Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CVI, No. 6June, 2006

Bill Crow

Leon Cohen called me from Florida in January to say hello, and to give me some stories about his friend, tenor saxophonist Boomie Richman. When they were playing the Cavett show together, leader Bobby Rosengarden warmed up the studio audience prior to the taping one day by opening one of his charts and letting Eddie Daniels take four or five exciting choruses on tenor. When Eddie sat down to thunderous applause, Boomie said to Leon, “I guess I’ll go home and take up the bassoon.”

At the end of a record date, Phil Bodner, one of the busiest reed players in New York, was having trouble removing his alto mouthpiece. It was stuck on the neck cork, and Phil gave it a mighty twist. It came off, but with a loud crack as it split. Boomie said, “Oops, there goes the music business!”

And on a live TV program featuring Georgia Gibbs, when the announcer gave the one-minute to air warning, Ms. Gibbs began haranguing conductor Dick Hyman with reminders of things like tempos and retards, which had already been set during rehearsal, and admonitions to not take things too fast or too slow. As the announcer began the final countdown…5…4…3…, Boomie called out, “Don’t let her step on you, Dick!” The show went on the air with hysterical laughter from the band.

Dick Wellstood once told Herb Gardner about a night at Nick’s in Greenwich Village. They started a ballad medley, in which each horn player was to signal a key to the piano player and play his choice of a tune. When it was Pee Wee Russell’s turn, he turned and looked earnestly at Dick but didn’t signal anything. Dick kept vamping in the key he was in, waiting in vain for some indication of the tune Pee Wee was going to play. He vamped for 32 bars, at which point Pee Wee turned away and the next player signaled a key and went into his ballad.

Herb Gardner gave me another story that he got from Australian trumpeter Bob Bernard. A jazz musician was having a perfect day. When he arrived at the club for his gig, he felt great, his favorite players were in the band, and there was a large upbeat audience. On the first tune he played the solo of his life, and the out chorus swung into a spectacular ending. But afterward there was complete silence… no applause at all. The musician felt completely deflated. Then from the corner of the room came the slow but persistent sound of one person clapping. Feeling hopeful, the musician smiled and looked around, and saw a lady in the corner pounding the bottom of a ketchup bottle.

Carmen Leggio recently suffered with a bout of lung infection just before a concert he had scheduled to play with the Harry Allen quartet. Carmen’s doctor gave him some antibiotics that cleared up the problem, but he was feeling weak on the evening of the concert. He said, “I just visualized: I’m on the road, and there’s nothing I can do about it. That got me through.”

I got a call from an old friend, Whitey Mitchell, who now lives in Palm Springs, California. Like his brother, Red, he started playing the bass around New York, and then moved to California and developed a very successful career as a screen and TV writer. He retired recently and got back to playing the bass, often with Johnny Morris, who winters out there. Whitey told me about a Jazz at the Philharmonic tour he did in 1955 with the Gene Krupa quartet. On the same bill was Ray Brown, with Oscar Peterson’s trio. Whitey and Ray were both aware of shortcomings in their bowing technique at the time, and Ray suggested that they work out together. He brought his Simandl book backstage one day, and the two bassists were busy sawing their way through some duets when Lester Young walked in. He cocked his head and listened for a moment, and then commented, “My, my… schoolboy row!” Whitey thought it was a funny remark even before he realized that Lester was punning on the name of Schoolboy Rowe, who pitched for the Tigers and the Phillies.

Scott Robinson did a gig for Lou Grassi, a parade in Manhattan. They were on a flatbed truck, playing lively traditional jazz as they passed mobs of onlookers. At one point Lou called for a bass solo. Without the horns playing, and with Lou drumming softly under the bass, the band became aware of all the crowd noise on the street. Someone remarked, “See, everybody talks during a bass solo.”

John Altman tells me the BBC Symphony Orchestra was rehearsing a particularly complicated piece by a young modern German composer. The concertmaster and the conductor were poring over the score in an attempt to make sense of a particularly convoluted passage. “There’s an instruction here,” said the conductor. “Does anyone read German?” Gary Kettel, the percussionist, threaded his way through the orchestra and peered at the score for a while. Then he announced, “If it’s any help, it says ‘Printed in Germany’!”

A well known English jazz pianist accepted a club date in London, and was delighted to find his favorite bass player on the job as well. During one number they added some substitutions to a standard tune. The bandleader spun around and hissed, “What the hell was that?” The pianist replied, “A G-flat seventh with a flat five.” The leader muttered incredulously, “On a bar mitzvah?!”