Bill Crow Remembers Dave Bailey

December 3, 2023

Jazz drummer Dave Bailey passed away on December 28, 2023, at the age of 97. Bassist Bill Crow played with him in the Gerry Mulligan Quartet and Sextet in the 1950s and ’60s. Here are some of Bill’s reminiscences about that period and his friendship with Bailey.

I was sorry to see that my old friend Dave Bailey passed away last December 28. I first met Dave when Gerry Mulligan called me in 1955, inviting me to join his sextet. Dave and his friend, Peck Morrison, were the sextet’s original rhythm section, and Peck was leaving for another gig. I was delighted to have the chance to play with Gerry, Zoot Sims, Bob Brookmeyer, and Jon Eardley. Dave and I became personal and musical friends right away, and we continued to play with Gerry after the sextet broke up. (Photo above: Bailey, left, and Crow, during their Mulligan days). We remained as part of his quartet with Brookmeyer.

Gerry’s wife, Arlyne, was the road manager for the sextet and quartet, and after she and Gerry broke up, Dave became the road manager, handling the bookings and the payroll. The quartet toured and recorded for about a year, and then, after I left for a while to do some off-Broadway shows, Gerry started a new group, with Art Farmer, Dave, and me. After another year of making good music together, Dave and Art went to California with Gerry for a movie date, and I stayed in New York.

While we were doing Mulligan’s quartet work, there were many times that Gerry’s schedule would have a week or two with no bookings, and then Dave and I would play at the Half Note with the quintet that Bob Brookmeyer and Clark Terry put together, with Roger Kellaway on piano. We both loved playing with that group, and we made two good albums with it.

Dave and I also made many recordings with Gerry Mulligan, and Dave recorded with a long list of other prominent jazz soloists. We made one album together with Ben Webster. Dave also made five albums under his own name.

While we were on the road together, Dave took every opportunity to go to local airports to polish the flying abilities that he had learned in the Air Force during World War II. When he returned to New York around 1969, I discovered that he had given up professional drumming and was making his living as a flying instructor at Westchester County Airport. Dave had the use of planes that were owned by his students, and a couple of times he flew over to a small airport near my home in Rockland County and took me flying with him.

Dave’s reputation as a flying instructor was very good. He was able to get some students to solo who hadn’t been able to do so until Dave solved their problems. Meanwhile, Dave kept adding to his flying skills, and when he became licensed to fly jets, he was hired in 1969 by attorney F. Lee Bailey (no relation} to be the co-pilot of his Learjet. That job lasted until 1973, when, for financial reasons, F. Lee had to sell the Lear.

Dr. Billy Taylor was one of the founders of Jazzmobile, a not-for-profit organization which provides musical education for children and employment for musicians through free concerts performed around New York City. Taylor didn’t have enough time to devote to that expanding organization, and in 1973 he recommended Dave for his replacement. Dave then became the Director of Jazzmobile, a position he held until 2003.

After his retirement, I visited Dave several times at his home in Westchester. His health was deteriorating, but he was bright and cheerful, and we enjoyed reminiscing about the adventures we had while playing together. I loved playing with him and treasured him as a friend.-BILL CROW 

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