Friday, October 19, 2018

Woody Herman by Steve Voce - Part 5

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.  

“Nobody does what Woody does as well as he does. If we could only figure out what it is he does . . .”
- Phil Wilson, trombonist, Jazz educator

Woody Herman's main influence on jazz was felt through the effects of the First Herd, the Second Herd and the band of the middle sixties. It is on these bands that I have allowed the emphasis of this book to fall.
- Steve Voce, Jazz author, columnist and broadcaster

STEVE VOCE began writing about jazz in the Melody Maker during the 1950s and it was also at that time [1956] that he became a regular jazz broadcaster for the BBC. He has presented his own weekly radio programme, “Jazz Panorama,” for 37 years.

He has been writing a Jazz Journal International column for almost 60 years.

Here’s the fifth chapter of Steve’s insightful and illuminating work on the most influential bands of Woody Herman’s illustrious career.

Chapter Five

“'There's no doubt the band business is coming back.' Woody told Down Beat in November 1950. He completed his contract with Capitol that year, producing only two notable jazz titles, Al Cohn's Music To Dance To and a track featuring Bill Harris, tenorist Bob Graf and Woody, Sonny Berman's tune Sonny Speaks, which Sonny had originally titled They Went Thataway.

‘The public is dance conscious now,' continued Woody, and his next bands were to try to cater for that kind of audience. He signed a new contract with MGM Records which was to produce his least inspired period of recordings. It began pleasantly enough with Woody and a studio band backing singer Billy Eckstine on four titles arranged by Pete Rugolo. But the fine new band that Woody had shaped during 1950 and 1951 was restricted to insipid and novelty arrangements. There were the odd moments of excitement when tenorist Kenny Pinson soloed on Leo The Lion, a Tiny Kahn chart that also featured another fine soloist, a young trombonist called Urbie Green. Again Woody's band was to be an incubator for young talents, and at this period its ranks included tenorists Bill Perkins and Phil Urso, trumpeters Don Fagerquist and Doug Mettome (two of the most sadly undervalued practitioners of the horn), and the great pianist Dave McKenna. Sonny Igoe was another good drummer in the tradition.

Because of the fragile nature of the band business at the time this Herd remained cautious and unadventurous in the recording studio. But there is one glorious example of it in full cry. In August 1951 it played a date in Kansas City. Charlie Parker, who had come home to visit his mother, came along to the date and was persuaded to sit in. Happily the trombonist Urbie Green recorded the proceedings on a domestic tape recorder. With no charts designed to feature Parker, the Herd played its normal programme and Parker took all the solo space — Four Brothers has to be heard to be believed!

America's involvement in the Korean war began to affect the bands, and Dave McKenna was drafted and sent to Korea as a cook. Nat Pierce, a splendid musician who was to have a lasting influence in succeeding Herman Herds, began the first of his ten years with Woody. Nat had run his own bands in Boston where he grew up with musicians like Ruby Braff and worked with giants like Charlie Parker. In those days his piano playing was deeply involved with bebop and his bands of the time reflected the turbulent music. He digested and absorbed all the aspects of contemporary jazz, but eventually emerged as a brilliant middle of the road player who in turn deputised for men as distinguished as Count Basie and Stan Kenton. He became a friend of Duke Ellington's, and on one occasion Duke asked him to sit in with the Ellington band. 'When I was young.' Duke told the audience, 'my piano teacher Miss Clinkscales gave me some very good advice. "Don't ever," she told me. "come up in back of Nat Pierce".'

Nat told the author 'I first joined Woody in 1951 at Hershey Park, Pennsylvania. Some of the fellows from my Boston band were now with him, and they recommended me to him when Dave had to leave. He called me on the phone and I went and that was that. It was one of the high points in my life, because although I'd played with a lot of the great jazz musicians, I had never been part of an actual big time jazz band. We had Bill Perkins, Dick Hafer, Urbie and his brother Jack Green, Carl Fontana and Arno Marsh in the band. Ralph Burns was the top arranger at that time. Some of the guys in the band had written some things and I wrote a dance medley, but it wasn't my turn yet. The way it worked with Woody, and it still works like that today, is that a guy comes into the band shouting "I can write, I can write!" and nobody ever asks him anything, so he writes an arrangement on his own. Then, after a few rejected arrangements you say well, forget it. And then maybe six months later Woody asks you to write an arrangement!

'Woody wasn't happy with MGM. What do you do if a record company won't record what you want to play?' You form your own record company, and Woody did just that with a guy called Howard Richman. They called the label Mars and we recorded for it from 1952 to 1954'

The music that the band played was very polished, but it also had the inspired spirit of every Herman band, and the Mars recordings brought the jazz fans roaring back. Ralph Burns created an original invention in Stompin' At The Savoy, which featured Woody and tenorist Arno Marsh. He also wrote the more complex Teressita. a beautiful melody to feature Woody's alto and Pierce on piano ('I had to practice that one at home!' said Nat). Pierce and Chubby Jackson wrote the chart of Blue Lou between them. 'Chubby sang it to me and I wrote it down, and Ralph Burns and I wrote the arrangement of Perdido. I did Wooftie and Ralph did Men from Mars, those were two of the stomp pieces. I remember the sessions because Carl Fontana was fairly new in the band. When we did the vocal piece Jump In The Line he was required to play a little trombone break. When it came he froze at the mike and we had to do another take. It wouldn't happen today, because he's one of the greatest in the world.'

Woody dug out a Jimmy Giuffre piece called Quart of Bones and decided to retitle it Four Others. By now Jerry Coker, later to be a highly respected music teacher, had replaced Arno Marsh and trumpeters Bernie Glow and Ernie Royal plus trombonist Kai Winding were added to the section pending the arrival of permanent replacements. The result was a marvellous shout up for the trombone section with solos by Winding, Vern Friley, Frank Rehak and Urbie Green.

The band was booked for its first European tour in April 1954. The last job in New York before flying to Oslo was at the Basin Street on '29 March. But Woody made another gig before leaving. On 31 March an old friend of his, trumpeter Buck Clayton, was recording a jam session for Columbia. Producer George Avakian suggested that Woody might come along and bring his clarinet. Unfortunately the Chopper's clarinet had already been packed by the band boy and was stowed in the luggage at Idlewild Airport ready for the flight. The band boy rushed over there in a cab and with special permission rooted out the horn and dashed back to Columbia with it. Working with Buck, Urbie, Trummy Young, Al Cohn, Walter Page, Jo Jones and the others in that jam session. Woody produced some of his finest  clarinet playing ever. He soared over the band on How Hi The Fi and partnered Buck in some filigree improvisations on Blue Moon amongst others.

The European trip was a colossal success with most concerts sold out. One of Nat Pierce's pals, the great trumpet soloist Dick Collins, was complemented by high note men Bill Castagnino and Al Porcino in the trumpets. Dick Kenney and Keith Moon were joined in the trombones by bass trumpeter Cy Touff, an agile performer on his cumbersome instrument and one of the main brass soloists. The tenors were Perkins, Coker and Dick Hafer. and Jack 'The Admiral' Nimitz was on baritone, while Pierce led the great rhythm section with Red Kelly on bass and Chuck Flores at the drums. Some of the sidemen recorded imaginative sessions in Paris with Henri Renaud and Ralph Burns, who was on the tour to play the piano role in Summer Sequence. The simian thinking of the British Musicians' Union had persuaded it to ban appearances by American musicians within the realm, and the Melody Maker resourcefully arranged two concerts by the band in Dublin, the Irish capital. They laid on flights from Britain and on Sunday 2 May, a veritable air lift of jazz fans arrived in Ireland. They were not disappointed. Perdido. Early Autumn, Four Brothers — the band played its heart out for them. And a man already a big favourite with the European audience. Bill Perkins, established his tradition of tenor ballad playing with These Foolish Things (Bill later returned to Dublin when he was with Stan Kenton and that band had to subvert the Union's machinations).

That May Woody recorded three fine tracks for Columbia, Blame Boehm. Mulligan Tawny and The Third Herd, and also cut a vocal album for the same label with the Erroll Garner Trio in July, but September saw him back with Capitol. By now Nat Pierce's writing was exerting an influence alongside Ralph Burns's, and the band recorded his arrangements of Boo Hoo and Sleep in those first sessions. Burns excelled with brilliant arrangements of two features for Bill Perkins, Misty Morning and Ill Wind, the latter also including a delicious trumpet solo from Dick Collins. Ralph's more robust Autobahn Blues featured Nat, Woody, Perkins and trumpeter John Howell. The long playing medium allowed for a six minute version of Apple Honey with wailing tenor from Perkins and Hafer, whilst Cy Touff rooted in the undergrowth for truffles. This was a polished and now classic Herd.

Woodchopper's Ball was done for Capitol with the then popular mambo rhythm and the riff from Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid which was to remain an integral part of it. The personnel remained fairly stable except for two important changes which brought in the fine tenor player Richie Kamuca to replace Hafer and bassist John Beal tor Kelly. Bill Perkins left to join Kenton and was replaced by Art Pirie.

On 6 and 7 June 1955 the Herd recorded fourteen titles for Capitol, several of which were magnificent and remain fresh sounding to this day. Nat Pierce loved the music of Horace Silver and the first of his reworkings of Horace's music was Opus De Funk, which swung irresistibly for five minutes, with notable solos from Kamuca, Collins, Touff and Herman. Manny Albam contributed Captain Ahab in the powerhouse stomp Herman tradition, and again Kamuca excelled. Nat Pierce tidied up a head arrangement of Sentimental Journey piling up the riffs towards the end as he had done on Opus De Funk, and Keith Moon contributed some incisive wa-wa muted trombone. Woody wrote I Remember Duke in an Ellington vein and once again Moon's trombone was relevant. This was a time when drum features were popular and the magnificent Chuck Flores essayed Skinned, Skinned Again and at a later session, Drums In Hi-Fi brought Buddy Rich back into the band lor the first time since Your Father's Moustache. recorded almost ten years to the day before. But the Rich feature was done by a mixture of session men and Herdsmen, because Woody broke the band up in September 1955. The reason was a lucrative offer from the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas for him to play there with a smaller group. He cut down to an eight piece band keeping Dick Collins and johnny Coppola on trumpets. Touff on bass trumpet. Kamuca on tenor and Flores on drums. Monty Budwig joined on bass and Norman Pockrandt came in briefly on piano before Vince Guaraldi took over. On 1 December Woody brought the group over to the Capitol Studios in Hollywood and recorded eight delightful tracks for an album including Bags' Other Groove, Coppola's wailing variation on Milt Jackson's blues. Woody played a beautiful lower register solo which harked back to Bigard and Noone again.

When the engagement at the Riviera finished Woody built up a big band again, and this time Bill Harris returned to the trombones with Bobby Lamb and Wayne Andre. Arno Marsh was alongside Kamuca for a recording session in Chicago in May 1956 and Vie Feldman was added on vibraphone for a potent series of blues numbers including Trouble In Mind and Dupree Blues from Woody's early days, as well as classics like Pinetop’s Blues and Call It Stormy Monday. The Las Vegas octet had recorded Basin Street Blues and the Joe Williams hit Everyday I Have The Blues and these joined the rest in a classic album entitled Blues Groove. Woody sang with great feeling, and there were potent eruptions from Harris, notably in the one instrumental, Blues Groove, a swinging Coppola riff pattern which in later Herds changed its name to Cousins. Although he had left the band by then, Nat Pierce sent in the charts of Trouble In Mind and Call it Stormy Monday.

At the beginning of 1957 Woody decided to change labels and moved to Norman Granz’s Verve company. The results were not outstanding. Initially Norman teamed Woody with excellent small groups including Harris, Charlie Shavers, Ben Webster and Jimmy Rowles and Woody confined himself to the vocals. By the summer of that year Willie Dennis had come into the band to sit alongside Lamb and Bill Harris and Bill Berry and Danny Styles had joined Coppola and Bill Castagnino in the trumpets. Jay Migliori was the main tenor soloist, but somehow the band was characterized by the rather cold playing of pianist John Bunch. The album they recorded for Verve had some good writing by Gene Roland and a couple of interesting features for Harris, but somehow the fire wasn't there the way it should have been. However, it was good to hear adventurers still in the band, and the ill starred Willie Dennis had some rare exposure and Bill Berry made his solo debut.

An exciting curiosity from this period and a minefield for historians was the music recorded at a dance which probably occurred in Los Angeles in early 1958. Certainly Bill Harris was on hand, for he buckets through some unmistakable rampaging solos, and tenorist Arno Marsh had returned once more. The eight tracks which survive from this occasion include Natchel Blues which has Woody in soulful vein before Harris unpacks the dynamite and a lovely Body And Soul with Woody on alto. Standard Herd mayhem includes the mambo Woodchopper's Ball and Pierce's arrangement of Opus De Funk. It seems likely that Pete Jolly is the pianist and this could be the remarkable Jake Hanna's first appearance on drums with Woody.

It seems unlikely that this was the regular Herd and since the setting was Los Angeles it could have been that Woody put the band together while spending some time at home. Later that year when he was down to a small group again he was invited to bring a big band to play on the first ever colour television broadcast. Comedian Jerry Lewis had broken his partnership with Dean Martin, and had been given his own show for the colour debut in .New York. Woody simply hired the band that Nat Pierce had in the town at the time. It sounded so good that it was decided to record it for the Everest label. Nat rooted round and found many obscure and invaluable arrangements that various people had written for earlier Herds like Al Cohn's I Cover the Waterfront, Johnny Mandel’s Sinbad The Tailor and Ralph Burns' Fire Inland. This eminent band included Cohn, Sam Donahue and Paul Quinichette on tenors. Chubby Jackson, Billy Bauer and Don Lamond in the rhythm section with Nat. Bob Brookmeyer (because Harris was in Las Vegas), Frank Rehak and Billy Byers on trombones and a formidable trumpet section of Ernie Royal, Bernie Glow, Al Stewart, Nick Travis and Marky Markowitz.. Woody was on tremendous form. Nat had done a marvellous job in shaping the arrangements and writing new bits where parts were lost. Everest was the first company to use the new 35 millimetre wide recording tape, and the results were excellent, with Woody in good voice tor the only vocal, the inevitable Caldonia. Woody persuaded Bob Brookmeyer to tread the hallowed ground of Bijou, and there was a generally attractive distribution of solos throughout the session. The following week with Woody absent, what was virtually the same band came to Everest to record under Chubby's name. Woody returned to the same label with a studio group including latin expert Tito Puente to record some mambo tracks and, with an orthodox line up, yet another essay on Woodchopper's Ball along with a clutch of original charts. Everest was much more ambitious in commissioning a new recording of Summer Sequence and later one of Ebony Concerto. Guitarist Charlie Byrd had joined Woody as a featured soloist, and his classical style was featured in Summer Sequence and four sambas which together made up an album. Don Lamond returned for the Ebony Concerto session which was conducted by Elliott Lawrence, but neither performance of the major suites excelled the original Columbia versions.

The end of 1958 saw Woody down to a sextet with Nat Adderley on cornet, Eddie Costa doubling piano and vibraphone, Byrd on guitar, Keeter Beits bass, and Jimmy Campbell drums. The sextet recorded in January and February 1959, but the music was pleasant rather than profound.

The British  Musicians' Union was moving into the twentieth century and was permitting a controlled exchange of British and American musicians. Woody travelled to London with a nucleus of Adderley, Byrd, Betts, Campbell, pianist Guaraldi, lead trumpeter Reunald Jones and trombonist Bill Harris. There he rehearsed a big band with that nucleus and nine British musicians. The band rehearsed for a few days before its tour. Tenorist Don Rendell recalls 'We thought things were going quite well, and then quite suddenly Woody stopped us. He really hammered us. He used all kinds of phrases that I can't remember, but it was to the effect that the band didn't have enough balls in it.' Trombonist Eddie Harvey remembers that the British musicians hadn't grasped that Woody wanted them to play with about four times the volume that they had been doing. 'After the pep talk the effect was electric, just as though Woody had turned a switch, and the band immediately played better. From that moment we never looked back.' The Anglo American Herd was one of Woody's triumphs, and for the first time a British audience was blown out of its seats by the authentic Herman sound. Bill Harris was a sensation, soloing on Playgirl Stroll and the rambling, slow Gene Roland composition Like Some Blues, Man, Like. (Roland wrote under the pseudonym Ted Richards.)

Back in the States that summer, Nat Pierce organised a big band line up for some more recordings, this time for the SESAC label. Despite the presence of Red Rodney, Ernie Royal, Bob Brookmeyer, Frank Rehak, Al Cohn, Dick Hafer, Zoot Sims and Don Lamond, the results sounded anonymous, and didn't really have the Herman stamp. Perhaps this was because SESAC, a company which recorded music solely for use by radio stations, imposed heavy restrictions on the character of the music used. Recordings for the company by Count Basie and Duke Ellington were similarly afflicted.

Woody had another collection of stars under his name at the 1959 Monterey Festival, this time with vastly more success. Zoot Sims, Bill Perkins, Richie Kamuca and baritone man Med Flory were there to chomp through Four Brothers with drummer Mel Lewis powering them in a way that made one reflect on his possibilities as a Herdsman. Like Some Blues, Man, Like simmered again with splendid blues from Victor Feldman's vibes, Conte Candoli, Bill Perkins, Charlie Byrd, Woody, trumpeter Ray Linn and Urbie Green, who played a beautifully lyrical Skylark. Al Porcino reached for the sky after everyone else had done with Apple Honey. 'I wish I could take this band on the road,' said Woody, and one could well understand his feelings.

Tenorist Don Lanphere had been in that band and he was to be the outstanding soloist in the comparatively ordinary band of 1960 with a beautiful solo feature of Darn That Dream recorded for the Crown label in Chicago.

In the early sixties Nat Pierce began nagging at Woody to reform the big band on a permanent basis. Woody recorded an attractive album of clarinet solos backed by Nat with the fine bassist Chuck Andrus and drummer Gus Johnson tor Columbia in 1962 with tributes to Barney Bigard. Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Noone and some of the other greats of the instrument. At the time Woody was using a sextet which included Nat, Chuck, trumpeter Bill Chase, tenorist Gordon Brisker and drummer Jimmy Campbell. Concurrently trombonist Phil Wilson was in the army with the North American Air Defence Command band. Phil remembers being with the NORAD band at the Michigan State Fair.

'Woody was nearby playing a place called 'The Rooster Tail’ and Nat and Chase and all of them came out to see us because we were all good friends. Chase. Brisker and Jake Hanna and I had played together in Herb Pomeroy's band in Boston from 1955 to 1957. Chase told me that Nat was working on Woody to reform the band and asked if I was interested. I told him emphatically yes, and that I would be out of the army in a few months and free to join. Nat got Jake from Harry James.

'Nat worked out a deal with Woody that Nat would run the band and Woody would just front it to get it started. Nat knowing that when it was good enough Woody would take control. That's the way it happened. When the band took shape there were twelve of us who'd played in the Pomeroy band. And all of us wanted to make it a classic Herd so bad that we could taste it. We came together in May 1962 and thanks to the invaluable experience with Herb Pomeroy, we knew the importance of proper rehearsing and we knew how to rehearse, which eased the way a lot.'

The Swinging Herd, as it was to be known, did become a classic band to place alongside the First and Second Herds. The combination of the Herman tradition, personified in Woody and Nat Pierce, coupled with the technical expertise of the young Bostonians produced a fierce and polished band capable of turning out classics almost at the drop of a hat.

There were virtuosi in every department. Bill Chase led the trumpets with enormous stamina and he and the more lyrical Paul Fontaine took the trumpet solos. Phil Wilson, soon to be joined by his disciple Henry Southall, played pyrotechnical trombone with a soul fervour that came largely from Vic Dickenson. An unlikely builder's labourer, who was to return to that trade in later times, articulated his tenor solos with a speed previously unheard of. His name was Sal Nistico and he announced himself to the world with a blistering performance on the band's first recording dates on 15 and 16 October 1962. Nat Pierce was fired with enthusiasm and was turning out some of the best writing of his life. He worked out an irresistible version of Horace Silver's Sister Sadie which featured Sal's flashing tenor and swinging, shouting band ensembles as potent as any since the First Herd. Even now, looking back, it is difficult to find a flaw in the band. Jake Hanna was in the Dave Tough-Don Lamond class, bassist Andrus could play faster than anyone Woody had ever had, and Pierce was able to create from the piano any mood that the music required. One of the sensations of that first album was It's A Lonesome Old Town which had Wilson stretching the trombone technique to the outer limits. He also shattered glasses with his bursting solo on the eight minute Camel Walk, a Bill Chase composition which also featured Woody, Chuck and tenorist Gordon Brisker. The band abounded with good jazz soloists who always played as if they meant it. There was never room in a Herman band for hot air men. Phil Wilson told the author 'By 1962, with the sometime exception of Charlie Mingus's music, jazz musicians had turned inwards and become introverted. Woody's extrovert new band knocked some sense into them. Nat was one of the strong influences. He had a wonderful knowledge of Duke Ellington and Basie and deep roots in the big band tradition.'

Nat became the band manager, or straw boss. 'It's a thankless job. No matter what you do, you're always wrong,' he told the author. 'The band leader most times goes on his merry way and leaves you to worry about the band. You have to get the musicians to leave early in case there's a delay from heavy traffic, and they think it will be alright if they leave later. So there's hassle before you've even moved. Then somebody's wile is sick, and you have to find a substitute player for tonight. The bus broke down. Somebody left his trumpet behind. You've got to call ahead for hotel reservations. It's impossible. And it's all wrong. Comes out wrong each time. How can you juggle with 16 or 17 people and move them over hundreds of miles each day and not have things go wrong:?'

The band took up residence at the Metropole in New York. Mainly for drinkers, it wasn't well endowed with space for a band, and the Herd stood on a narrow raised platform behind the bar with the brass lined up to Woody’s left and the saxes and rhythm to his right. It was hard for the brass to hear the saxophones and vice versa. Nevertheless the music was sensational, and nobody fell off the platform.

In December 1962 the band recorded for SESAC again cutting a dozen arrangements by Nat. Phil. Bill Chase and Gene Roland. Nobody could suppress this great band, and once again the music had a vitality that could only be matched by one of the Basie bands. Oddly enough the band included Basie's Freddie Green on guitar, probably at Nat's instigation, because he and Freddie were friends, and also Duke's tenor man Paul Gonsalves, making an unusual but potent substitute lor Sal Nistico.

Moving over to the West Coast, the Herd opened at the Basin Street West in Los Angeles in May 1963 for three nights. Mary Ann McCall and Red Norvo dropped by, and the audience included Sarah Vaughan, Joe Williams, Johnny Mercer and Nat Cole amongst the star visitors. CBS recorded 32 titles from the band's stay, and most of them remain unissued. However eight of them comprised the Encore album that won a Grammy award as the best big band album of the year. The band was booked to play at the Grammy ceremony and had five pieces of music for each category. When the winner in each was announced there was a mad scramble amongst the musicians to find the appropriate chart.

Louis Armstrong had been nominated for an award for his recording ol Hello Dolly, and he played for two hours with his pianist Billy Kyle and Woody. Phil Wilson, Chuck Andrus and,Jake Hanna from the Herd. 'That was the fastest two hours of my musical life', recalled Wilson. 'A joy, an absolute joy!'
Five of the charts on 'Encore' were Nat Pierce's including the original That's Where It Is, a feature for Nat's piano with an effective tag from Silent Night. Nat's arrangement of Days of Wine And Roses invested the Mancini tune with a new elegance and Henry Southall was allowed his head on Watermelon Man and Jazz Me Blues, wherein he trod Wilson country. Phil had his turn on Body And Soul, one of Nat's earlier efforts, which had lovely alto from the Chopper.

In 1964 several interesting new men came in. The eloquent trumpeter Dusko Goykovich became one of the first of a long line of European players to grace the ranks. The tenors changed completely during the year and by September included Gary Klein, Raoul Romero and the brilliant Andy McGhee, all fine soloists. Ex-Dizzy Gillespie vocalist Joe Carroll was also added.

An unpleasant incident occurred when the band was due to play at a country club in Arizona. When the band went to eat at the club it was refused service because Andy McGhee and Joe Carroll were black. 'We walked out of the club, we weren't going to play,' remembered Wilson. 'The manager came over and asked where we were going, so we explained the situation. "What would it take to keep you here?" he asked. "Well," Woody said, "you can fire whoever that was who refused to serve us, and we get a free sit-down meal for the whole band, then we'll stay and play for you, maybe." And we got it. They fired the guy, but that was tokenism, and they'd have taken him back on afterwards.'

On 9 September the band recorded again live at Harrah's Club in the resort of Lake Tahoe. The solo and writing strength was prodigious with a notable Bill Holmun arrangement of Ellington's Just Squeeze Me, a couple of potent Pierce charts, and Phil Wilson's Wa-Wa Blues with a remarkable duet between Phil and Joe Carroll's vocal imitation of a trombone.

As far as recordings were concerned at this period the wild jazz thrashes were most often recorded live, whilst the studio recordings were more disciplined and straight faced. Holman and Pierce each contributed three good charts to the 'My Kind Of Broadway' collection and trumpeter Don Rader, with Woody in 1959, joined Yugoslavian Goykovich in the section and, like Dusko, wrote a chart lor the album.

The band began the regular series of European and later world wide tours which was to continue for the next two decades. The remarkable spirit and the strong solo team impressed audiences everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. On a State Department sponsored tour of Africa the band played a concert before a silent crowd of villagers. Observing the lack of audience reaction Woody pressed on with his normal programme. As the Herd roared to the climax of the last number the audience dispersed as silently as it had come.

Woody was enchanted with the first of his many visits to Poland, his grandfather's homeland, and he renewed friendships made in England with the Anglo American Herd in 1959.

As well as the now annual trips abroad, the Herd remained effective at home. Another trip to the Basin Street West in San Francisco during June 1965 resulted in the 'Woody's Winners' set of recordings which was jazz music of the highest standards. The ten minute version of Opus De Funk out-roared and out-swung the original Capitol version, and the driving band riffs were heralded by an inspiring and lengthy solo from Pierce which culminated in an affectionate display of stride piano. Dry as ever. Woody called for 'a nice round of applause for Mary Lou Williams', little sensing the mine he was planting, for countless reviews of the record noted that Mary Lou had sat in with the band, and there were lengthy arguments in letters columns ('Woody says it's Mary Lou: what more evidence could you want?'). Nat and Man Lou, who found the whole business hilarious, were constantly approached by worried enthusiasts to set the matter straight, but as late as 1984 Mary Lou was still being incorrectly cited as the pianist. Pierce was prominent on another track, Don Rader's steamy Greasy Sack Blues here recorded lor the first time, but subsequently a staple of the band's library along with the more established classies. Bill Chase showed the power of the trumpet section in his abrasive chart 23 Red with Chase, Goykovich and Rader climbing over each other with frantic dexterity. Again Nat swung irresistibly on Woody’s Whistle with righteous wailing from Dusko and Sal Nistico. (A tolerant man. Woody marked the point when that tolerance was about to break, by blowing a whistle. All the musicians respected this device.)

Saddened by what he regarded as the arid futility of the 'ghost' bands — bands which were kept touring the world alter their leaders were long dead, Woody told his family that the Herds would cease to exist when he did. He was determined that there would be no posthumous Woody Herman Band.
While his charm and patience are famous, he is a tough man who expects and gets the best. Only occasionally does irritation show-through. On one occasion when he was auditioning a Spanish trumpet player who was not very good but persisted in proving it at great length, it surfaced. 'For God's sake.' he bellowed, 'does anyone know the Spanish for "stop"?'”

To be continued….

Thursday, October 18, 2018


© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

At the outset, I should confess that the editorial staff at JazzProfiles is a big fan of Joseph Epstein and avidly seeks out his op-eds whenever they appear in The Wall Street Journal.

This is not necessarily a reflection of its political bias, but rather, an indication of its continuing interest in the art of good writing and in interesting and novel points of view.

As regards the latter, Mr. Epstein has a new book out and it is brilliantly reviewed by Thomas Vinciguerra in the Oct. 11, 2018 edition of The Wall Street Journal.

After reading the criteria for what constitutes charming according to Mr. Epstein, we are in the process of developing a list of charming Jazz musicians. Would you be surprised to learn that Miles Davis isn’t on it?

Who would you include and exclude from a charming list of Jazz musicians?

‘Charm’ Review: The Most Pleasing Personality

“In the presence of charm, the world seems lighter and lovelier.”


By Joseph Epstein
Lyons, 187 pages, $24.95
“There was no avoiding it. On page 26 of Joseph Epstein’s excursion into the nature of charm, there popped up the character of Anthony Blanche from “Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh (who, Mr. Epstein notes, was “as comically uncharming as possible”). And so the voice of Nickolas Grace, who played Blanche — the stuttering homosexual Oxford aesthete — in the epic 1981 Granada Television production of “Brideshead,” kept echoing in my head. As I recall, every other word that passed from his rouged lips was “charming”—pronounced, with maximum loucheness, CHAAH-ming.

That aural cue was a pleasant companion to Mr. Epstein’s equally pleasant volume. Unlike tiresome sophists, Mr. Epstein doesn’t dogmatically define his terms. Rather, in keeping with his subtitle, “The Elusive Enchantment,” he spins elegantly around his subject. “Charm is magic of a kind; it casts a spell,” he writes. “In the presence of charm, the world seems lighter and lovelier.” Similarly, “charm is a form of pleasure. One is charmed by another person’s looks or personality or general artfulness of presentation.”

Within more or less discrete chapters, Mr. Epstein proceeds seamlessly to and fro, demonstrating — through example and instruction — who and what is charming and, equally important, who and what isn’t. Who’s charming? Duke Ellington, Nora Ephron and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Who’s not? Bill Clinton, John McEnroe and Barbara Walters. What’s charming? Fedoras, good quips and maturity. What’s not? Baseball caps, stubble and “cool” in general.

In teasing out his extended theme, Mr. Epstein takes some unexpected turns. Who would have thought there could be such a thing as a “vulgar charmer”? But the author presses the case for Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason and Louis Prima while arguing, with equal plausibility, against Larry David, Zero Mostel and Don Rickles. Mr. Epstein’s take on Dean Martin (who makes the cut) is spot on: “When he sang about the moon hitting your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore, something about him supplied a subtext that read, ‘Can you believe people pay me to sing such crap?’ ” That’s vulgar charm, folks.

But be warned: “Charm, like cashmere, can wear thin.” Witness the downward spirals of such renowned charmers as Tallulah Bankhead, Lillian Hellman and Oscar Wilde.

Mr. Epstein, who for 23 years was the editor of the American Scholar and is a frequent contributor to these pages, sure knows how to quote. I was hoping he would cite Albert Camus from “The Fall,” and he didn’t disappoint: “You know what charm is: A way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question.”

Mr. Epstein has long been an engaging familiar essayist and, as does any good Montaigne, he talks about himself. At one point he asks, “Am I charming?” He doubts it. Still, a publisher once took him to an expensive restaurant and emailed the next morning that “our conversation was so enjoyable that he couldn’t remember any of the wonderful food he had eaten.”

My quibbles (is “trifles” more charming?) here are few. Charm is a pretty broad and subjective notion. Slim though this volume is, there’s sometimes a sense of straining, as if Mr. Epstein were casting too wide a gossamer net.
Some of his inclusions are dubious. He considers the sour Oscar Levant charming; “fascinating” is probably better. Johnny Carson? For all of his 30 years behind his desk at “The Tonight Show,” he was at best reassuring or appealing. Why devote more than four pages to Alcibiades’ charms and fewer than three to Casanova’s?

Mr. Epstein also misses a few chances to sweeten this rich spotted dog of a book with some extra raisins. I would have liked to hear more about FDR’s legendary charm—especially how he thought he could charm Stalin at Tehran, and how the dictator arguably out-charmed him.

Unmentioned entirely is Ben Bradlee, the Harvard-educated, French-speaking, Turnbull & Asser-wearing, grittily street-smart and profanity-spewing editor of the Washington Post, who once at a formal dinner party ground out his cigarettes in a demitasse cup. “Bradlee was one of the few persons,” wrote Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, “who could pull that kind of thing off and leave the hostess saying how charming he was.”

Whither charm? Mr. Epstein isn’t optimistic. “I would argue that there is something about the current age that is, if not outright anti-charm, not especially partial to charm as an ideal.” This he ascribes to the Me Decade, rampant therapy and a tendency to let it all hang out. As he puts it, “The charming person asks, ‘How may I please?’; the therapeutic patient or person asks, ‘How do I please myself?’ The charming person looks outward; the therapeutic person inward.”

Somewhere in this world, there may be a Prince Charming. This much is certain: When it comes to belles-lettres — oh, what a charming word! — Mr. Epstein is king.”

—Mr. Vinciguerra is the author of “Cast of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber, and the Golden Age of The New Yorker.”