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Woody Herman

A fine swing clarinetist, an altoist whose sound was influenced by Johnny Hodges, a good soprano saxophonist, and a spirited blues vocalist, Woody Herman's greatest significance to jazz was as the leader of a long line of big bands. He always encouraged young talent and, more than practically any bandleader from the swing era, kept his repertoire quite modern. Although Herman was always stuck performing a few of his older hits (he played "Four Brothers" and "Early Autumn" nightly for nearly 40 years), he much preferred to play and create new music.

Woody Herman began performing as a child, singing in vaudeville. He started playing saxophone when he was 11, and four years later he was a professional musician. He picked up early experience playing with the big bands of Tom Gerun, Harry Sosnik, and Gus Arnheim, and then in 1934, he joined the Isham Jones orchestra. He recorded often with Jones, and when the veteran bandleader decided to break up his orchestra in 1936, Herman formed one of his own out of the remaining nucleus. The great majority of the early Herman recordings feature the bandleader as a ballad vocalist, but it was the instrumentals that caught on, leading to his group being known as "the Band That Plays the Blues." Woody Herman's theme "At the Woodchopper's Ball" became his first hit (1939). Herman's early group was actually a minor outfit with a Dixieland feel to many of the looser pieces and fine vocals contributed by Mary Ann McCall, in addition to Herman. They recorded very frequently for Decca, and for a period had the female trumpeter/singer Billie Rogers as one of its main attractions.

By 1943, the Woody Herman Orchestra was beginning to take its first steps into becoming the Herd (later renamed the First Herd). Herman had recorded an advanced Dizzy Gillespie arrangement ("Down Under") the year before, and during 1943, Herman's band became influenced by Duke Ellington; in fact, Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster made guest appearances on some recordings. It was a gradual process, but by the end of 1944, Woody Herman had what was essentially a brand new orchestra. It was a wild, good-time band with screaming ensembles (propelled by first trumpeter Pete Candoli), major soloists in trombonist Bill Harris and tenorman Flip Phillips, and a rhythm section pushed by bassist/cheerleader Chubby Jackson and drummer Dave Tough. In 1945 (with new trumpeters in Sonny Berman and Conte Candoli), the First Herd was considered the most exciting new big band in jazz. Several of the arrangements of Ralph Burns and Neal Hefti are considered classics, and such Herman favorites entered the book as "Apple Honey," "Caldonia," "Northwest Passage," "Bijou" (Harris' memorable if eccentric feature), and the nutty "Your Father's Mustache." Even Igor Stravinsky was impressed, and he wrote "Ebony Concerto" for the orchestra to perform in 1946. Unfortunately, family troubles caused Woody Herman to break up the big band at the height of its success in late 1946; it was the only one of his orchestras to really make much money. Herman recorded a bit in the interim, and then, by mid-1947, had a new orchestra, the Second Herd, which was also soon known as the Four Brothers band. With the three cool-toned tenors of Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, and Herbie Steward (who a year later was replaced by Al Cohn) and baritonist Serge Chaloff forming the nucleus, this orchestra had a different sound than its more extroverted predecessor, but it could also generate excitement of its own. Trumpeter/arranger Shorty Rogers and eventually Bill Harris returned from the earlier outfit, and with Mary Ann McCall back as a vocalist, the group had a great deal of potential. But, despite such popular numbers as Jimmy Giuffre's "Four Brothers," "The Goof and I," and "Early Autumn" (the latter ballad made Getz into a star), the band struggled financially. Before its collapse in 1949, such other musicians as Gene Ammons, Lou Levy, Oscar Pettiford, Terry Gibbs, and Shelly Manne made important contributions.

Next up for Woody Herman was the Third Herd, which was similar to the Second except that it generally played at danceable tempos and was a bit more conservative. Herman kept that band together during much of 1950-1956, even having his own Mars label for a period; Conte Candoli, Al Cohn, Dave McKenna, Phil Urso, Don Fagerquist, Carl Fontana, Dick Hafer, Bill Perkins, Nat Pierce, Dick Collins, and Richie Kamuca were among the many sidemen. After some short-lived small groups (including a sextet with Nat Adderley and Charlie Byrd), Herman's New Thundering Herd was a hit at the 1959 Monterey Jazz Festival. He was able to lead a big band successfully throughout the 1960s, featuring such soloists as high-note trumpeter Bill Chase, trombonist Phil Wilson, the reliable Nat Pierce, and the exciting tenor of Sal Nistico. Always open to newer styles, Woody Herman's bop-ish unit gradually became more rock-oriented as he utilized his young sidemen's arrangements, often of current pop tunes (starting in 1968 with an album titled Light My Fire). Not all of his albums from this era worked, but one always admired Herman's open-minded attitude. As one of only four surviving jazz-oriented bandleaders from the swing era (along with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Stan Kenton) who was still touring the world with a big band, Herman welcomed such new talent in the 1970s as Greg Herbert, Andy Laverne, Joe Beck, Alan Broadbent, and Frank Tiberi. He also recorded with Chick Corea, had a reunion with Flip Phillips, and celebrated his 40th anniversary as a leader with a notable 1976 Carnegie Hall concert.

Woody Herman returned to emphasizing straight-ahead jazz by the late '70s. By then, he was being hounded by the IRS due to an incompetent manager from the 1960s not paying thousands of dollars of taxes out of the sidemen's salaries. Herman, who might very well have taken it easy, was forced to keep on touring and working constantly into his old age. He managed to put on a cheerful face to the public, celebrating his 50th anniversary as a bandleader in 1986. However, his health was starting to fail, and he gradually delegated most of his duties to Frank Tiberi before his death in 1987. Tiberi continued to lead a Woody Herman Orchestra on a part-time basis but it never had the opportunity to record. Fortunately, Herman was well documented throughout all phases of his career, and his major contributions are still greatly appreciated. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Big New Herd at the Montery Jazz Festival

Comments

phillden8
Great! Shaw, Goodman...Se e my posts under Basie.
I saw Woody twice in concert - once in the 70s and again in the 80s before his passing. Both times were swinging! I'm in my 50s, but his music was always reasonably current and his concerts always fun. His young talent helped keep him going. If you haven't heard his Grammy-winni n g album Giant Steps (Best Jazz album 1971), check it out along with his other vast material. A gentleman and class act.
I love this big band swing!! I maybe 55 years of age but this is GOOD music!!!!
I Saw Woody back in the 60's. Was impressed with the amount of young players in his band. He has left a lasting impression on me.. Tom
Absolutely,! ! ! ! Comes from a wholesome time when a guy could name his album Blowin Up A Storm : )
wilpadilla
This music puts me in a good mood!!!!!:)
An outstanding musician.
Very balanced and well written bio - thanks!
markheller4
My Mom and Dad sponsored Woody and his Band while on tour in Northern California, He play at Deerwood Swim/tennis club in Ukiah ca. circa 1983. Outdoors under a starry but stormy sky, it was simply magic.
Mark Heller for Shirley and Don Heller
megjonan3
John Cap Ifirst danced to Woody circa 1939 at Hamid's Million dollar pier in Atlantic City. Then years later at the Starlight Roof of the St Regis Hotel inNYC. His band was always a pleasure.
Saw Woody in person many times, a true gentleman. The '45 band was the wildest...dr o v e my parents crazy playing his records when I got a weekend home from the Navy.
garywi
Woody Herman was my favorite bandleader whom I first saw at the Michigan Theater in Detroit in 1945 and they knocked me out. A thrilling band with Bill Harris, Flip Phillips, Pete Candoli playing "Caldonia", Apple Honey, Goosie Gander, etc. They were electric and very exciting!! The trumpet riff in Caldonia was my favorite
I love swing and jazz, especially in the big band era and most of all the instrumental artists. The only artist I neve liked is Louis Armstrong. Thanks for playin all of my favorite types of music and me to create my own stations, including classical. Dr. Bob M.
This may draw some jeers, but I really like his efforts to keep pace with the times -- particularly his albums from the 1970s. It wasn't straight jazz, but I thought it cooked all the same. Woody was always great about surrounding himself with young up-and-comin g players. His bands played great jazz-rock as well as jazz.
GREAT

Myself and a buddy getting ready to go to Japan (Air Force) got to see Woody Herman and his Band in San Franciso (1949)He was great that night,introd u c e d us to the many there..What a thrill... Always loved his music,Great jazz...
Woody always had a "driving" band. His Four Brothers and Early Autumn were classics and he always played them as requests from the audience. As a reed man, Iwas impressed with the quality of his sax section. Names such as Getz, Phillips, Sims, etc. playing in unison plus solos was unique for one band!
He was one of the greatest of the big band leaders.I saw his band many times in person,and had quite a few conversation s with him.Loved that band as well as Kenton,Basie , E l l i n g t o n , R i c h , F e r g u s o n , S h a w , G o o d m a n , t h e Dorseys,Barn e t , H a r r y James,et.al

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