From Birdland to Broadway: Scenes from a Jazz Life
by Bill Crow
Bassist Bill Crow moved from Washington State to New York City in 1950 at the age of 22. It was a heady time for a jazz musician to arrive in the city, a time when two generations of jazz were co-mingling: Jazz masters like Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman still had loyal followings at the same time Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and others were dazzling the jazz world with the new music they called bebop. And Bill Crow was right in the middle of it all. Crow was a member of the Marian McPartland Trio that was named “Small Group of the Year” by Metronome magazine in 1955 and of the Benny Goodman band that famously toured the Soviet Union. He performed and recorded with jazz luminaries like Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Quincy Jones. Clark Terry, Bob Brookmeyer, Roger Kellaway, Billie Holiday and Phil Woods, among many others. Later in his career, he added Broadway shows and studio work to his areas of expertise, encountering performers like Judy Holliday and Yul Brynner and pop-rock acts like Simon and Garfunkel.
Crow was also blessed with an ear that was keen to the happenings that were unfolding and the stories that were being told all around him, along with a great storytelling skill, both of which he has drawn on to bring us into the music world that he inhabited these many years—first with the book Jazz Anecdotes, excerpts of which we have shared with you in Seacoast Jazz Notes, and the volume at hand, From Birdland to Broadway.
The author takes us into his life as a jazz musician, with great stories about the fabled musicians with whom he worked—of his nearly joining Dizzy Gillespie’s band but for having been previously committed; about the days when people actually danced at the iconic bop venue the Royal Roost; about Stan Getz’s tragic relationship with drugs; of Harry Belafonte running a lunch counter in Sheridan Square between gigs. He takes us along with him on gigs at Birdland, the Half Note and the Playboy Club, and at Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater, where he appeared with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet along with Dinah Washington; and with Mulligan up to George Wein’s Storyville, Boston’s premier jazz room. He takes us to the Soviet Union, too, with the Benny Goodman band, a trip that might have been one of the highlights of Crow’s international travels but which was otherwise marred by Goodman’s legendary bad treatment of his band’s members.
From Birdland to Broadway is a wonderful portrait of the jazz world from the 1940s to the ’80s, told in down-to-earth, conversational, engaging language and filled with the unique characters that peopled that world.
This is a book for a lover of jazz by another one.
Title: From Birdland to Broadway: Scenes from a Jazz Life
Author: Bill Crow
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press (September 9, 1993)