Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CVI, No. 5May, 2006

Bill Crow

This story has been hopping around the Internet lately: While Si Zentner’s band was doing one-nighters in the 1960’s, they played a rural bar in southern Virginia made from an old Quonset hut. It was a real rathole, but many of the traveling bands occasionally filled in a midweek night there. The pianist sat down and ran a few arpeggios on the upright that stood on the bandstand. The lower and upper registers were badly out of tune, and the middle two octaves made no sound at all. He opened the front of the instrument and found that all the strings and hammers in the center of the piano had been chopped out. An axe was buried right over middle C with a note attached: “As a service to all the unfortunate guys that will occupy this bench on future gigs, I have performed the following service to the touring musical brotherhood. No f***ing body will EVER have to deal with this ****ing piece of **** ever again.” It was dated a week earlier, and signed: “Nat Pierce, Woody Herman Orchestra.”

When Scott Robinson passed the story along to his brother Dave, he got a quick reply: Dave said, “Presumably he ‘fixed’ the piano right after the Herman band played ‘Woodchopper’s Ball.’”

Michael Moore told Steve Voce about touring in Africa with Nat Pierce. Nat had a portable tape recorder, and would tape whatever interested him. In one town, Nat heard the sound of primitive drumming coming from the jungle — “boom baba boom boom.” It pervaded the whole town. After the gig, he persuaded Michael to help him find the drummers and record them. They hired a taxi and followed the sound into the jungle beside a river. As they followed the sound, it grew louder. They eventually came to a side stream where a small drainage pump was loudly going “boom baba boom boom.”

In the summer of 1940, Roy Salanitro had a five-piece band at the Western View Hotel in Ellenville, NY. His trumpet player was Milton Rajonsky, who later became Shorty Rogers. They used to take daily rides around the Catskills in a ‘32 Olds, visiting musicians at other hotels, returning in the evening in time for supper and the gig afterward. One day, about 15 miles from their hotel, they had a flat tire with no spare. They pulled to the side of the road, jacked up the car and removed the tire from the rim. Then Roy and Shorty stuffed the tire tightly with grass, put it back on the rim and crept slowly back to the hotel, just barely making it in time for the evening gig.

Jon Berger attended last year’s Percussive Arts convention, at which Steve Gadd was inducted into its Hall of Fame. Gadd conducted a clinic, at which a drummer asked, “Can you demonstrate your famous groove on Neil Simon’s tune ‘Late in the Evening’?” As the audience laughed, Steve said, “I think you meant to say PAUL Simon.”

Alan Parr in England sent me the following item from the letters column of the Independent:

A parent writes: “I am furious to discover my daughter’s history teacher is playing the clarinet in a local jazz band several evenings a week. …Can I complain to the school? Can the school stop him?”

Photographer Burt Goldblatt told me about a day on the beach in France one year when he was shooting photos of the Nice Jazz Festival. He was walking with entrepreneur Norman Granz, who was excited about the possibility of running into Pablo Picasso, who was staying there that season. Granz was a great fan of Picasso, and spent part of his large fortune collecting his paintings. Sure enough, in the center of a crowd of people on the beach, they found Picasso seated in a beach chair. Granz made his way over to him and introduced himself. Picasso greeted him warmly a nd told him he admired the brightly colored beach shirt that he was wearing. “Will you sell it to me?” he asked. Granz said he would, but not for money. “I’ll give it to you for a drawing,” he told him. Picasso pulled a sheet of paper from his bag, quickly made a sketch of a part of the beach scene, and handed it to Granz, who took off his shirt and gave it to Picasso. Burt wonders what became of the shirt and the drawing.

William Zinn, back in the 1940’s, auditioned for the Cleveland Symphony, conducted by George Szell. As he was getting ready, a man approached him and asked what solo he intended to play. Zinn said, “The Brahms Concerto.” The man offered to accompany him on piano, and Zinn told him he hadn’t brought the music. “That’s okay,” said the man. “I’ll give you four measures up front. Zinn was accompanied beautifully and auditioned well. That evening he attended the Cleveland Symphony’s concert at Severance Hall. Rudolf Serkin was scheduled to perform the second Brahms piano concerto. To Zinn’s amazement, Serkin turned out to be the same man who had accompanied him that morning at the audition.

Tony Sotos told me about a party he booked for the Bobby Rosengarden band. After hiring a sixteen piece band, Tony got a call from the corporation’s entertainment director saying the party was cancelled because the president of the company was ill. Tony insisted that the musicians be paid, and the director said, “Okay, but if we pay them, they’re going to play somewhere.” He called a day or two later and gave Tony the address of a nursing home near South Street Seaport. Tony said, “It was one of the best jobs we ever played with that band! The people there loved it, and the employer was happy, because he got a tax writeoff for the contribution.” The employer had impressed the managers of the nursing home that they were getting a very famous orchestra, whose leader was on television, playing the Dick Cavett show. When the band arrived to set up, they found a huge banner that read: Bobby Rose and his Garden Orchestra. Bobby kept the banner as a souvenir.