Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CVI, No. 7/8July, 2006

Bill Crow

When record producer George Avakian assisted the New Orleans Jazz Club in producing the first New Orleans Jazz Festival in October 1955, where he made the world’s first recordings at a jazz festival for Columbia Records, he was ceremoniously given a proclamation and the key to the city. In recent years, he has been a speaker at the annual Louis Armstrong Conference and “Satchmofest” in New Orleans. The last event of the week is always a service at the St. Augustine Church in the Treme district, where in 2002 George was the surprised recipient of a second proclamation and key to the city. Bandleader David Ostwald was sitting in the same pew with George that morning. (He told the story recently at George’s 87th birthday celebration at Birdland.) George whispered, “Gee, I suppose I have to get up and say something.” David told him, “Just say, ‘Thank you… it’s my second key, but I guess they’ve changed the locks since 1956.’”

Here is an interesting quote from drummer Frankie Capp that I found in an old article by Steve Voce in Jazz Journal International. Capp was nineteen years old when he joined Stan Kenton’s band. “I didn’t have the all around experience and ability to hold that band. Gerry Mulligan and Bill Holman charts were duck soup for me, but the other things were too heavy. I couldn’t handle that part of the job, and didn’t like it. After about six months Stan took me aside backstage at a gig in Canada and said, ‘I hate to do this, but I have to replace you. You’re going to be a great drummer… you’ve got a lot of talent and ability… but you’re young yet, and you’ve got to get experience, and the only way you can get that is by playing with a lot of different bands. Maybe this was too big a bite for you to chew off at your age.’ It broke my heart. My world fell apart for a moment, but he handled the thing so gently that I will always remember him for it. And not only that, before he mentioned it, and before he arranged for Stan Levey as a replacement for me, he made sure that I had a job to go to. He got me one with Neal Hefti’s band.”

Around 1946, William Zinn was the first violinist with the Classical String Quartet, with Samuel Singer on second violin, Sol Montlack on viola, and Sam Isaacson on cello. Their managers had them playing a few college engagements. One night after their performance at Princeton, they got an invitation from Albert Einstein, who had heard the concert, for milk and apple pie at his home, a house near the main campus. They all accepted with great enthusiasm, except for Isaacson, who wanted to go home right away. He said, “It’s now 11 p.m., and I live in the Bronx. I’ve only been married two weeks. Even if we leave now, I won’t get home before 1 or 2 a.m. If we socialize with Einstein, we won’t get home before three or four. When my wife asks why I’m so late and I tell her I was with Albert Einstein, she’ll kick me out of the apartment and demand to know who the other woman is.” Zinn convinced him to stay by offering to explain the situation to his wife. They had played the Haydn “Lark” quartet on the concert, among other selections, and Einstein asked the quartet to play the first movement again, with him joining them on second violin. Zinn says he played competently, and with enthusiasm, and thoroughly enjoyed himself. They laughed and told stories for quite a while, and Zinn didn’t get Sam home until 4 a.m. They tiptoed into the bedroom to find his wife fast asleep. Zinn tiptoed out again, smiling. Sam’s wife never found out that he had come home late, or that he had played with Einstein.

John Edmondson got this note from a friend. “I worked at a band festival today where I oversaw the sight reading room. After a band studied a piece for seven minutes and performed it, the clinician, somewhat tired of saying the same things over and over, uttered the following bit of wisdom: ‘Try to play softer during the rests.’”

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.

Every day or so in its Corrections section, the New York Times notes a mistake that was made “due to an editing error.” They’ve got to find this editor and stop him before he edits again!