January ’13

The Band Room

Volume 113, No. 1January, 2013

Bill Crow

Jack Tracy sent me a couple of musical puns a while ago, and I just rediscovered them at the bottom of my computer file:

King Ozymandias of Assyria was running low on cash after years of war with the Hittites. His last great possession was the Star of the Euphrates, the most valuable diamond in the ancient world. Desperate, he went to Croesus, the pawnbroker, to ask for a loan. Croesus said, “I’ll give you 100,000 dinars for it.” “But I paid a million dinars for it,” the King protested. “Don’t you know who I am? I am the king!” Croesus replied, “When you wish to pawn a Star, makes no difference who you are.”

An Indian chief was feeling very sick, so he summoned the medicine man. After a brief examination, the medicine man took out a long, thin strip of elk rawhide and gave it to the chief, telling him to bite off, chew, and swallow one inch of the leather every day. After a month, the medicine man returned to see how the chief was feeling. The chief shrugged and said, “The thong is ended, but the malady lingers on.”

Ann Garvey heard this one on NPR’s popular radio program “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me:” When Nancy Reagan asked Miles Davis what he had done to merit an invitation to a White House dinner, he responded by saying, “Well, I changed the course of music five or six times. What have you done, except sleep with the president?”

In 1989, Bob MacDonald was invited to sit in with a black band in New Orleans. When they took a break and headed to the bar, a customer inquired loudly, “What’s this white guy doin’ in the band?” The guitar player quickly said, “He’s an albino.” The customer seemed satisfied.

This one came all the way from Frad Garner in Denmark. He and his wife Hanne attended a jazz concert in Copenhagen by tenor man Jesper Thilo, a protégé of Ben Webster. Thilo told his audience a story about Louis Armstrong:

“When Satchmo began touring with his band in the northern states before he was a big name, he put up a banner outside a theater in a small town where he was playing. It read ‘THE WORLD’S GREATEST TRUMPETER.’ Three trumpeters from a symphony orchestra in town saw it, and went backstage to tell Armstrong that they planned to sit right in front of him that night, in the first row. Satch was delighted. He said, ‘In the first set, you’ll hear more high C’s than you ever heard before, and when I’m through with that, I’ll start on the F’s!’” Thilo added, “Harry Edison told me this story, so it’s probably just a lie.”

On my desk at Local 802 is an old photograph of the late Merv Gold, the trombonist who kept New York musicians laughing for thirty years or so. In the photo, Merv is wearing a hotel towel over his head like an Arab keffiyeh. With his accompanying beard and sunglasses, he looks like a chieftain from the Middle East.

When I told Merv a story about a tuba player in a Broadway show who found a dead mouse in his tuba, Merv gave me a tiny model of a tuba in the bell of which he had glued the head of a toy mouse

One of Merv’s favorite jokes was the phone in his trombone case. A stagehand had rigged it for him with a bell and battery, and a button under the case handle. When Merv found himself in a suitable spot like a barstool, an elevator or an airplane seat, he would ring the bell, open the case, take out a telephone and create an imaginary conversation with someone: “No, Greta, I told you not to call me before midnight!” or, “I can’t talk to you now, Mr. Sinatra!”

Merv complained when the era of the cell phone arrived. “They’ve made my gag obsolete!” But he could still stand by a backstage pay phone with the receiver to his ear and say loudly into the mouthpiece, “I can’t talk to you now… I’m on the phone!”

The musicians that were standing at the bar of the old China Song one day were startled by a loud noise outside. Merv ambled over to the window where he saw a taxi that had just crashed into the seafood restaurant across the street. He returned to the bar. “What was it?” asked someone. Merv replied, “Somebody hit a clam.”

One day I ran into Merv walking down Broadway. “I’ve just been up to Juilliard,” he said, “to get my money back!”

For one of his gags he had taken an old mouthpiece and sawed a series of saw teeth all around the rim. Then he took it to Peppy, his repairman, and had it re-silvered, and had engraved on the outside of the cup: “SURE GRIP COMFO-RIM.” He said he got a laugh from every trombone player he showed it to, except Urbie Green. Urbie looked at it, slipped it onto his trombone, played a few runs and high notes and handed it back. “Not bad,” he said.