Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CV, No. 4April, 2005

Bill Crow

Have you seen many dollar coins in circulation these days? They can be used in the new parking receipt dispensers on the block in front of Local 802, but they don’t turn up too often. You have to remember to ask for them at the bank.

It’s amazing the way coins have devalued over the years. When I came to live in New York in 1950, a nickel would take you anywhere the subway went, and three or four of them would get you a decent meal at the Automat. Remember penny candy? Now you see pennies discarded on the street by people who can’t be bothered with them. (Strangely, they will throw away five pennies, but not a nickel.)

When pay phone calls went up to a dime in New York, some of us continued to pay only a nickel. It seemed a wonderful thing to be able to beat Ma Bell out of doubling her fee. In the musicians’ room at the old Playboy Club on East 59th Street, pianist Frank Owens showed me how to do it. The coin returns on pay phones were pushbuttons in those days. If you used two nickels for a call, the phone mechanism held the first one and waited for the second one to drop. If you dropped in a nickel and pushed the coin return button at the same time, the coin would fall over into the space designed for the second nickel. The phone would think it had two of them, and would put the call through. The trick must have been used enough to worry the folks at the telephone company. About a year later the coin return buttons on all pay phones were replaced with levers that worked a different way, putting an end to our scam.

Jim Ford told me about a Saturday afternoon wedding reception he played many years ago with Jack Pinto’s Townsmen at a hotel outside Binghamton. It had been raining for a few days, and the roof of the single-story wing of the hotel that contained the banquet rooms had sprung a leak. A waiter placed a metal bucket on the floor in front of the bandstand to catch the drips, and the party went on. Four hours later, while Jim was breaking down his portable organ, he happened to glance into the bucket, where he discovered a five dollar bill and two singles, very soggy. The musicians divided the tip, but wondered if this could be considered money laundering.

Gene Caprioglio, whose band was booked for a birthday party, sent me a copy of a list of requested tunes that was sent to Joel Darelius, his bass player. Among tunes by Norah Jones, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Cyndi Lauper, etc. was “What A Wonderful World” by “Lance Armstrong.” Gene commented, “Four Tour de France wins, and a singing career too! What’s next — ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ by Neil Armstrong?”

Dave Carey has been playing occasionally for the elderly patients at the Yeager Medical Center up in Rockland County. One of the ladies in his audience told him, “You know, we sing better when you’re here.” The man next to her added, “Because of you.” Dave asked, “Because of me?” “No,” said the man, “PLAY ‘Because of You.’”

Robert Page was playing a piano single in a large, fashionable, very noisy dining room at the Jersey shore. He talked the manager into adding bass and drums, hoping to give himself a better shot at surmounting the nightly din, but the manager still worried that a trio would be too loud. Robert assured him that the music would be unobtrusive, but on opening night, the manager hurried over as the musicians were setting up. “Don’t forget to keep it soft,” he said nervously. “I’ve already received a complaint!”

This conversation was overheard between Dave Finck’s son Henry and his friend Chris:

Chris: You guys must be rich, if your dad’s a musician.

Henry: No, he works freelance.

Chris: What does that mean?

Henry: He works for free.

Chris: Really?

Henry: Yes. That way he’s his own boss. Nobody can fire him for anything. He can fire himself.

Howard Hirsch told me about a 1956 recording date for the Cinerama film “Giant.” The 100-piece orchestra was recorded at Carnegie Hall, under the direction of Dimitri Tiomkin. The music for the first scene only required percussionists…ten of them. Some of New York’s top percussionists had been engaged. Howard walked on stage with George Gaber, where they found Phil Krauss adjusting a vibraphone, Morris Goldenberg setting up a snare drum, Harry Breuer moving a marimba into position, Brad Spinney setting up three tom-toms, Marty Grupp testing a large gong, Doug Allen arranging castanets and a tambourine on a table, Freddy Albright setting up orchestra bells, Buster Bailey unpacking hand cymbals, and Saul Goodman readying his tympani mallets. Goodman, who played first tympani with the New York Philharmonic, had automatically set up at the “Tympani I” stand. When George Gaber walked in, Brad Spinney noticed him and said, “Mr. Tympani is here!” Saul Goodman looked up, saw George, and immediately took his mallets off the “Tympani I” stand and moved them to “Tympani II.” Howard was deeply impressed by this silent tribute to the great percussionist.