Sandy Brown Jazz

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On A Night Like This, The Story Is Told ...

Bill Crow's Bass And Big, Baggy Suit


Legendary bassist Bill Crow was born in Othello, Washington and went on to play with so many prominent bands including those of San Getz, Terry Gibbs, Marion McPartland and particularly Gerry Mulligan. In 1953 he joined Claude Thornhill's Orchestra and he described the occasion in this extract from Sheila Tracy's book, Bands, Booze and Broads. Bill also published his own book of anecdotes, Jazz Anecdotes.


Bill Crow


'Claude Thornhill was a lovely eccentric. He was a fine musician and a really good arranger. If you listen to his theme song, 'Snowfall', both his composition and arrangement, you can see the texture of the orchestra that he established ....

Listen to Snowfall.




... I had been playing with Stan Getz for six months and Stan had just fired me because he wanted to hire Teddy Kotik who was playing with Claude. I .. ran into Winston Welch who was Claude's drummer. He said they needed a bass player as Teddy Kotik has Claude Thornhilljust left and I said, "Tell me something I don't know!" ... he grabbed the manager, who was sitting in the next booth, and said, "I got us a bass player."

They sent me over to London Clothes to get measured for my band uniform ... They said they would have something temporary to wear, so I went to find my band uniform and the band-boy said, "You got the choice of the one I got," and hands me this suit which was made for a short, very fat man. I was tall and skinny, I think I weighed 125 lbs in those days. So I spent the first night hiding behind my bass, terribly embarrassed about the fact that this suit didn't fit me at all!

Claude didn't come in until we were all set up and ready to play. He came in, sat down at the piano and we began to play, but every time I tried to catch his eye he would look away ....

....The next night when I came to work, Claude had come in very early, and he came right up on the bandstand, pumped my hand vigorously, and said, "Very nice to have you on the band. I didn't want to say anything last night as I was afraid people would see me saying hello to one of my musicians as if I didn't know him."

Claude wanted a musical band and he had one. Although he was making his living playing ballrooms, he hired musicians and arrangers that were a cut above most of the popular dance bands that were around ....'

From Bands, Booze and Broads by Sheila Tracy



Here's Claude Thornhill's version of Charlie Parker's (or Miles Davis' - both claimed authorship) tune Donna Lee.




Wikipedia tells us that '"Donna Lee" was recorded by the Charlie Parker Quintet on May 8, 1947 for Savoy in New York City ..... Later in 1947 it was recorded for Decca by Claude Thornhill and his orchestra, which included Gil Evans, Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, Sandy Siegelstein, Bill Barber, and Joe Shulman. Some of these musicians were hired by Miles Davis for his album Birth of the Cool. Evans approached Davis for permission to write the arrangement of "Donna Lee" for Thornhill. Davis agreed and then got the idea to "imitate the sound of Claude Thornhill but with less people" for his nonet recordings, as he says in his autobiography.'

I have not been able to verify whether Bill Crow played bass on this 1953 recording of Pussy-Footin' by Claude Thornhill




'In 1957, Thornhill became Tony Bennett's musical director. He offered his big band library to Gerry Mulligan when Mulligan formed the Concert Jazz Band, but Mulligan declined the gift, since his instrumentation was different.'


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