Bill Crow

My school music teacher, Al Bennest, introduced me to jazz by playing Louis Armstrong’s record of “West End Blues” for me. I found more jazz on the radio, and began looking for records. My paper route money, and later, money I earned working after school in a print shop and a butcher shop went toward buying jazz records. I taught myself the alto saxophone and the drums in order to play in my high school dance band.

I recorded with Hank (Jones) 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.

We sailed to Italy on the Andrea Doria, a year before it sank, and Zoot (Sims) and I played a lot of ping-pong on deck during that trip. Zoot sparked that [Gerry Mulligan’s] sextet in an extraordinary way, soloing with joyous abandon and infusing the ensemble parts with his special brand of swing.

My reading was good enough to play big-band charts, but I ran into trouble with Claude (Thornhill)’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.

I found a guy in the Bronx who had an old plywood Kay bass that he wanted $75 for. He held it for me, and I gave him a few dollars every time I could scrape some extra money together. Meanwhile I borrowed or rented basses for jam sessions and paying jobs. It was a great thrill when I finally took possession of my Kay.