Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CV, No. 7/8July, 2005

Bill Crow

Lyricist Jack Segal, who died in California last February, was one of my first New York friends. Dave Lambert introduced us. Jack’s most well-known songs are “Scarlet Ribbons,” When Sunny Gets Blue,” “When Joanna Loved Me,” and “Here’s to the Losers,” and the many singers who recorded them include Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Perry Como and Dinah Shore. Jack and his then wife Lillian had an apartment in the East 50’s where musicians and artists were always welcome. We went there to sing songs, play music, laugh, and sometimes read aloud the poetry and plays Jack loved. The Segals often fed me when I was hungry, and Jack sometimes slipped me a few dollars when he knew I wasn’t getting much work. When he moved to California and remarried, I didn’t see him as often as I would have liked. He worked in Paramount Pictures’ music department, wrote TV specials, and taught songwriting at Cal State and USC. He had a great enthusiasm for art and music, and I remember him with gratitude for the encouragement he gave me when I was a stranger in New York.

Frank Amoss told me of a time when he was the leader on a wedding gig. When the bride entered the room, Frank cued tenor man Don Hawkins to play “Here Comes the Bride.” Don took a big breath and poured everything he had into a sterling rendition of “Happy Birthday.” It took Frank and the rest of the band a few bars to get his attention, and then he changed to the right tune. On Frank’s birthday, a few weeks later, his phone rang. The answer to Frank’s “hello” was Don’s tenor sax rendition of “Here Comes the Bride.”

Leo Ball passed along a story that Denny LeRoux told him: Bassist Al Ferrari was on his way to a gig when he heard a loud scraping sound under his car. He stopped to investigate, and discovered that his muffler and tailpipe had come loose from the clamp that held them, and were dragging on the ground. Al looked through his car for a piece of rope or wire that he could use to make a temporary repair, but found nothing. He didn’t have much extra time to make it to his gig. In desperation, he removed a string from his bass and used it to tie the tailpipe assembly back up to the frame of the car. When he got to the job, he untied the bass string, strung it back on his bass, and went to work. (That’s another reason for using metal strings on your bass.)

Here’s another car story: Alfonso Tomaino remembers an evening in his youth when he and Nelson Riddle were driving to an orchestra rehearsal together. They passed a disabled car at the side of the road where a man was changing a tire. Nelson asked, “Funz, what key do you suppose he’s doing that in?” Alfonso said, “I have no idea.” “A flat!” cried Nelson gleefuly.

While playing “Fiddler on the Roof,” Dave Moore kept hearing mysterious sounds during the quiet moments. He discovered that a clarinet player had learned to play little squeaky tunes by moving his toes inside his shoes. Dave’s response was learning to curse at him quietly without moving his lips.

Stan Koor was perusing the Luck’s Music Library catalog of educational orchestral music when he found an unusual ad: “Cole Porter Classics arr. Wagner. Includes: Begin the Beguine, Lover for Sale & Anything Goes.” There is an additional line, “Take a trip down Memory Lane and bring your students along!” Stan doesn’t think the “Anything Goes” that Porter wrote about included selling your lover, even on Memory Lane.

There’s always one more Benny Goodman story. Joe Bennett, reminding me of what a frugal man Goodman was, told me that Benny once called Bucky Pizzarelli and said he wanted to rehearse a band in New Jersey. Bucky found a place to rehearse and called a bunch of good players, and Benny brought a bunch of his old arrangements, like “Roll ‘Em” and “Let’s Dance.” Halfway through the rehearsal, Benny turned around and said, “Why can’t I get a band to play like this in New York?” In the trombone section, Eddie Bert whispered to Joe, “It would cost more.”

Another story from William Zinn: During the 1945-46 season I was playing in the first violin section of the Indianapolis Symphony under the baton of Fabian Sevitzky. Our first flutist, Hersh, had a beautiful tone and good technique, but had a tendency to play a bit flat in the higher ranges. One day, as I strolled past a music shop, I spotted a 25-cent toy tin flute in the window. I bought it, started practicing, and soon could play tunes on it. It sounded like a tinny out-of-tune recorder. I carried it around with me in my coat pocket. One night we were scheduled to perform the Tschaikowsky Sixth Symphony after the intermission. For fun, during the intermission, I played the theme of the first movement on the tin flute as I strolled around backstage. I ended up at Sevitzky’s dressing room door, where I played the entire theme. The door flew open and an enraged Sevitzky appeared, wearing a black cape, a la Dracula. “Oh, it’s you!” he shouted. “Who did you think it was?” I asked. “I thought it was Hersh,” he growled. “Why, did I sound that good?” “No,” he snapped, “you sound that bad!” and he slammed the door shut.

Dave Gale told me about a conductor who told Bob Millikan, “You’re using too much vibrato!” Bob replied, “That’s not vibrato…you just make me nervous!”