Sunday, July 1, 2018

Bill Crow- Jazz Bassist, Composer and Author - A Comprehensive Overview

© -Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles recently came across these two photographs of Bill Crow taken by Garth Woods and we thought we use this "discovery" to go back through the blog archives and to put our three, previous features on Bill "all in one place."

In retrospect, it hard to believe that the first of these pieces actually posted to the blog in January, 2009. In it, I wrote about my first "meetings" with Bill through an overview of some of the groups that he worked in during the then-vibrant Jazz scene of the 1950's and 1960's.

We followed it with an "interview" that Bill was kind enough to allow us to conduct that touched on some of the interesting musicians and musical highlights of his career.

On March 3rd 2011, we "revisited" Bill  mainly to present a video montage of photos of him with a soundtrack that uses an example of Bill's work when he was a member of pianist Marian McPartland's trio.

With his bass playing, his composing [his Blueport is a great tune that was performed both by Gerry Mulligan's quartet and also by Gerry's Concert Jazz Band], and his writings about Jazz, Bill has been a constant source of Jazz enjoyment.

The most enduring thing I've garnered from Bill is his insight that "Jazz should be fun." Over the years, it has remained my number one Jazz rule. Rule # two? Go back to Rule #1!

The three, previous features are presented in reverse chronological order.

Something to Crow About: Bill Crow Revisited: 3/1/2011 

© -Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

© -Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Bassist and author Bill Crow has been playing Jazz for six decades.

The audio track of the above video is made up of Bill performing How Long Has This Been Going On? with pianist Marian McPartland and drummer Joe Morello from their first Hickory House LP.

In many ways, Bill’s Jazz career really began in February, 1954 when he joined Marian and Joe for their gig at the Hickory House in New York City.

Bill is also the author of two excellent books about Jazz: Jazz Anecdotes and From Birdland to Broadway: Scenes from a Jazz Life [New YorkOxford, 1992].

Here are the opening paragraphs from Bill’s From Birdland to Broadway:

Birdland was my alma mater. I studied for a little while at another institute of higher learning, the University of Washington in Seattle, but when I dropped out and moved to New York, Birdland became my college of modern jazz. The illustrious professors there, who taught by example, were some of the world's finest jazz musicians. The dean of them all was Charlie Parker, "Bird," for whom the club was named.

I studied hard and learned my lessons well at Birdland. But if any­one had told me when I first arrived that just two years later I would be playing on that hallowed bandstand myself, I would have scoffed. And had that prophet declared that the instrument I'd be playing at my Birdland graduation would be the string bass, I'd have laughed out loud. I was a brass player, not a bass player.

When I took a Greyhound bus from Seattle to New York in January 1950, I carried a valve trombone with me. In the Army I had switched to that instrument from the baritone horn, which I had been playing since grade school. The baritone horn has a beautiful sound, but it wasn't considered to be a jazz instrument, and I wanted to play jazz.

I'd already made a good start. As a schoolboy in KirklandWashing­ton, I had collected and memorized every jazz record I could get my hands on, and I had been jamming with friends in the Army and around Seattle. But at Birdland my education moved up to a new level. At that midtown New York nightclub, I heard modern jazz played nightly by the masters.” [p.3]

Bill’s books are two of the best books that I’ve ever read on the subject of Jazz.

If you are a fan of the music and its makers, you won’t want to miss these treats.

Bill Crow
January 9, 2009

- © Steven A. Cerra, introduction copyright protected, all rights reserved.
In terms of my exposure to the World of Jazz, I first “met” Bill Crow as the 
bassist with the “original” Gerry Mulligan Quartet. That’s because, the first time I ever heard the Gerry Mulligan Quartet was in 1959 when Bill played in the New York based version of the group that also included Art Farmer on trumpet and Dave Bailey on drums.

The occasion for the first listening was the What is There to Say? LP [CL 130; CK 52978] that Columbia graciously delivered to my door for a small charge courtesy of my membership in the Columbia Record Club.

With its mixture of standards such as the title tune, Just in Time and My Funny Valentine and intriguing originals like As Catch Can, Festive Minor, Blueport and News from Blueport [composed by Bill], the recording instantly became one of my favorite albums and it has remained so to this day.

And while my Jazz awareness developed to the point that I eventually worked my way back to the original, “original” quartet that Gerry formed in 1952 while working in Los Angeles with Chet Baker, bassist Carson Smith and drummer Chico Hamilton [I liked Larry Bunker better in the drum chair], I never lost my preference for the Farmer-Crow-Bailey edition of Gerry’s group.

Since that first “meeting,” it seems that Bill Crow has always been a part of my Jazz life and I’m happy to say that he still is through a collective correspondence via an internet group in which we both participate.

The music has been good to him and he has been good for the music as in addition to making it, he has also written about it and was for many years involved in its professional activities through his association with Musicians Union Local 802 in New York.

Bill’s bass lines are thoughtfully constructed with notes that always seem to be the best ones from a particular chord sequence. When Bill’s playing, you never have to “look for” the time; it’s firmly there. His notes sustain just enough to give the beat a nice bounce and he artfully varies them to help stimulate the soloists and keep the music flowing.

I think that Bill’s long association with Gerry Mulligan, especially Mulligan as composer – arranger, helped him to develop a very sophisticated harmonic knowledge. He has incredible ears so he knows exactly where the soloist is going and then he can guide him from there. Bill knows what the function of the bass is - he can play the bottom….he can walk…..he can do it all.

Any drummer would love to work with him as Bill gives a rhythm section an instant cohesion. My favorite drummer on the planet – Joe Morello – certainly thought so during his long working relationship with Bill as part of the Marian McPartland trio while at the Hickory House in New York during the mid-1950s.

And yet, Bill was not an instant phenomena on the instrument like a Jimmy Blanton or a Scott LaFaro. His was more a studied, dogged application built on years of trial and error – he literally made himself into one of the premier bassists in Jazz, albeit an underappreciated and unacknowledged one.

His story is more reminiscent of pianist Bill Evans’ assessment:

“I always like people who have developed long and hard, especially through introspection and a lot of dedication. I think what they arrive at is usually … deeper and more beautiful … than the person who seems to have that ability and fluidity from the beginning…. And yes, ultimately it turned out that these people weren’t able to carry their thing very far. I found myself being more attracted to artists who have developed through the years to become better and deeper musicians.”
Bill Crow’s well-developed sense of humor is another of his wonderful qualities. It is an attribute he shares whenever he can in his stories, comments and writings about Jazz musicians – who, as a group, are very funny people.

One of my most cherished possessions is a faded, dog-eared copy of his Jazz Anecdotes which, in its review of the book, The Library Journal cautions should be “Read … somewhere where you are not afraid to be seen laughing out loud.” The humorous Clark Terry story which Bill recounts on pages 327-328 about a bird named Chet who sings Christmas carols has saved me untold dollars in unspent trips to a mental health therapist. Here's The Story of The Amazing Chet.

“Not having [trumpeter] Clark Terry tell this one robs it of some of its charm. You have to imagine the devilish look in Clark’s eye as he sings each song!

A guy walked into a pet store looking for a Christmas gift for his wife. The storekeeper said he knew exactly what would please her and took a little bird out of a cage. "This is Chet," he said, "and Chet can sing Christmas carols." Seeing the look of disbelief on the customer's face, he proceeded to demonstrate.

"He needs warming up," he said. "Lend me your cigarette lighter."

The man handed over his lighter, and the storekeeper raised Chet's left wing and waved the flame lightly under it. Immediately, Chet sang "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful."

"That's fantastic!" said the man.

"And listen to this," said the storekeeper, warming Chet's other wing. Chet sang, "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

"Wrap him up!" said the man. "I'll take him!"

When he got home, he greeted his wife:

"Honey, I can't wait until Christmas to show you what I got you. This is fantastic."

He unwrapped Chet's cage and showed the bird to his wife.

"Now, watch this."

He raised Chet's left wing and held him over a Christmas candle that was burning on the mantlepiece. Chet immediately began to sing, "Silent Night." The wife was delighted.

"And that's not all, listen to this!" As Chet's right wing was warmed over the flame, he sang, "Joy to the World."

"Let me try it," cried the wife, seizing the bird. In her eagerness, she held Chet a little too close to the flame. Chet began to sing passionately, "Chet's nuts roasting on an open fire!""

Bill has the ability to explain complicated and arcane aspects of Jazz in layman’s terms. I have always found him to be a helpful teacher about what goes into making Jazz.

For example, did you ever wonder what made trumpeters Nick Travis and Bernie Glow such in demand lead players in the New York Studios, or what baritone saxophonist Gene Allen’s great skill was that made him so welcomed by his sax section mates, or what the relationship was between “good riff makers” and “inside lines” in the Mulligan Concert Jazz Band? Read Bill’s cogent explanations of these aspects of Jazz in the following interview and then you’ll know.

Bill always helps me to remember another quality about Jazz, either playing it or talking about it and that is – Jazz is fun – enjoy it and don’t take it too seriously.

Phil Woods has labeled Bill Crow “Jazz’s Boswell,” a just and deserved appellation as Bill's writings about Jazz and its makers have se
rved to enrich our appreciation of Jazz and to document many important aspects of it as an art form.

However, when one finds a Samuel Johnson to serve as a diarist to a James Boswell, as is the case in following interview that Bill gave to Gordon Jack in his Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective [Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2004, pp. 61-73; paragraphing modified] this, too, needs to be shared as its nice to return the compliment for all of Bill’s contributions to Jazz.

Bill has a website - - which is currently offering his two CDs on Venus.

“Bill Crow was born on December 2 7, 1927, in Othello, Washington. His autobiography From Birdland to Broadway is a fascinating account of the life of a jazz musician, and when we met at the Local 802 AFM office on West 48th Street, New York, in 1995, it was soon clear that he has an apparently inexhaustible fund of stories about the jazz world. We talked mostly about his time playing bass with Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan, but I began by asking him if he knew a lady named Gail Madden, who had been a pianist and a model in California before becoming active in New York jazz circles in the early fifties. She appeared on Mulligan's first album as a leader in September 1951, playing maracas on some numbers, and Gerry has credited her with suggesting the idea of a piano-less rhythm section to him before they left New York for California later that year I When they arrived in Los Angeles, it was thanks to Gail and her previous relationship with Bob Graettinger that Mulligan was introduced to Stan Kenton, who very soon bought some of Gerry's arrangements. She also suggested hiring Chico Hamilton for Mulligan's first quartet, so Gail Madden was clearly a significant, if unseen, influence on his early career.

I met Gail before I knew Gerry very well, thanks to a drummer friend of mine by the name of Buzzy Bridgford. He introduced us at an apartment in Greenwich Village owned by a lady named Margo, who was apparently a $100 a night hooker and was bankrolling Gail, who wanted to be a therapist and save all the junky jazz musicians in New York. Charlie Parker had agreed to go along with all this and was first on her list. Gail's plan was that, with Margo's money, she would buy a brownstone and start a clinic and all the guys would come and live there so she could straighten them out and get them off junk. Buzzy, who knew all the inside jazz gossip, claimed that Joe Albany, Serge Chaloff, J. J. Johnson, Stan Levey, and Gerry were also going to be involved, but unfortunately for Gail, she had an argument with Margo over money and the whole idea collapsed.

Soon after, she and Gerry became a "couple," so we figured that if she couldn't save everyone on her list, she would concentrate on him. She started turning up on his gigs out at Queens, playing maracas, and I remember her being there when Gerry was rehearsing a band in Central Park on the shore of the 72nd Street lake [Gerry couldn't afford a rehearsal studio].

Around that time they both disappeared from the New York scene, and the next thing we heard was that they were on the road, hitching to California, and we all laughed because that was exactly the sort of wild thing they would do. They made it, all right, and then those wonderful records that Gerry made with Chet Baker started coming out. I was with Stan Getz by then, and Johnny Mandel, who played trombone with us, transcribed some of Gerry's tunes, like "Walkin' Shoes" and "Line for Lyons," because Stan was so keen on the Mulligan quartet sound.

Looking back, I don't think there was any rivalry between Stan and Gerry, because they were both in a "star" position in the jazz world. Getz of course was more difficult than Gerry, and he was devious, which Gerry never was. Stan really was the "golden boy" who never had to make concessions to the commercial world, playing whatever he wanted in the clubs and recording anything he wanted in the studio. He was also a very good-looking guy, and I remember when I met him with his first wife Beverly, who was Buddy Stewart's younger sister, they looked like the beautiful young couple on a wedding cake.

He never really did anything bad to me but he took advantage of my good nature as much as he could, although I was so thrilled to be playing with him that I didn't mind at all. I saw him do dumb, ugly things to other people who were his close friends, and I am sure that fooling around with junk exposed an unpleasant underlay in his personality that he managed to cover up most of the time.

I'll give you an example concerning the trumpeter Dick Sherman, and I can tell this story now that he and Stan are gone. Jimmy Raney had left the quintet after Stan had shown up high on a couple of jobs, so Stan hired Dick to come and play with us at Birdland. Dick had been with me on the Thornhill band, and he was a wonderful player, but he was a junky, and everyone knew, including Stan, that he was trying to get clean and break his habit.

Anyway, he came down to the club with us and played great all night, and at the end of the gig, Stan paid him off with a little bag of heroin. Duke Jordan and Kenny Clarke, who were in the group, and indeed everyone who knew Stan, had reservations about him as a result of that kind of behavior, because he really knew how to wound people. Everyone loved his fantastic musicianship and sunny disposition when sober, but the other side to his nature had come out too many times. I don't know what went on between him and Clark Terry because Clark would never say anything bad about anybody, but there were two names you could say to him that would ruin his day: one was Cat Anderson and the other was Stan Getz.

I'll tell you a funny story about Stan and Al Cohn, who was very fast and had a wonderful sense of humor. Al was with a crowd in Jim and Andy's, our musicians' bar, and somebody was telling us about the record Stan had just made with Joao and Astrud Gilberto. Joao had been hired for the date because he was in town and he was "hot," and Astrud was with him as his interpreter. When they found out there were English lyrics to "The Girl from lpanema" and that Astrud could sing a little bit, they thought it would be cute to have her sing a chorus in English.

On the recording, Joao sang in Portuguese, followed by Astrud and Stan, but it was too long for a disc-jockey copy, so they cut out Joao's chorus. Apparently Stan telephoned the A and R man the next morning, who thought he wanted to make some sort of a deal for Astrud, who wasn't in on the royalties, but no, Stan was calling to make sure that everything stayed the same. He didn't want her to get any money out of his hit. When Al Cohn heard this, he just leaned back against the bar and with a big grin said, "Well, I'm glad to see that success hasn't changed Stanley!"

Tony Fruscella played with both Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan for a short while in the fifties, but he didn't stay with anybody very long because he was so introverted that the commercial world, even at its most artistic, was too much for him to deal with. Having to show up at a job on time and be there for a set number of hours was something he found difficult. Red Mitchell was very friendly with him, and he used to say that he could see the poetry in Tony's playing. In the last few years before Red died, he would bring one of Tony's tapes with him if he was booked somewhere like Bradleys. He'd added lyrics to one of Tony's solos, and he would play along with it. He used to tell audiences that too few people knew him because he hadn't been recorded enough.

Pianist Billy Triglia loved Tony and tried to use him on gigs when the job wasn't too heavy. In other words, Billy could cover for him if he didn't show up or was too stoned to play. We were in a club in New Jersey, and one customer in particular liked the way Tony was playing, so he called him over and offered to buy him a drink. Tony's response was, "Well, man, I'm already pretty stoned and the bread's kind of light on this gig, so would you mind just giving me the money?" The club owner overheard and was furious, but that was typical of Tony. Charlie Barnet once fired him because he couldn't hear him, although I don't know why he took the job, because he didn't like to play with big bands. If he couldn't be where he could play softly, he would just forget about it.

I sometimes saw Tony or Don Joseph playing with Brew Moore at the Open Door on West 3rd Street. Now Don had worked with Jerry Wald and a lot of other bands, and he was the same kind of poetic artist that Tony was, but he was very funny, with a wild sense of humor, whereas Tony was much more turned in on himself and tended to get depressed.

Don was supposed to be in the sextet that Gerry Mulligan formed in 1955, because they were old friends from "the street," you know, scuffling around outside Charlie's Tavern or Hansen's drugstore like so many of the guys in the late forties did. All the young musicians would stand on the sidewalk talking in front of Charlie's when they didn't have enough money to buy anything if they went inside. They would be looking for some action, like word of a jam session or a job, because Charlie's had become a sort of clubroom established by musicians from the road bands. Hansen's was the turf of variety actors, comedians, straight men, and hoofers, but it was close to Charlie's, and we knew a lot of nightclub and theater comics because we worked in the same joints-that is when we worked at all.

"The" alto player among the young 11th street" guys was Dave Schildkraut. Of course we knew Lee Konitz from his records, but he didn't hang around with us outside Charlie's, because the Tristano group moved in a separate world. I don't know what happened to Dave, but three or four years ago, Eddie Bert, who is famous for digging people out of the woodwork, arranged for him to come out and play with us. Davey sounded wonderful, but he is very spooky about seeing flying saucers all the time, and maybe he does, but he seems to see them more than anyone I have ever met. He used to live out at Brooklyn, but I have lost track of him.'

Getting back to the sextet, for some reason Don Joseph didn't show, so Gerry hired ldrees Sullieman, who knew Peck Morrison. Peck knew Dave Bailey, and I think that is how they all joined the band. Eventually ldrees and Peck had other fish to fry, so Gerry called me, and although I was happy with Marian McPartland's group, I couldn't pass up the opportunity of playing with him along with Bob and Zoot.

I had played with Bob Brookmeyer when I was with Stan Getz, and he probably recommended me, since Gerry was looking for a rhythm section who were willing to take the role of accompanists; he didn't want fancy solo players. By now, Jon Eardley was with us and he was always complaining that he didn't get enough solos. Gerry used to say, "I understand how you feel but there isn't very much I can do about it. Being my band and wanting to play, I am going to solo a lot and I have Zoot and Bobby, who are two of my favorite soloists that I love to listen to, but I will give you as much of what is left as possible."

Jon was a wonderful player, but at that time he was messing around with junk, which didn't sit too well with Bobby, who thought he embarrassed us on our first European tour in 1956. We went over to Europe on the Andrea Doria, and we were very excited about seeing all these wonderful places and people, but Jon was in a terrible state. Most of the time, he hardly had his eyes open, and he would be sleeping by the window on the train, but Gerry understood, as long as he got himself together to make the job. We ran into places where we followed Chet Baker, whose group was leaving a trail of bad junky vibes around Europe.

As a result, we were not welcome in some hotels and we were searched quite seriously on the trains. Of course, the authorities nearly always picked on Dave Bailey to be the one they searched, and he is the straightest guy you can imagine, and always has been. When Jon finally got his act together and moved to Europe permanently, he was a brilliant player for many years. I recorded with him the last time he was in New York with Eddie Bert, Benny Aronov, and Mel Lewis, but Loren Schoenberg hasn't been able to sell the album yet.

After he broke up the sextet, Dave Bailey and I stayed with Mulligan when he reformed the quartet in 1958 with Art Farmer. I remember Gerry had a lot of unanswered mail from fans that nobody seemed to be bothering with, so for the next year until he disbanded again, I answered the letters and became the unofficial spokesman for the group.

For our debut album he asked us all to contribute something, so I wrote "News from Blueport." We rehearsed in the studio on the day of the recording, and I had to change it a little because I had written a continuous line without rests, which was very hard for Art to articulate. He asked if I would mind making some alterations, which of course I didn't. I think that by removing some of the notes we improved the line. I know that Gerry liked the tune because, when he had the big band, he was always saying he wanted someone to do a chart on it. We did a European tour with that group in 1959, and when Art and Gerry went back to the States, Dave Bailey and I stayed in Milan to record with Lars Gullin and George Gruntz on piano. The date came off very nicely and we were all paid, but for some reason the record never came out. I hadn't played with Lars before, but I liked his playing very much. I heard a little of Gerry in him and also a little of Serge Chaloff.

Bass solos in Gerry's piano-less groups could sometimes be a problem because the instrument was un-amplified in those days and, in some of the rooms, the resonance of the bass didn't cut through as well as it might. It isn't that Gerry's accompaniment was more assertive than a pianist's would have been, but the timbre of the baritone was so close to the bass that it was sometimes hard for him to stay under my sound.

It really depended on the club we were in, and occasionally he would just drop out because he couldn't play softly enough to keep from covering me up. In other locations he would be free to play anything he wanted behind me and I could still hear what I was doing. All the time I was with Gerry, I didn't consider myself much of a soloist, bearing in mind the exquisite company I was keeping, with people like Brookmeyer, Willie Dennis, Art Farmer, Gerry, Jim Hall, Thad Jones, Zoot, Clark Terry, Gene Quill, etc., etc. When he gave me a solo, I felt as though I was out on the edge, and I didn't have sense enough to play within my capabilities. I was always going for it, and Gerry would hear the beginning of what I was trying to do and, if I missed a note, he would be able to finish my solo for me or complete it as an accompanist by playing a harmony line to what I should have played!

Once in a while, though, I could hear myself as clear as a bell, and I remember playing at a high school gymnasium in Oakland, California, where my solos were so coherent that Gerry and Bob were looking at me-like, where did you come from? It was terrific training because, until I joined Gerry, I never felt there was any restriction on what I did in a solo. Any note that sounded good to me was fair game. But without the piano, Gerry played his harmonies off my bass line, and sometimes he would say, "What are you doing playing my note?" I would ask how it became his note, and then I
realized he was thinking structurally, as an arranger, expecting me to stay around roots, thirds, and fifths.

If I was on a root, he would try to be on a tenth, and being a third an octave higher, he would imply all the notes of the chord in between. If I was playing around the sevenths and ninths, he would expect me to use those notes as passing tones, which meant I had to really start thinking about my solos in a different way that related to him. I would hear what he was doing in his backgrounds and try to turn my bass line in that same direction so that we could be together. It became an interesting game. and if you listen to the records, you can hear both of us listening carefully to each other when we solo. Of course, Gerry heard music from the point of view of a composer and arranger and improvised that way too, so that his solos sounded as though they could have been written.

I came into Gerry's Concert Jazz Band after they completed their European tour in 1960. Some of the West Coast people, like Conte Candoli and Buddy Clark, wanted to go home, so he hired Clark Terry and me to join what was already a very well-broken-in band at the Village Vanguard.

Bill Holman had already created a book from the old quartet and sextet arrangements, and all the other New York writers were very excited about the band. Gerry didn't write much original material, but Bobby and Al Cohn were contributing a lot, and Wayne Shorter wrote a chart called "Mama G," which was the one arrangement that wasn't in the style of the band.

When Gary McFarland first started writing for us, he sounded very Dukish, but Gerry edited his work so that it sounded more like our band, and I remember Gary saying, "Oh, I see what you want." Johnny Mandel also expanded the music he had written for the film I Want to Live, and it was great to play.

The esprit de corps of the band was so good because it really looked as though it was going somewhere. Gerry had some kind of understanding with Norman Granz where Norman would pick up the losses in the States if he, Norman, could have the recordings and European tours where he could make some money, and with that arrangement, we had a steady job. During that first week at the Vanguard, I couldn't believe how good the band sounded. During intermissions, we would jump off the stand and go in the kitchen to talk about the band until it was time to play again.

When Gerry first put the CJB together, I think he talked to everybody and said, "I have some money from the movies I made," but to get the band started, we have to keep the overhead down as much as possible, so tell me what you can accept as your lowest figure." He paid the guys with families a little more, and speaking personally, I never had any problems with Gerry about money. He was always wonderfully fair, and in fact he used to give me raises without my asking for them.

What was so good about Gerry's band was having someone in each section who was a good riff-maker: Gerry in the saxes, Bobby in the trombones, and Clark in the trumpets. Also, because he didn't want to lose the inside parts, we never got too loud. We tried to keep our dynamic level from very soft to medium loud,
rather than medium soft to very loud. He said you achieved the same dynamic effect when you changed volumes like that, and if you didn't get too loud, you saved everyone's chops, and Mel Lewis was the perfect drummer for a band like that.

On a job, if we were playing something that was not a structured ballad, we would begin with some kind of written figure for a chorus or two, and then we would start with the solos. If someone was playing well, we would never go to the next written section until we had the cue from Gerry, because he would start improvising backgrounds behind the solo, like he did with the quartet. If the background was simple enough and had a repeat, by the second time around the rest of the saxes would be playing in unison or harmonizing with Gerry; then Brookmeyer or Terry would think of a counter-line, and the brass section would join that. The band might play behind a soloist for five or six choruses of improvised riffs and it would really get going, and only when it reached a certain level would Gerry give the signal to go into the next written section. For instance, that live version of "Blueport" from the Village Vanguard album was so long that Gerry didn't think he could put it on a record, so he took a big hunk out of it. Those fours and eights between Gerry and Clark went on forever, so he took out some of those, and there were other solos he removed when he found a spot where he could make an undetectable edit.

Gene Allen was the baritone player in Gerry's band, and he was one of the pool of saxophone players, like Phil Woods, Gene Quill, Danny Bank, and Sol Schlinger, who did a lot of studio recordings in those days. He was a wonderful player who didn't get a big reputation outside of the musicians' world because he didn't have a strong ego, but his great skill was in blending with the rest of the section, who loved his playing because he made them feel so comfortable. He seemed to vanish off the scene when Gerry's band broke up, and I don't know what became of him, but a friend saw him on the Upper West Side a couple of years ago and apparently he isn't playing anymore.

Gene Quill was our lead alto and clarinet player, and I had first met him on the Claude Thornhill band in 1953. He was a tough little Irishman who loved to drink and was always daring fate, but he was an excellent player, with a raucous approach to the alto. He had all of Bird's stuff down, except that belligerence was something that Bird never had. Bird was a Pasha of complete confidence, whereas Gene was a little street fighter. He played the lead clarinet book with Thornhill really well, and the part was written down in the section, not an octave higher like Glenn Miller. Occasionally he would get impatient with Claude if he thought we were playing too many dance tunes-"the go-to-sleep medleys." One night, instead of playing the dance medley on clarinet, he stood on his chair and played lead on alto as wild and loud as he could. Then, before he sat down, he turned round and gave Claude the finger! Claude just laughed, because he loved weirdness and he thought that was really funny.

After that I didn't work with Gene for a few years, although we would sometimes run into each other in Charley's Tavern or Junior's. Then I joined Gerry, and there was Gene again. Bobby Donovan was the second alto on the band, and he idolized Gene, trying to be exactly like him, including the self-destructive parts, and as a result ended up destroying himself with booze. Bobby was a good player, although not the stellar player that Gene was, but with a better role model he might have survived.

Gene got on all right with Gerry, but once in a while he would have to calm Brookmeyer down, who used to get indignant when Gene didn't straighten up. Brookmeyer was a big drinker too, but he had a hollow leg. He could drink all day and you would hardly notice it because it didn't seem to be a problem. A lot of the older guys were like that. For instance, Charlie Shavers used to be drunk all the time but still played brilliantly. Our other trombone soloist was Willie Dennis, and we had met around town on a few record dates. I really got to know him on Gerry's band, and he was the perfect contrast to Bob Brookmeyer.

Nick Travis was our lead trumpeter, and he was also a very busy studio player. In New York at that time there was a large group of trumpeters like Bernie Glow. Joe Ferrante, Ernie Royal, Snooky Young, and Nick who knew how to phrase with whoever was on lead so that the section took on the character of that player's conception. For instance, Bernie Glow was a brilliant lead player who had distilled all the best standard phrasing from the Count Basie and Woody Herman bands, and he was very clear about reproducing those qualities. He knew how to telegraph his intentions to the rest of the section so that it sounded as though they had played together all year, even though they may have shaken hands on the stand that day and just seen the music for the first time.

Eventually Norman Granz sold Verve, and he and Gerry had some kind of disagreement. Faced with a summer with only one booking, Gerry couldn't afford to keep the band together, so he disbanded and went back to the quartet, and of course Judy Holliday was ill, but we were not aware of that until later. We worked with the small group unless he could get a couple of weeks in Birdland, when he would reform the CJB and usually do a recording date when it was broken-in again. After we realized that the band was only going to be a -sometime-thing, people started sending in deps when they had a conflict. Al Derisi came in for Nick Travis and Don Ferrara. If Clark Terry couldn't make it, he would send in Thad Jones, and Phil Woods used to sub for Gene Quill. Gerry didn't want to stay on the road all the time anyway, because he needed some personal life, and not having a manager who was out there drumming up business, there were a lot of holes in the schedule. Whenever there were two or three weeks free, Brookmeyer would grab Clark Terry, and they would do their thing at the Half Note with Dave Bailey, Hank Jones, and me. Hank was so busy, he nearly always sent a sub, and after three or four very good players, Roger Kellaway became our steady pianist, and he was wonderful.

Early in 1962 Gerry got some more work, and because Mel Lewis and Dave Bailey were busy, he was looking for a drummer. When he asked me who we should get, I suggested Gus Johnson, who had been one of my favorites ever since he'd sat in with the Terry Gibbs quartet at Birdland in 1954. There were a lot of good players around, but I knew Gus would be great, and I also knew he wasn't playing much, because he had been working as a bank guard.

Bob Brookmeyer has already placed on record that he was drinking heavily at that time, and for a while Gerry tried to keep up with him. He wasn't a good drinker, though, and there were periods on the road when he wasn't happy, because he was drinking too much and feeling lousy, but he wouldn't admit what the problem was. He preferred to blame the lack of support from the rest of the group, or club owners, or his reed - anything but the liquor. He did get over it, and whenever I talked to him over the years, he sounded very happy, and he was playing wonderfully -better than ever.

Dave Bailey seemed to drop out of the jazz scene at about the same time that Gerry finally broke up the quartet in 1965. He had been traveling first class with Mulligan, who had been his main connection to the jazz world, so I don't think he wanted to go back to playing those funky little clubs again. I had already left Gerry, after a disagreement that had nothing to do with music, and had come back to New York, where Kai Winding hired me to work at the Playboy Club. I played there with Walter Norris for the next five years, and whenever Bobby and Clark had a gig at the Half Note, I would take time out to play with them, and usually Dave would be the drummer. Eventually, when he got his flying license back, he started working for F. Lee Bailey, who liked the idea of having "Bailey and Bailey" at the controls of his Lear Jet. Dave became so busy he just stopped playing, and if someone asked him he would say, "I haven't played for so long, I don't want to come out and make a fool of myself."

Billy Taylor persuaded him to become a director of Jazzmobile, and Dave has been so successful that they now have their own building up in Harlem." He has recently had open-heart surgery and is feeling better than ever, but he still won't play the drums. We tried to get him to the Oslo Festival a couple of years ago for a reunion of the Brookmeyer/Terry group, but he wouldn't do it, so we used Ben Riley. Al Grey replaced Brookmeyer, who had a writing commission that was approaching a deadline, and at the last minute Roger Kellaway had appendicitis. Norman Simmons played piano, leaving Clark and me as the only ones from the original group.

We concluded the interview when I asked Bill about that wonderfully evocative photograph on the cover of his book From Birdland to Broadway. It looks as though he is going home at sunrise after a long night's playing.

It was taken in the late fifties by Dennis Stock in connection with a book entitled Jazz Street. Nat Hentoff made the arrangements and asked if I would mind being photographed walking across Times Square with my bass. Just after dawn on a Sunday, I walked across the street a few times so Dennis could get his shot. I didn't even have a wheel for it in those days, so I carried it on my back, but it came out very nicely. I suppose that story might destroy the romance of the picture, but it does show what often happened - just like Joe Rosenthal's photo of the planting of the flag on Iwo Jima in World War II. The GI's did plant it, but he had them do it again so he could get his picture."

Bill Crow: Jazz Talk 
January 17, 2009

© -Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

After posting its initial piece on Bill, the editorial staff of Jazz Profiles begged and pleaded with Bill [oh, okay; I just asked him] to put together his recollections of what it was like to play with various musicians. Bill graciously responded to our request with the following memories to which we’ve added a series of photographs. Needless to say, we feel very privileged to be able to share Bill’s reminiscences with you on Jazz Profiles. You can visit Bill directly at his website:
“I was self-taught, having picked up the bass on a summer job in 1950. I joined Stan Getz in 1952, after several months of playing with Teddy Charles’s trio. (With Teddy, I learned some modern harmony and developed chops for playing fast tempos.) Jimmy Raney got me that first job with Stan, with Jimmy on guitar, Jerry Kaminsky on piano and Roy Haynes on drums. Jimmy showed me the chords on a couple of his originals, and what to use in certain places on standards like “Stella by Starlight” and “Round Midnight,” but I was otherwise left on my own. I could hear the notes I wanted to play, but couldn’t always find them quickly on the bass. It was a great learning experience.

Stan had a gorgeous tone and fabulous technique. He and Jimmy achieved a blend that sometimes sounded like one instrument. Stan once told me, “I never have any trouble playing anything I can think of. The trouble is in thinking of what to play.” He admired Al Cohn’s melodic ideas, and often used Al’s inventions in his improvisations.

Stan knew that I was mainly a rhythm player at that time, but he sometimes gave me solos on medium tempos, which I could handle. He seemed to like the way I fit into the rhythm section, and he kept me on through several changes in the group. Duke Jordan replaced Kaminsky, Frank Isola replaced Haynes, and then was replaced by Kenny Clarke. Then Raney left, and a little later Jordan and Clarke left, so Stan built a new group, keeping me on. Johnny Williams and Al Levitt came in on piano and drums. Bob Brookmeyer was to join us, but wasn’t available for the first two jobs, so Johnny Mandel substituted for him on slide trombone.

That rhythm section never connected with each other as well as the previous two had. Stan and Bob decided they needed a more experienced bass player, so Stan fired me and rehired his earlier bassist, Teddy Kotick. They went on to the west coast, and then the group broke up. During those six months with Stan, I learned a lot of new music, improved my solo playing a little, met and played with many good musicians, and had my first opportunity to record with a major artist.

Teddy Kotick had been working with Claude Thornhill’s band, so when he left to go back with Stan, I was hired by Claude’s manager, and I started a summer of one-nighters. My reading was good enough to play big-band charts, but I ran into trouble with Claude’s theme song “Snowfall,” which had a repeating bass line in D-flat that was very difficult for me to finger using my self-taught technique. I spent one morning figuring out an alternate fingering, and that started me on the way to learning a better use of the fingerboard. Claude’s music was lovely to play, and there were some excellent jazz players on the band, especially Gene Quill on alto, Dave Figg on tenor and Dick Sherman on trumpet. I got along well with the drummer, Winston Welch, and the band sounded very good almost every night.

When Claude cut back on his schedule, I left his band to take a job with the Terry Gibbs Quartet, with Frank DiVito on drums and Terry Pollard on piano and vibes. Then Gibbs moved to California, and I found a little work here and there in New York. One of those jobs was with Don Elliot, at a club in the basement of the Plaza Hotel called Cy Coleman’s Room. Cy and his trio were the main event, and Don’s group played in between their performances. We started out with Dick Katz on piano and Denzil Best on drums. Don played both vibes and mellophone. With Dick Katz encouraging us to try a lot of John Lewis material, we had a nice subtle swing going with that group, though Don seemed to need the occasional bravura ending, grabbing the mellophone and sounding a tantara, or whooping like a crazed ambulance.

Denzil was still recovering from a bad auto accident. Don loved the way he had played brushes with George Shearing’s group, and told him to take it easy and just play brushes. But Denzil’s hands would swell a little by the end of the job each night, and his left leg was too weak to keep a steady hi-hat beat. Despite Don’s reassurances, Denzil felt he wasn’t playing up to par, and quit after the second week. To replace him, Don hired a drummer that Dick Katz didn’t agree with musically, and so Dick also left the job. Don said he thought he would hire a piano player he knew from a kid band in New Jersey, and that was how I met Bill Evans. At that time, Bill’s playing had some Tristano influence, but he was well on his way to developing his own thing.

Don had me over to his apartment a couple of times to help him work on a multitracking project he was working on. He wanted to be a vocal group and play all the instruments he could play. This was before multi-layered recording heads and wide recording tape had been invented. Don was recording from one single-track tape recorder to the other, adding parts as he went. He finally interested Phil Moore in the project, and in a studio with multi-track capability, we did an album called “The Voices of Don Elliot” for ABC Paramount.

When Don’s gigs ended, I did a short stint with Jerry Wald’s sextet at the Embers, and then Marian McPartland called me to join her trio, with Joe Morello on drums, at the Hickory House on West 52nd Street. Marian made me very welcome, and gave me a lot of solo space. Joe was easy to play with, and the three of us developed a good rapport. The hardest part of that trio for me was that Marian loved to modulate into different keys, and some of them were finger-busters for me, with my homemade fingering system. I was forced to learn to play in all the hard keys, and I improved my technique a lot on that job.
Marian had a great harmonic palette, and I learned a lot from her. And I loved her melodic inventions. At that time, she wasn’t a strong swinger, though she aspired to strong rhythmic playing and worked hard at it. She did eventually develop an easy swing in her jazz.

Joe was adept at poly-rhythms and cross rhythms, and would do his best to lose us during his solos. We learned to count carefully while he played alone, and he always came out right on the money, no matter how complicated his improvisations.

Morello had developed what he called his finger technique, in which he could keep his left stick tapping the drumhead with just the pressure of his left forefinger, and then he could add accents by rotating his wrist at the same time. Sitting with him at a back booth in the Hickory House, where he always had a pair of drumsticks and practiced on a folded napkin on the table, I borrowed a stick and figured out his finger trick, and I could keep it going pretty well. Joe loved to tell admiring students who visited us at the club, “There’s nothing to the finger technique. Anybody can do it. Here, look, even my bass player can do it!” And he would hand me a stick and have me demonstrate.

Joe and I were in a good place to be heard at the Hickory House, and as a result of our exposure there, we were hired as a team by a number of recording artists, including Jackie and Roy, Jimmy Raney, and Victor Feldman. We were also hired on off days by Marian’s husband, Jimmy McPartland, through whom we met and played with musicians of his era like Vic Dickenson, Herb Hall, Tyree Glenn, Marty Napoleon, Pee Wee Russell and Bud Freeman.

I was happy with Marian’s trio, but I couldn’t pass up an offer from Gerry Mulligan to join his sextet, with Bob Brookmeyer, Zoot Sims, Jon Eardley and Dave Bailey. Gerry’s music was beautiful, Zoot was the most swinging jazz musician I had ever heard, and Brookmeyer’s playing had been a delight to hear every night when we were together with Stan Getz. I met Bailey and Eardley at our first rehearsal, and when we began to play, I was knocked out by the quality of the music and the good spirit among us. Gerry had a way of organizing the music without limiting anyone’s expression, and the result was very exhilarating both to the sextet and to our audiences.

Dave Bailey had the touch Gerry was looking for, light and swinging. We locked in together right away, and had a working relationship for a number of years, with Gerry’s groups and with the quintet co-led by Bob Brookmeyer and Clark Terry. Dave was a good section-mate and a good road pal. We enjoyed traveling together, and had many laughs. Dave had been a pilot during the war, and continued to add to his flight knowledge in his spare time. Whenever we were working near a place where he could study something new about flying, that would be how he would spend his daytime hours.

When Gerry’s work dwindled, and not much else was going on in the jazz business, Dave made a living giving flying lessons at Westchester County airport. I went up with him a few times, when he had the use of planes that belonged to his clients. Later, he was co-pilot of attorney F. Lee Bailey’s Lear jet, until it had to be sold. Dave went on to be supervisor of New York’s Jazzmobile program for many years. He refused to play in public any more, but we did get him to come down to St. Peter’s Church and play for the memorial tribute to Gerry Mulligan after he passed away.

After I joined Mulligan’s sextet, I soon realized that my lack of a good fingering system on the bass was giving me problems I didn’t need. With Marian, I played lines that fit my technique, since I was free to play whatever I chose. But Gerry had written certain things that I found difficult to play perfectly in tune every time, and it bothered me. Through a colleague, Trigger Alpert, I found my teacher, Fred Zimmerman, who at that time was the principal bassist with the New York Philharmonic. He straightened out my left hand, taught me how to use the bow, and set me on a path of discovery about the bass that I’m still on.

After a tour of Europe, Gerry’s sextet became a quartet, with Brookmeyer and Bailey, and a month or two later, after I had a disagreement with Gerry over something stupid, I resigned and went back with Marian for a couple of years, now with Dick Scott on drums, since Morello had gone with Dave Brubeck. That trio broke up on the road, and after a bit, Gerry called me to rejoin the quartet, this time with Art Farmer as the other horn.

I was delighted. Art was playing beautifully, and fit into Gerry’s quartet format easily, without losing any of his own musical personality. He was studying George Russel’s Lydian system of tonal organization, and really found it useful in his improvisations. I also went to George and bought his Lydian treatise, but he said, “I’ll sell this to you, but I’m not sure what you can do with it. My whole concept works off the bass line staying around the root of the chord. The horns can go as far out as they like, but it’s the roots that they are going far out from, and we kind of expect the bass player to be there for them.” I studied his scales and decided he was right… I’d do better to stay at the lower end of the chords.

Gerry’s quartet went off to California without me. I decided to stay in New York. When Art and Dave left to help form the Jazztet with Benny Golson, that version of the Mulligan quartet came to an end. A bit later, Gerry returned to the east coast with his Concert Jazz Band, and when Buddy Clark went back home to California, I was happy to join the band. I’ve described in my book “From Birdland to Broadway” what it was like to play with that band. It was one of the high points of my career.

Clark Terry joined the band at the same time I did, and I discovered what a spark plug he was in a band. He knew how to get a good section blend, and all his solos were exactly right for the arrangements. He had a very large bag of tricks, full of surprise and good humor. His technique was amazing, with very flexible lip control and a mastery of circular breathing that let him play amazingly long phrases.

Whenever Gerry’s work schedule had a hole in it, Clark and Bob Brookmeyer would put together their quintet for a week or two at the Half Note. Dave Bailey and I were regulars, and the piano chair, which belonged to Hank Jones, rotated among the subs Hank sent in: Herbie Hancock, Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, etc. We finally stayed with Roger Kellaway, who was with the group until it ended when Brookmeyer moved to California. Roger amazed us all. Blessed with great technique, he could play any style, from ragtime to space music. Whatever style he chose to play at the moment would be filled with wonderful surprises that kept the rest of us continually delighted.

Nick Travis was the lead trumpeter on Gerry’s band. He had a gorgeous sound, and with his experience with small groups as well as with the Sauter-Finegan band, he understood Gerry’s band, and was the perfect lead man for it.

Sitting next to Clark Terry in the trumpet section was Don Ferrara, who had an entirely different style. He had studied with Lennie Tristano, and had developed the kind of fluid lines I associated with Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. Though Clark had most of the trumpet solos, Don also had a few, and when it was his turn, he always came up with something wonderful. I admired the way those three trumpet players, each with a strong individual style and sound in their solo playing, got such a good blend when playing together as a section.
Gene Quill was Gerry’s lead alto player. I knew Gene from the Thornhill band, and was glad to see him again. He had learned his big tone and strong phrasing from Charlie Parker’s playing, and was just the right man to lead Gerry’s sax section. He was also a fiery soloist. Gene was a drinker, and when in his cups could be belligerent. Not being a large man, this belligerence often cost him. He was beaten up several times by larger drunks. Toward the end of his life, one such beating caused some brain damage, and he lived his last years with severe physical problems. But his days on Gerry’s Concert Jazz Band were golden. He had the time of his life, and we all enjoyed his fine playing.

During the last years of the Concert Jazz Band, when Clark Terry had to take a night off, he would send in Thad Jones to replace him. I had gotten to know Thad when he was on the Basie Band, and I was playing opposite them at Birdland. He brought good nature and good musicianship to Gerry’s band, and we were always glad to see him. He also brought in some of his arrangements for us to play, which we enjoyed very much.

At that time, Thad was a little spotty as a soloist. Sometimes his solos just flowed out of him, melodic, inventive, and right on the money. Other times, he sounded like his ideas were a moment ahead of his technique, and his solos would sound muddy, his tone would suffer, and he would seem to be struggling. By the time, the CJB had come to an end, Thad and our drummer Mel Lewis had put together their Monday night band at the Village Vanguard. Every time I heard that band, Thad sounded wonderful. Evidently whatever it was that he had been going through as a soloist had been resolved.

Many years later, Nick Brignola called me to participate in a concert he was preparing at a theater in Cohoes, New York, up near Albany. Nick was to play with three groups, a traditional jazz group, a bebop group, and a free jazz group. I found myself in the bebop group, along with Thad Jones. During one of the numbers, while I was playing behind Nick’s solo, I noticed Thad standing behind me with a quizzical look on his face. When we finished our set and left the stage, Thad pulled on my sleeve and said, “Come with me.” We went down to the bar while the concert continued. Thad bought me a beer and then stood back and appraised me for a moment. Then he said, “You’re a big band bass player, and I know it! Now, don’t think about money for a minute. Just let me tell you where we’re going! First, we have three weeks in England. Then we have a month touring the major cities of Europe. Then it looks like we can do a couple of weeks in Africa!” I looked at him for a minute, and then said, “’Bye!” He laughed, and I explained that though I loved his band, I couldn’t possibly leave my family for that amount of time. “Call me for some subs at the Vanguard!” I told him. He did, but Richard Davis, his regular bassist, didn’t take off very much. The band was too good.

Mel Lewis had joined Gerry’s Concert Jazz Band when it was formed in California, and that was what brought him back to New York. When I joined the band, we connected through the music right away. Mel liked the middle of the beat, and preferred the band to settle into the center of a groove, rather than press forward on the time. He had a wonderful beat, and the sounds of his cymbals were perfect for Gerry’s band. I liked the way he decorated the beat with patterns around his drums. He once told me, “I don’t like to play the accents with the brass section. I like to let them swing by themselves. If you play everything they’re playing, they get lazy. I leave them alone, and instead, I play what the saxophones are playing behind them.”

Mel also played great on the Benny Goodman band when we went with him to the Seattle World’s Fair and then on a six-week tour of the Soviet Union. When we went out to jam with the local Russian musicians, the rhythm section was usually Mel, me, and Victor Feldman, who was Benny’s vibraphone player. Victor was a fine pianist, and was up on all the latest jazz tunes, which many of the Russian musicians had learned from Voice of America broadcasts.

Once, when neither Mel nor Dave Bailey was available for some upcoming Mulligan work, I recommended Gus Johnson, who I had met at Birdland when he was with Basie. We had become backstage friends, and began hanging out together now and then. I had played with him once, when he sat in for Frank DiVito with Terry Gibbs’s quartet, and I loved his time feeling. At the time Gerry needed a drummer, I knew Gus wasn’t doing much. He was working as a bank guard in the Bronx to make a living. He came with Gerry’s quartet, and stayed for about a year.
Manny Albam liked the way Gus and I sounded together, and recommended us as a team on record dates. We made several records and quite a few commercial jingles together. In those days, record and jingle producers were always looking for rhythm section teams, the most in demand one being Milt Hinton, Osie Johnson and Hank Jones.

I recorded with Hank a number of times, usually on dates where Milt was unavailable, and I thought he was the perfect pianist. He had a beautiful touch, knew all the best ways around the chord changes, and swung mightily. And he brought an air of cheerful competence to every date, making us all feel that it would be possible to make some very good music that day.

While I was working with Gerry Mulligan, Jimmy Giuffre came to New York with his trio, with Jim Atlas on bass and Jim Hall on guitar. I became friends with Jim Hall right away, and he, Giuffre, Bob Brookmeyer, and I spent a lot of time together in Greenwich Village, where we were all living. Giuffre got a yen to have Brookmeyer in his group, and decided he could still do the trio gigs he had booked by doing without the bass player. So Brookmeyer joined him, and Jim Hall filled the role of both guitar and bass. In those days he kept a second guitar handy, tuned a fourth lower, so he could have that additional range available for certain numbers. And as soon as his financial situation would allow it, he went over to Kenmare Street and ordered a new guitar from the master luthier DeAngelico.
Since Jim Hall and I often went to jam sessions together, I got to play with him a lot. And now and then Mulligan would put together some work for a sextet, which included Jim. We made some nice records with that group, with Gerry, Brookmeyer, Art Farmer, Dave Bailey and Jim. I also played a couple of weeks in Hartford with Dave Mackay, one week with Jim Hall and the other with Jim Raney. When Jim Hall and Brookmeyer were with Giuffre and I was with Mulligan’s quartet with Art Farmer, we made a tour of Europe together, along with the Gene Krupa quartet. By the time we got to Italy, Krupa was no longer with us, due to previous bookings.In Milan, Italy, Jim Hall introduced me to a local guitarist, Franco Cerri, and to Lars Gullin, who was staying in Milan at the time. Our tour finished there, and I stayed for a week with Franco. Dave Bailey and I played a jam session with Lars, who sounded wonderful. A local businessman thought he could sell a record made with Lars and Mulligan’s rhythm team, so he asked Dave and me into a local recording studio. We had just played a jam session with George Grunz when we were in Switzerland, and so we asked them to fly him down for the session. Lars played well, and we all enjoyed the date, but for some reason the record never was released.

The first time I met Phil Woods was on a rehearsal for a record date with Jimmy Raney. I was amazed at the strength and bravery of Phil’s playing. He really announced himself! Quite often after that, we found ourselves playing together on the same groups. And he was Gene Quill’s sub on Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band. Since Phil moved out to Pennsylvania, I’ve had fewer chances to play with him, but occasionally the opportunity arises. He has lung problems now, but you would never know it to hear him play.

I met Al Cohn and Zoot Sims at Village jam sessions, and first worked with Zoot on Gerry Mulligan’s sextet. We got to know each other better when the sextet went to Europe. We sailed to Italy on the Andrea Doria, a year before it sank, and Zoot and I played a lot of ping-pong on deck during that trip. Zoot sparked that sextet in an extraordinary way, soloing with joyous abandon and infusing the ensemble parts with his special brand of swing.

Not long after that tour, Zoot left to start a quintet co-led with Al Cohn. Often, when their regular bassist, Major Holley, was busy, I would take his place, and it was always a thrilling experience. We were just swinging as hard as we could, all night long. The tunes Al wrote were both interesting and easy to play, and the sound that he and Zoot made together was almost too good to be true. Mousie Alexander was usually the drummer, and Mose Alison the pianist. What a band!

Zoot and Al would occasionally get jobs for just one tenor and a rhythm section, and I often worked those jobs with them. Al called me to play at the Three Sisters and at Gullivers, both in Paterson, New Jersey. His tone was huge, and inventive ideas just poured out of his horn. Stan Getz once said, when asked about his ideal tenor player, “My technique, Zoot’s swing, and Al Cohn’s ideas.”

One extended gig with Zoot was a whole summer I played with his quartet at the Atlantic House in Provincetown, Mass, at the tip of Cape Cod. We played every night, and always looked forward to doing it again. Paul Motian was the drummer, and Nico Bunink was the pianist. We spent every day at the beach and then swung all night long.

Though I worked many gigs with Zoot, I probably played more often with him at jam sessions. He never said no to an opportunity to play. We spent many nights together at loft sessions in the Village and in the flower district in the West 20s. On the road, we usually found some place to play after the gig. We jammed with the local musicians in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle, Naples, Rome, Milan, Bologna, Paris, Geneva, Moscow, Sochi, Tbilisi, Leningrad, and Kiev. And after he bought a house in West Nyack, NY, about ten minutes from where I live, we often played in the rec room in his basement. And the last time, just a few days before his death, we played at Benny Aronov’s house in Dobbs Ferry, NY. Zoot tried to play, but couldn’t get more than a couple of squeaks out of his horn. But he was where he wanted to be, among friends at another jam session.”

1 comment:

  1. Can't say enough about the quality of Crow's playing as an accompanist and soloist, particular with the Mulligan Quartet. I recently came across a CD of a European concert with the Mulligan group with Brookmeyer and Gus Johnson. Crow is very clearly recorded and plays like an angel. Bill may or may not agree, but there are times when he reminds me of Wilbur Ware.


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