of the local cinema, watching a mystery movie. At the climax, a door slid open near the seated victim and a hand holding a long knife appeared, ready to strike. Zinn’s friend quickly pulled out his piccolo and began to play the solo from Strauss’s ‘Don Juan,’ double forte. The woman seated in front of him screamed in terror, and ushers quickly ran up the balcony with flashlights. The movie stopped, the houselights came up, and Zinn and his friend sat there looking innocent until the search was finished and the movie resumed. The next day, at the Symphony’s rehearsal of the Strauss tone poem, conductor Fritz Reiner stopped the orchestra right after the piccolo solo. He said to the soloist, “You played it better last night.”

I found a message on my telephone at the office one morning from a woman who didn’t give her name. She expressed concern that I was still printing stories attributed to Herb Gardner. The author with that name passed away recently, but he is not the source of these stories. My Herb Gardner, who plays trombone and piano around the greater New York area, is alive and well. The last time I saw him, on a job up in Somers, NY he gave me this story:

The members of Banu Gibson’s “New Orleans Hot Jazz” band were relaxing with a few drinks at an outdoor café in Syracuse, NY. At midnight, the owner came out and said they would have to move inside, as there was a law in Syracuse against serving liquor outdoors after midnight. Jon-Erik Kellso quipped, “Wow, that’s the first time I’ve ever been thrown into a bar!”

Steve Voce, the jazz writer who lives over in Liverpool, England, passed along a message he received from John Chilton, the noted author and historian, who plays trumpet in London two nights a week with reed player Wally Fawkes. John described the way Wally dealt with requests. A customer asked for “Tequila,” and Wally said, “I’m sorry, we’re still on the em and ens. We won’t reach the tees for some weeks.”

At a parents’ day at a Long Island summer camp, Barbara Dreiwitz, Bruce McNichols and Henry Newberger were dressed in early 1900s police costumes, playing ragtime. The camp director came over to the band and said, “Your music is great, but one of the parents got worried. She asked why the cops were here!”

Walt Levinsky’s widow, Natalie, found this ad in Florida and sent it to Sig Singer, who passed it along to me:

Couple getting married, in need of a band. Ideally, we’d like a 4-5 piece band that can play disco, funk, R&B, Motown, rock, top 40, as well as some Jewish ethnic songs like “Hava Nagila.” We’d need about four hours of music, from 6 to 10 p.m. with some breaks in between. We also need some light rock or jazz for the dinner music. Also, we need to use your microphone for toasts and speeches, etc.

Pay: Unfortunately, we cannot afford to pay the band in money. But here’s what we offer in return: (1) You and the band will be fed a great meal. (However, as we do need some quiet dinner music provided, you’ll have to eat during the toasts.) (2) Each band member will get one free drink. (3) We will mention your band in the toasts, and you’ll get a chance to pass out your business cards, and you can give away any band CD’s you have. There will be some very high class people there, and you’ll probably get some offers from this. (4) If you do well, we might hire you for a paid party later this fall. (5) We will have a tip jar out for the band. (6) You’ll get the great feeling of doing a good deed! One more thing. We do have a few family members who play drums and guitar, so we hope it’ll be okay to let them sit in for a tune or two.

When Dick Hyman called Ted Sommer as the percussionist for a “Jazz In July” program at the 92nd Street Y, he ordered a set of tympani from a rental company. When Ted arrived for the rehearsal, he found no tuning keys with the tymps. He phoned the rental company and told them he needed the tuning keys. “No, you don’t” was the reply. “We tuned them before they went on the truck.”

As I was wheeling my string bass down West 48th Street one day, a young man who was passing by pointed to it and cried out, “Cello, right?” I answered, “No, it’s a bass.” He nodded with great assurance and said, “That’s what I thought.”