Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CV, No. 5May, 2005

Bill Crow

When I worked with jazz bands in the 1950’s and 60’s, I filled in the frequent holes in their schedules with club dates that I picked up on the union floor. Besides the differences in the music on those jobs, I noticed another difference. When the night was over at a jazz club, the musicians usually hung around and socialized together until the place closed. On club dates, the musicians did their socializing between sets, and they vanished as quickly as they could once the job was over. Pianists were usually the first ones out the door, since they had nothing to carry in those days. And the drummer was usually left there by himself, the last one to finish packing up. But there was one drummer who had worked out a routine that got him out the door even before the piano player. On the last dance medley he would begin dismantling his drum set while still playing. He was very adept at unscrewing things with one hand and stuffing them into his cases. By the time we got to “Goodnight Sweetheart,” he had everything in his two fiber cases, one for traps, snare and cymbals, and one for the bass drum. During the last eight bars he would be sitting on the loaded trap case, playing brushes on the loaded bass drum case. During the last four bars, he would slip on his coat and hat. On the final cutoff, he would stand up, pocket his brushes, grab the two cases, and hurry out the door without a backward look.

In the late 1960’s, Frank Foster was a member of Duke Pearson’s big band. He told me he felt privileged to sit in the reed section with Jerry Dodgion, Pepper Adams and Lew Tabackin. Lew had mastered the art of multiphonics, and delighted his section mates with what Frank calls “crafty” solos that included two or more notes played simultaneously. During one of Pearson’s recording sessions, one of the trombonists discovered that in a certain measure he had two notes written, one on top of the other. He asked Duke, “Which one should I play?” Before Duke could answer, Tabackin said, “Play ‘em both, man!”

Frank told me that at a band rehearsal, after Lew had delighted the musicians with a cross-generational solo that reminded them of the late Chu Berry, Burt Collins gave him a new name: Chu Tabackin.

Bernie Bragin walked into a bank down in Florida a while ago and recognized his old friend Babe Russin, who was talking to a well dressed fellow. When Bernie walked over to say hello, the stranger asked, “Did you ever play with Glenn Miller?” Bernie was taken aback. He had played with Miller’s Air Force band during the war, but couldn’t imagine how the guy recognized him after so many years. They chatted a bit, and the guy asked Bernie, “Did you ever find out why you didn’t make it into the Benny Goodman band when you auditioned for him?” Bernie was doubly amazed. “How did you know about that?” The guy said, “I was there. And the reason Benny nixed you was that he heard you warming up. You were playing beautifully, but you were playing Artie Shaw’s cadenza on ‘Rose Room.’”

When William Zinn was concertmaster of the New Britain (Conn.) Symphony, he and his wife spent a weekend at the conductor’s home. On that Sunday morning he loaded his car with his violin, his music stand and a clothing bag containing his tuxedo, and drove to the 10 a.m. dress rehearsal before the afternoon concert. When he began to dress, half an hour before the concert, he discovered that his tux pants weren’t in the clothing bag. He was about to switch his jeans for the black pants of one of the bass players who would be less visible, when his wife rushed into the dressing room with Zinn’s tux pants over her arm. She had noticed them on the closet floor when she went to get her coat, and had hurried over in the conductor’s car. Zinn dressed and headed for the stage, where he found that the assistant concertmaster was missing. The conductor delayed the downbeat for a bit, and suddenly the assistant ran in. He said, “I was here half an hour ago, but discovered I had forgotten my tuxedo pants, which were on a separate hanger. I drove home and back at 80 miles an hour in this heavy rain.” Zinn says it was the first time in history that a first stand had lost their pants simultaneously. The concert went well, regardless.

Lew Gluckin told Leo Ball about a big band rehearsal he once played on a day when his trumpet chops were in terrible shape. After he suffered through a couple of tunes, the bandleader called up an arrangement that Lew had written. After the band gave it a good reading, Lew’s section mate Al Porcino turned to him and commented dryly, “Lew, the pen is mightier than the mouthpiece!”

Herb Gardner once asked Russ Whitman, a traditional jazz reed player, “Don’t you wish you had an oboe?” Russ replied, “Man, I wish I had all the oboes!”

Scott Robinson passed this one along: At a big band rehearsal, Don Sebesky stopped the band at one point and complained, “Letter H should be exactly the same as letter B. Why is it that every time we get to letter H, it sounds different than letter B?” After a pause, horn player Peter Gordon offered, “Well…we’re older.”

Bill Spilka heard an interview with Bob James where the host asked him if he had any interesting stories about his travels to festivals and clubs around the world. Bob told about a conversation he had with a young woman who was sitting next to him on a plane. When she found out that he was a jazz musician, she exclaimed, “Oh I just love jazz… except when it sounds like they’re making it up.