January ’16

Volume 116, No. 1January, 2016

Bill Crow

Where the New York University Law Center now stands on Washington Square South, there used to be a joint called the Open Door. It was just a neighborhood bar, but it had a small bandstand on which various jazz groups were featured on Sundays. Charlie Parker played there a few times, and made the place famous. I played there with Brew Moore and Don Joseph several times. When NYU got ready to build its law center, the old building was demolished.

Dave Lambert and I each had an apartment on nearby Cornelia Street at the time. We walked by the demolition site one day and saw that a large pile of bricks was all that was left of the Open Door. Dave and I lived in old apartments that had tiny fireplaces and no other heat. I had enlarged the fire pit in mine, but Dave’s was still in its original form.

“I could build a good fireplace with some of those bricks,” said Dave. So we started carrying bricks over to his apartment. It took us about ten trips to transport enough bricks for the job, and then we got some cement from the hardware store, borrowed masonry trowels from a friend, and set to work. The Open Door fireplace turned out fine, and is probably still in that building.

bass-clef-dividerJohn Simon sent me a memory of the late Phil Woods. He once reminded Phil that an old high school buddy of his, Dave Poe, had taken some lessons with him. He told Phil that Poe had subsequently become a pilot for United Airlines. Without missing a beat, Phil said, “It pays to have friends in high places.”


William Zinn told me about a dinner and rehearsal at Victor Borge’s home. Zinn and Jerome Laszloffy and Martin Ormandy were the guests. They were introduced to Borge’s daughter, who exclaimed, “Thank God you came! Maybe I won’t have to hear my father practice the Mozart tonight. He’s been playing it over and over every night for the past week!”

After dinner they tuned up and Borge decided to play something easy as a warmup. So he put the Mozart G-minor piano quartet on their stands. All went well except for the “turn,” which the string players played starting on the note above, while Borge played it starting on the note below. Borge sent the string players back to the dinner table for more drinks while he studied the phrase the way they were playing it.

When the rehearsal resumed, Borge returned to playing the turn the way he had originally been playing it, and that ended the rehearsal.

Later, Zinn found out that Borge had been planning to invite the group to play on his TV show. He figures that turn cost each of them about a thousand dollars each, not to mention the fame of being heard by millions of listeners.

bass-clef-dividerHerb Gardner wrote this on Facebook:

The Smith Street Society Jazz Band had a Sunday night concert to play in Syracuse. Since we were split up on different jobs the night before, we all flew in separately. “Deacon Jim” Lawyer was particularly looking forward to an exceptionally luxurious flight, since he’d booked one that promised “X-7 service to Syracuse.” When we went to pick him up at the airport he was nowhere to be found. The girl at the counter explained, “X-7 service means it doesn’t fly on Sundays.”

bass-clef-dividerIn Detroit, a few years ago, Hugh Leal staged a tribute to the late drummer Frank Isola. On the concert was the alto man Larry Nozero, who related this story:

In the early 1980s, Frank took himself off the scene while he dealt with problems with pills and booze. No one saw him for quite a while, and a rumor went around Detroit that Frank had died. Hearing this news, Nozero called Frank’s number and Frank answered the phone. “Frank,” Nozero said, “everybody thinks you died!”

There was a pause, and then Isola said, “Well then, can we have a benefit?”


On a European musical theatre tour, Kirby Tassos found himself working under a conductor who had a drinking problem. Kirby says the guy was in the bag most of the time, but on one occasion he was more festive than usual. He started the show, began wobbling, and halfway through the first act he keeled over, landing on the podium with a thud. He just laid there, yelling, “Keep playing!” The orchestra kept playing and sailed through the rest of the act without incident. Kirby says half of the orchestra had not realized anything was amiss. bass-clef-divider

Brian Nalepka and Steve Little were playing a gig at the Carnegie Club, a well known cigar bar. As they were sitting at a table on a break, a patron came over to tell them how much he enjoyed the band. He said he was celebrating his birthday at the cigar bar that night. Steve mentioned that his birthday was also that week, and that he would be turning 80. The gentleman was dumbfounded, and wouldn’t believe Steve until he showed him his driver’s license. He asked Steve what he attributed his excellent health to. Steve said, “Well, first of all, I don’t smoke cigars!”