Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CIII, No. 3March, 2003

Bill Crow

Broadway producers aren’t the only ones looking at technology that is designed to replace live musicians. Sam Levine sent me an article from the Washington Post that describes a new device that can be placed in a bugle held by anyone, with no need to learn to play the instrument. It looks a little like a straight mute, and has a memory chip in it that will play “Taps” through a digital amplifier at the press of a button.

The Pentagon has a shortage of buglers. Honorably discharged veterans are entitled by law to a two-person uniformed honor guard, a flag ceremony, and the playing of “Taps” at their funerals. When they passed a law making it legal to use a recording of “Taps” when no bugler is available, they received complaints that the ceremony was less dignified that way. So they have invested $50,000 in development of this digital device. Fifty of the new “ceremonial bugles” have been distributed in a pilot program. Couldn’t they spend some of that money on a recruiting program for buglers?

John Thorp played funerals in the Arlington National Cemetery in the early 1960’s. He told me that a guitarist was taken into the US Army Band to fill a slot in an officer’s Art VanDamme-style quintet. Since the Army didn’t have a job description for a guitarist, they gave the guy a trumpet to learn, and shortly thereafter assigned him to play taps, solo. John says that some think the term “military music” is an oxymoron.

Ken Kimball sent me a clipping from the Seattle Times that told of a strategy the Boston transit police are using to discourage aggressive teenagers from congregating at one of their subway stations after school. They are playing recordings of show tunes and marches there.

Kurt Kolstad sent me an item from the Sunday Times in London:

“Police have appealed for help in identifying a woman found in Middle Rasen, Lincolnshire, carrying nothing but a bag of records by Barry Manilow. The woman, thought to be in her sixties, has been taken to a psychiatric unit.”

Now that the Modern Jazz Quartet is no more, it was nice to see a German film of an old MJQ concert on cable TV recently. John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath and Connie Kay sounded beautiful playing “Django,” “Summertime,” and “A Day in Dubrovnik,” with introductions by John and Milt. The one number that no one announced threw the producers a bit of a curve: “Bags’ Groove.” The production staff must have been unfamiliar with jazz…they evidently didn’t know that “Bags” was Milt’s nickname. As the quartet began to play the tune, a subtitle appeared on the screen that read “BACKGROOVE.” Another slip occurred while Percy took a few choruses. Throughout them the camera remained on John, who was playing very sparse accompaniment. But even with those flaws, it was wonderful to see and hear those four great musicians playing at their best. It would be nice if TV programmers would put a little more of that sort of thing on the air.

Ken Franckling found this one on Yahoo’s Latin jazz discussion group and ran it in his column in Jazz Notes, the Journal of the Jazz Journalists Association. San Francisco pianist Mark Levine said, “Jazz isn’t dead. It has just become America’s only native background music.”

Paul Griffin sent me his web site address,, which has a link to a Web page about the career of his dad, Chris Griffin. He also enclosed this story: When Paul was playing lead trumpet with Skitch Henderson, he became friends with saxophonist Ronnie Aprea and ended up buying a house near Ronnie’s in Long Beach. One-day Paul, Ronnie and another neighbor, trumpeter Wally Besser, took some time off from repairing their houses to take their wives to the beach. As they walked under the boardwalk, they passed a bunch of unsavory looking characters who were hanging out there, cleaning their nails with switchblades. Paul said, “When I spotted them, my chest went out and my stomach went in, as best it could. Ron, walking behind me, noticed my newly acquired swagger and bellowed, ‘Anybody wanna fight my friend?’ Fortunately, these guys had a sense of humor. I have those immortal words emblazoned in my brain, and on a T-shirt that Ronnie had made for me.”

Lee Evans has an annual gig playing solo piano at the front entrance of the main Lord & Taylor department store on Fifth Avenue during the Christmas season. This year, as usual, many people stopped to compliment him on his music. But one middle-aged lady surprised him. After listening to a couple of songs, she pointed to Lee’s feet and said, “Nice shoes.”

On a gig a couple of months ago, guitarists Joe Beck and John Abercrombie were talking about food. John said, “I’m on the Atkins diet now.” “Really?” said Joe. “Yeah,” said John, “The Chet Atkins diet. I just pick.”