The Band Room
Volume 114, No. 12December, 2014
Back in the 1950s, when I was with Gerry Mulligan’s quartet, we played a week at the Village Gate opposite Dizzy Gillespie’s quintet. Woody Allen was the comedian on the bill, just starting his career as a standup. When Woody told us that he played the clarinet, Gerry said, “Bring it down some night and play with us.” Woody said he was afraid to do that, but Gerry reassured him. “We’ll just play the blues…it will be fine.” So Woody brought his clarinet down and sat in with us, and seemed to have a great time.
Another story from this time. Backstage in the dressing room, Dizzy and James Moody had Charles Colin’s sight-reading exercise book. It was written with deliberately awkward phrases, so the student is required to read it carefully. Dizzy and Moody would play through some of the most difficult passages in unison, and would argue about the correct phrasing of some of them.
While they were occupied in this fashion one evening, a young fan of Dizzy’s, a singer, came by to say hello. When it was time for our quartet to go on, Dizzy and Moody went out into the audience to listen, leaving the young singer alone in the dressing room.
When Dizzy returned, he found his trumpet was missing. He knew the kid must have taken it. “Now, what does he think he can do with that?” said Dizzy. “My name is engraved all over it!”
We had heard the singer say something about going down to the Half Note to hear Jimmy Rushing, and Dizzy called Mike Canterino, one of the owners, to see if the kid was there. He was, and Dizzy’s horn was at the bar with him. They put him in a cab and sent him back to the Gate, and Dizzy had his horn in time for his last set. The shamefaced kid said, “Aw, Dizzy, I just wanted to have something of yours.”
The late Carmen Leggio loved his SML tenor sax, and took very good care of it. One day he discovered a problem with the octave key, and immediately took the horn to his repairman. “Something’s wrong. The octave key isn’t making the jump the way it should.” The repairman put the horn on his bench and examined it carefully. After a bit, he said, “Here’s your problem,” and showed Carmen that a lentil had become lodged in the octave hole. Carmen remembered having lentil soup a couple of days earlier, but couldn’t imagine how the bean had gotten past his reed and into the neck of the saxophone.
In the summer of 1948, William Zinn was the concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony, under the baton of Fabian Sevitsky. A four-week concert series featured “The Merry Widow” operetta, which required a small stage band of violin, clarinet and drums. Zinn was the violinist. His cue to begin playing the theme was when the lead singer leaped onto a table and shouted, “…and we shall drink!” The trio on stage was to play a few measures, and then the full orchestra would join in.
At the first performance, when the tenor leaped onto the table, Zinn was preoccupied with a pretty dancing girl in the stage wing, and while he was watching her, he missed his cue. The tenor ad-libbed a few lines, repeated his table leap, and bellowed, “And, for the last time, I repeat: we shall drink!”
The drummer poked Zinn with a drum stick and said, “Isn’t that your cue?” Zinn awoke from his daydream and saw the tenor glaring at him. The conductor, trying to save the situation, gave the orchestra a downbeat, bringing them in too early, as Zinn began playing too late. Amid the clash of the music, the tenor shook his fist at Zinn and threatened to “get him” after the show.
Zinn says he avoided the tenor for the rest of the run. He was always the last one on stage, and he managed to leave quickly after each performance.
From the late 1930s to the early 40s, my mother, Lucile Crow, was a regular singer on local radio programs in Seattle. She had an occasional secular show, the Gold Shield Coffee Hour, where she sang with a 12-piece orchestra, and a weekly religious program where she played the organ and sang hymns. She often got fan mail, sometimes all the way from California. One distant fan addressed her letter to “Lou Seal Crow,” and said, “I just love your voice. It is so nice and shrill.”
When the networks came into Seattle, the local radio shows lost their sponsors, and my mother’s radio career came to an end. But she continued to sing and play the organ at weddings and funerals, and in her church, into her 90s. She lived to be 103 years old.
My dad grew up on a farm in Bedford, Iowa, and yearned to be a cowboy. He wasn’t musical at all. He once told me, “I only know two songs. One is ‘Home on the Range,’ and the other one isn’t.”
Bill Wurtzel sent me an e-mail: “Yesterday I replied to a potential client with a funny e-mail, but she may not have a sense of humor. She wanted a duo for an event but then asked if I could drop my CD off instead because they decided not to have live musicians. I replied that for the right price we could be dead. Did not hear back, but sent my CD anyway.”