Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CVI, No. 12December, 2006

Bill Crow

Ken Arzberger sent me this memory of the late contractor Boris Malina: Boris was a character straight out of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. He was a huge man, and when he spoke he sounded like Boris Baddinoff on steroids. Malina was once the contractor at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills, and provided a lot of work for musicians during the slow seasons. They would reciprocate by leaving him passes to various attractions. At Radio City, during the Rosh Hashonah holidays, we performed a special rendition of Kol Nidrei, featuring our cellist, a cantor, full chorus and orchestra. Boris Malina was sitting five rows back from stage center, and was shaking his head. After the show I met him and asked, “Didn’t you enjoy the show?” Boris said, “Don’t get me wrong, Ken, the cellist and the cantor were beautiful. But you and that Pachman fellow were a disgrace! Don’t you birds know that a professional musician does not wear brown socks with a tuxedo?”

Herb Gardner passed along a story he got from a friend, Sarah, about British reed player Harry Gold. On a trio gig in a London pub one night, Harry was courteously playing requests that members of the audience asked for. But one chap asked for “Rhapsody in Blue,” and when Harry turned him down, he expressed his disappointment in the voice of a drunken football rooter. Harry lost his cool, and berated the fellow. “How do you expect three people to play music written for a 40-piece orchestra?” he shouted. When he calmed down, he realized it was time for their last number. He wondered aloud what they should play, and another member of the audience shouted, “How about the ‘1812 Overture,’ Harry?”

Herb often sends me stories, but here’s a story about Herb Gardner that Henry Newberger gave me: Herb and Barry Bryson were playing a Dixieland funeral at the Bronx Botanical Garden one Saturday morning. The band was good, the pay was reasonable, the weather was balmy, and the funeral attendees were fans of the music, but Herb said to Barry, “I hate this gig.” Barry asked the reason, and Herb said, “One less fan!”

John Altman, in London, once got a call to score a commercial for the British Health Education Council. It was to be for flute, harp and strings. He said, “I arrived early at the studio to find the client already there and with that look on his face I am so used to. I couldn’t imagine what the problem could be, as I was the only person there apart from the engineer. ‘Is something wrong?” I asked. He muttered, ‘How loud are you going to have those castanets?’ I was about to explain that there was no one in the studio yet, especially no percussionist, when the engineer pressed the talkback and said to his assistant, ‘Okay, can I hear mike number four, please?’ The resulting scratching on the mike sent the client into convulsions.”

In the 1970s, William Zinn was concertmaster of the Goldorsky Opera Company. On a bus tour, they stayed at a motel that was updating their TV sets from black and white to color, and Zinn discovered that the manager was offering 40 old sets at $40 each. He offered to buy the whole lot at half price, and the deal was made. Then Zinn sold 39 of the sets to the orchestra and cast for $21 each, which left him with a TV that cost him a dollar. They loaded the bus with the TV sets and the wall brackets that came with them, and when the driver delivered the company to Carnegie Hall, the sidewalk was piled with luggage, instruments and television sets just as an audience arrived for an evening concert. Taxis jammed the streets in all directions, and there was much confusion until things finally got sorted out.

Famed clarinetist Charlie Russo told me that as a teenager he worshipped Benny Goodman. He had found a life size cardboard cut-out photo of him that had been used as a theatre advertisement, and kept it in his room at home, over his mother’s protestations. Many years later Charlie met Bill Hyland, a very good amateur clarinetist who became attorney general of New Jersey. Hyland was a good friend of Goodman’s, and knew that Benny was scheduled to go to England to play some recitals including the Brahms sonatas. He asked Charlie if he would be willing to coach Benny sometime, and Charlie agreed. Later he was invited to Benny’s New York apartment, where they worked on musical ideas and interpretations. That night Charlie spoke to his mother on the phone, but decided not to tell her about the meeting with his old idol. He was afraid the conversation would go like this: “I just got back from giving Benny Goodman a lesson.” “Oh sure, and I just got back from having tea with the Queen of England!”

Michael Weiss came across a letter he received from a prospective client about twenty years ago, when he was contracting jazz groups for weddings:

“Dear Mr. Weiss,

After careful consideration, my finance and I have decided not to use your services at our wedding…”