Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CV, No. 6June, 2005

Bill Crow

Joe Rutkowski graduated as a clarinet major from Mannes College in 1976, and took a summer job as custodian at the college, as did an oboe major who had graduated a year earlier. They both had teaching positions that began that September, but they worked as janitors during the summer in order to start paying off their student loans.

Toward the end of the summer Mannes was having the final round of auditions for openings in the coming academic year. As Joe and his oboist friend were painting one of the school rooms, they heard a trumpeter warming up. “I just love the Hummel trumpet concerto,” said the oboist. “No,” Joe replied, That’s the Haydn trumpet concerto.” To settle the point, they went into the warm-up room. The trumpeter looked at the two unshaven, paint smeared janitors and paused. Joe asked him, “What are you playing?” The young man replied, “A trumpet.” “I know that,” said Joe, “but are you playing the Haydn or the Hummel?” “Haydn.” “Thanks,” said Joe, and to the oboist, “See, I told you.”

The trumpet player was fascinated. “Did you guys learn about classical music just from cleaning up around here?” Joe said, “No, we just graduated from this school.” He said the bewildered look on the young man’s face was priceless.

Phil Schaap, the well known jazz educator and commentator who holds forth regularly on radio station WKCR-FM, celebrated a birthday at the Cajun restaurant one night when Herb Gardner was there leading Stan Rubin’s band. Phil is known for his lengthy, detailed discussions of the recorded jazz music that he plays on his radio show. When Herb had the band play “Happy Birthday” for Phil, he announced, to Phil’s delight, “Those of you who are familiar with Mr. Schaap’s work will realize that I really should have talked about ‘Happy Birthday’ for half an hour before I actually played it.”

Here are a couple of Herb Gardner stories that Herb didn’t send me. I got them from his friend and colleague Bruce McNichols. At a Sunday brunch at the Iridium jazz club, they were visited by 90 kids from the Jackson, Michigan, high school band. During an announcement, Bruce asked if the kids knew the difference between a trumpet and a cornet. One called out, “The cornet has a conical bore.” Gardner quickly pointed to the group’s irrepressible singing trumpet player Bob Leive and said, “This band has a COMICAL bore.”

On another occasion, McNichols announced that the band had CD’s for sale. A wise guy in the audience asked, “Are those the CD’s you get in a bank?” Gardner quickly replied, “No, our CD’s get no interest.”

Geoff Clarkson, who spent over fifty years as Bob Hope’s conductor, told me about a show they once played with a band that wasn’t really ready for prime time. At the rehearsal, the trumpets were having a lot of trouble playing one arrangement, and Geoff said patiently, “Okay, let’s try it once more.” They did, and one of the trumpet players asked Geoff, “Was that close?”

Geoff also worked with Margaret Whiting. One day, at a rehearsal at her house, her piano tuner showed up, so Ms. Whiting suggested they take a walk while the man did his work. They left the house, but Geoff went back to get his sunglasses and surprised the tuner in the act of helping himself to the liquor cabinet. Embarrassed, the piano tuner waved the bottle he was holding and said, “There’s nothing like gin for cleaning piano keys.”

Guitarist Lloyd Wells told me about standing in the wings of a theatre with pianist Robert Redd, waiting to do a sound check. The house rhythm section was on stage preparing to rehearse with a singer. She passed out her music and counted off the tune at a medium tempo, but after about eight measures she stopped singing and told the musicians, “That’s much too slow…it needs to be brighter.” Then she counted it off again, at exactly the same tempo, and they continued rehearsing the song. Robert, snapping his fingers along with the music, said to Lloyd, “Remember, the original tempo was right here?”

Harold Arlen’s son Sam produced a CD, a tribute to his father, featuring himself on tenor sax. Richie Iacona arranged and conducted the date. Sam wanted to use a big band, and Richie convinced him to also add a string section to the orchestrations. This raised the number of musicians to about thirty. Shrugging at the added expense, Sam told Richie, “My only regret is that we put at least one synth player out of work.”

Mike Epperhart has been on the road with the national tour of “Cats.” When the company checked into their hotel in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, the drummer, Tim Mulligan, decided to avoid the crowded elevator by taking the stairs up to his room. He asked the lady at the front desk where the stairs were, and he was told, “I’m sorry, our stairs only go down.”

Scott Robinson has a wonderful collection of strange musical instruments, and has learned to play them all. One instrument that he is still looking for at an affordable price is a Heckelphone. He found a CD by a man playing that instrument and took it home to listen to it. Scott said, “Perhaps it’s a difficult axe to master, because the performer was clearly struggling at times with the pitch, sound and fingerwork. My wife, a classically trained flutist with a critical ear, winced during some of the more awkward moments. At one point I said to her, ‘You know, these things cost thirty grand?’ She shot back, ‘How much are lessons?’”