Bill Crow has played bass with several of of the world’s leading jazz artists, Stan Getz, Art Farmer, Marian McPartland and Gerry Mulligan among them. A terrific writer, he has developed a sidebar career as a story teller. His books of anecdotes, great fun to read, are standard reference works, but Bill doesn’t rest on his laurels. His flow of anecdotes continues in The Band Room, his column in Allegro, the monthly publication of New York local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. With Bill’s and Allegro’s permission, Rifftides now and then hijacks stories from The Band Room and brings them to you. Here are two from last year. The Rifftides staff has incorporated musical supplements.
When Gerry Mulligan formed a quartet in Los Angeles and hired Chet Baker on trumpet, the musical chemistry between them produced some wonderful results. One night Dick Bock visited the Haig, the club where they were playing, and asked Gerry if he could sell him a record. Gerry told Bock that the group hadn’t recorded yet, and Bock said, “Well, how much does it cost to make a record?” When he found out that it could be done for just a few hundred dollars, he got the quartet into a recording studio, and the Pacific Jazz label was born. It went on to successfully record many West Coast jazz groups.
The Mulligan Quartet records were an immediate hit. Everyone was amazed at the interplay between the two horns, and the inventiveness of their soloing. Someone remarked to Gerry, “I understand that Chet doesn’t know anything about harmony.” Gerry replied, “He knows everything about harmony! He just doesn’t know the names of the chords.”
After reading my note about the Nut Club in a recent Band Room column, Phil Woods sent me this note:
“I worked the Nut Club after Juilliard in the early 50’s, with Nick Stabulas (leader), George Syran (piano) and Jon Eardley (trumpet). We mostly played bebop, even for some of the strippers, but ‘Harlem Nocturne’ and ‘Night Train’ were frequent for the three shows a night. (I did not see a woman from the front for three years.)
“One night someone told me Bird was across the street jamming in Arthur’s Tavern (which is still there!). Bird was playing Larry Rivers’s baritone and was scuffling with the beat-up horn. I was on a break and asked the maestro if he would like to use my horn. At the time I thought the horn was not happening. Didn’t like the horn, the mouthpiece or even the strap. The piano was only about three octaves and the cat playing it had to be 95 – and his father was on drums that consisted of pie plates and a skinless tom-tom! “Bird played ‘Long Ago and Far Away,’ and my horn sounded just fine. Even the strap sounded great. Then Mr. Parker handed me my horn and said, ‘Now, you play.’ I knew the tune. I knew all the tunes. I was a living Real Book. “Bird leaned over and whispered in my ear: ‘Sounds real good, son!’ Be still my heart! I levitated back to work and played the bejesus out of ‘Night Train,’ stopped complaining about the horn and started practicing 26 hours a day. Best lesson I ever had!”
After dealing with emphysema for years and never allowing it to stop him from playing and leading his quintet, Phil ordered his doctors to stop treatment for the disease. He died on September 29 last year. He was 83.
To see Bill’s anecdotes in the current edition of The Band Room, go here.
Have a good weekend.