Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CV, No. 9September, 2005

Bill Crow

For several years I had a cheap cell phone that I rarely used. I just kept it in my car for emergencies. Since the phone was never turned on, I never gave anyone the number. Once, about three years ago, I was to meet Chris Brooks with the Cab Calloway band at a New Jersey parking lot for a bus trip to Delaware, so I gave him my cell phone number and turned my phone on to stay in touch with the bus before it arrived. The only other times I used that phone since then were to check my home phone messages while I was on vacation. Last summer I upgraded to a regular cell phone service, with the same cell phone number. As soon as I turned on my new phone, it rang. It was Chris Brooks, calling me for a job.

I was looking up something in the contracts section of the Local 802 computer a couple of weeks ago and came across a funny typo. Someone had entered a contract for a job that John McMahon and David Geist had done for the Lincoln Center Theatre last fall. The name of the show was listed as: “Light in the Pizza.”

Steve Hunter, a keyboard player in a Toronto pit orchestra who found himself slowly going crazy playing all the rehearsals and all the shows, wrote the following lament, to be sung to the melody of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.”

I was born one morning, took me home in a car,
When I got a lot older, took my gear to a bar
Played in bars, I thought that this was it,
‘Til I got a call to come play in the pit.

You play Lion King, and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt,
Jazz leaders, don’t you call me ‘cause I can’t go,
I owe my soul to the company store.

I picked up my score and went down to the show,
Old friends say “he used to know how to blow,”
Used to know all the changes to “Donna Lee,”
Now all I do is play behind Rafiki. [Chorus]

I drive the same route into work each day,
Rememberin’ way back when I knew how to play,
Gave up jazz to support the kids and a wife,
Now I get my kicks with the “Circle of Life.” [Chorus]

Now, listen, I got a confession to make,
A thought so scary you won’t know how to take,
Playing eight shows a week may not be your scene,
But I’ve kind of come to like the routine. [Chorus]

Playing in a band at Zebulon, a Brooklyn jazz club, Art Baron was getting into the spirit of a “free” improvisation on a piece by guitarist Elliot Sharpe. He uncoupled his trombone bell from the slide section, intending to play some expressive sounds by blowing through just the bell. His section mate, Curtis Fowlkes, saw him taking his horn apart and asked, “You goin’ home, man?”

On the second set, during a fairly chaotic group improvisation, Art tried for a little contrast by playing some diatonic melodies. Later, he said to Curtis, “I hope you didn’t mind a little straight melody.” Curtis said, “No, we had everything else covered!”

This story has been floating around the Internet for a month or so, with new additions every so often:

A “C,” an “E-flat” and a “G” went into a bar. The bartender said, “Sorry, we don’t serve minors.” So the E-flat left, and the C and the G had an open fifth between them. After a few drinks, the fifth was diminished, and the G was flat. An F came in and tried to augment the situation, but was not sharp enough. A D came in and headed straight for the bathroom, saying, “I’ll just be a second.” Then the bartender noticed a B-flat hiding at the end of the bar and said, “Get out! You’re the seventh minor I’ve found in this bar tonight.” The E-flat returned, wearing a three-piece suit and nicely shined shoes. The bartender said, “Come in! You’re looking sharp tonight. This could be a major development!” But the E-flat removed all his clothes and stood there au natural. When the C sobered up, he found that he was under a rest for contributing to the diminution of a minor. He was sentenced to ten years of DS without Coda. On appeal, however, the C was found innocent of wrongdoing, even accidental. All accusations to the contrary were held bassless. Since the bartender only had tenor so patrons left, and the sopranout in the bathroom, he decided it was just too much treble, and closed the bar to take a rest.

Joe Petrizzo walked into a sweetening date at the old RCA studios one day and found lead trumpeter Bob McCoy sitting at the piano, playing idly while waiting for the date to begin. Joe said to him, “Dammit, you play high notes on the piano, too?”

Vibraphonist George Gaber remembers a jazz group he played with at ABC on the nightly Red Benson radio show back in the 1950s. Mel Powell, Felix Giobbe, Peanuts Hucko and Bobby Hackett were his colleagues in the band. Powell, who was well known as one of Benny Goodman’s great jazz pianists, was also proficient in classical music. He later taught composition at Yale, and won a Pulitzer for a string quartet that he composed. On the radio show, when it was Powell’s turn to play a piano chorus, he would take suggestions from the other musicians to play like different composers, playing jazz in the styles of Tschaikowsky, Ravel, Hindemith, Scriabin, etc. on request.

Between sets on a job, David Finck found himself in a conversation with a man and wife who claimed to be avid jazz fans. Eventually, the man asked Dave’s un-favorite question, “So, do you do this full time?” The implication being that Dave must also have a “real” job. “Yes, I do,” Dave told him. “Wow, that’s great! You know, I put myself through medical school playing drums on the weekends.” Dave countered with: “Wow, that’s great! I put myself through conservatory doing brain surgery, but I got tired of the hours, and my beeper going off all the time.”