© -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  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 sixth and concluding chapter of Steve’s insightful and illuminating work on the most influential bands of Woody Herman’s illustrious career.
From 1963 on the Herman hand was more or less continuously in business. There was a constant tide in and out of the hand as musicians left, returned and left again. As we have seen the cost of moving such a large group of men about the world was high, and there were also hidden payouts that Herman had to make over the years as a result of confusion over managerial contracts — often he found himself paying two groups of people for the same service. Always an honourable man with the highest reputation, he was sometimes stricken with less than efficient management, and the resultant financial problems tended to emerge after the perpetrator of them had left. The low point of such matters occurred when the police came to see him backstage at the Newport Jazz festival as the result of his manager's failure to settle a long standing bill with a local bus company.
All these costs added up, and what was left emphasised the historical fact that being a sideman in a big band on the road is not the best paid job. The musicians had to settle their own hotel bills in addition to the expense of running their homes. This led to a high turnover in the ranks, with men constantly quitting when they found jobs at home.
But there were advantages in the shifting personnel. Once more Herman tapped a continuing and remarkable lode of young players, as well as attracting returning veterans like Carl Fontana and Sal Nistico. Trumpeter Bill Byrne joined in late 1963 and has stayed for two decades so far. Youngsters of the finest kind, jazz stars of the future once again proliferated in the ranks — saxophonists Bob Pierson, Frank Vicari, Al Gibbons, Roger .Neumann, Joe Romano were all great tenor soloists and dazzling technicians. Joe Temperley from Scotland had new things to say in his hard driving baritone sax style, part Harry Carney, part Temperley. He was eventually succeeded by the great bebop veteran Cecil Payne. Young Bill Watrous joined the returning Henry Southall and veteran Bob Burgess in the trombones, and the tasteful and inventive pianist Al Dailey joined in 1967. The band starred at that year's Monterey Festival and recorded Bill Holman's prodigious suite Concerto For Herd, a masterpiece spoiled by poor recording quality. Woody played soprano on The Horn of The Fish, another Holman composition. He came to the instrument after hearing John Coltrane play it in a club one night. Next day Woody went out and bought one, quickly mastering the awkward beast — although it had been made easier to play since the days when only Sidney Bechet and Johnny Hodges could cope with it. The Monterey set was recorded for Verve. Woody had left CBS earlier that year and in 1968 signed lor the Chess company, tor whom he appeared on their Cadet label.
Always ready to explore new ideas, the band followed the rush into electronic rhythm sections and the blending of traditional Herman brass and reed sections with electric piano, bass and guitar dismayed some of the older fans but, in the traditional line of Herman philosophy, brought in the young audience to whom the rock beat was the key to unlock the music.
The band recorded a group of pop songs of the day as their first contribution to Cadet, and the album was issued under the title Light My Fire. The Monterey band had by this time, October 1968, given way to an almost completely new line up. Ex-Blakey Messengers pianist John Hicks teamed with drummer Ed Soph in the rhythm section. Soph was to be another recurrent Hermanite. The trumpets blasted McArthur Park and Sal Nistico was wreathed with echo for Hush, the Deep Purple number. Woody featured on a delicate outsider, Impression Of Strayhorn.
Bill Chase returned to the trumpets in time for the next Cadet album, Heavy Exposure when Donny Hathaway on organ and two extra percussionist were added to the band. Nistico and Chase fought their way through it all and Bob Burgess played some good improvisations over the new style rhythm. But the good charts were weighted down by that very heavy section.
Help was at hand, and three remarkable young musicians once more appeared to change the direction the band took — trumpeters Tony Klatka and Bill Stapleton and the brilliant young New Zealander, Alan Broadbent. Broadbent was a most imaginative and skilful arranger and although he didn't stay long as the band's pianist, he contributed a string of fine arrangements to the Herd over the years. He wrote all but one of the arrangements on an album called simply Woody and they included a remarkable fourteen minute reworking of Blues in the Night which displayed Alan, Sal Nistico and Tony Klatka as soloists.
By the time Woody signed for the Fantasy label in 1972, Harold Danko had charge of the electric piano and Tom Anastas, who had been with the band on baritone in the sixties, returned. Greg Herbert and Frank Tiberi were on tenors, and both were to be major soloists in the ensuing years, with Tiberi taking charge of Woody's instruments (Woody rarely warms up and Frank's job, in addition to keeping the horns in good repair, included wetting the reeds and handing the horns to Woody as he walked on stage). The first album was The Raven Speaks mixing pop music with jazz, and producing traditional blues shout ups and a reworking of Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man which for some reason became entitled Sandia Chicano.
The second album for Fantasy, the 1973 Giant Steps, saw the band firmly back on a jazz path with a set of dazzling arrangements by Stapleton, Broadbent and Klatka. Jim Pugh, a young trombonist in the best Herman tradition, played lead and took poised and supple solos, while Andy Laverne took over the keyboards. Laverne brought a new concept to the electronics, widening the sound colours without compromising the music, and at last the rhythm meshed properly with the horns. He lashed the band along on Chick Corea's La Fiesta, which also used Greg Herbert on piccolo along with Tiberi on tenor and Woody's soprano. Pugh played a thoughtful Meaning Of The Blues and Broadbent had one of his most inventive compositions recorded in BeBop And Roses, an imposing exercise in retrospection. The title track, originally a juggernaut exercise for composer John Coltrane, emerged as a chase for Tiberi and Herbert, finally confirming their abilities as outstanding soloists.
Coltrane was represented again on the Thundering Herd album from 1974 when Klatka arranged the haunting Naima and Stapleton did Trane's Lazy Bird. Klatka also wrote the fine Blues For Poland recorded at this session and featuring in addition to Laverne and the composer, the excellent Czech baritone saxist Jan Konopasek.
Poland continued to attract Woody and he returned there in 1976 with a band crammed with prodigious stars. Pugh, Tiberi and Byrne were still there, with Tiberi now playing bassoon to add to tenor and flute. Alongside him was tenorist Gary Anderson, who wrote some formidable charts for the library. A new source of sidemen suddenly opened up. In 1975 Herman had played a jazz festival in Wichita and had heard a trio composed of students from the North Texas State University. This comprised Lyle Mays on keyboards, Kirby Stewart on bass and drummer Steve Houghton. Woody was most impressed and, since he had decided he needed to change the whole attitude of the rhythm section in the band, he took the trio on en bloc.
'It turned out to be a good thing for the school,' bassist Marc Johnson told the author. 'Whenever any of the guys left Woody's rhythm section, they would recommend someone else from North Texas, so we had an open channel to the rhythm section.'
Marc himself eventually joined Woody. 'It was another gradient in my career, because the level of consistency which was demanded of you was quite remarkable. Later, when I joined the Bill Evans Trio, I found the experience with Woody indispensable. I couldn't have done the gig with Bill if it hadn't been for that. Woody's book is so diverse. There are so many styles and idioms that you're asked to play, and to play well, that it's a real challenge. You had to master swing from the forties and the contemporary rock beat and at the same time bend to fit in with such a large group of musicians.'
Back from Europe, the band returned to Carnegie Hall on 20 November 1976 to celebrate Woody's 40th anniversary as a bandleader. It had taken Woody and his manager Hermie Dressel three months to organise the concert, and a representative selection of the hundreds of ex Herdsmen appeared along with the contemporary band. Nat Pierce sat in for his chart of Apple Honey, joined by Flip Phillips, Jim Pugh, Phil Wilson, Pete Candoli and Don Lamond, and backed Flip on Sweet And Lovely. The Four Brothers were Jimmy Giuffre, Stan Getz, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, and Mary Ann McCall was there to recreate Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams with Nat. Bill Harris was commemorated as Jim Pugh played Everywhere and Phil Wilson Bijou. Getz was as elegant as ever with Early Autumn, Blue Serge and Blue Getz Blues with Ralph Burns on piano for Autumn. Cohn, Giuffre and Getz were backed by pianist Jimmy Rowles on Cousins and the Candoli brothers shared the Klatka chart of Brotherhood Of Man. The young Herd was on good form, and contributed two more recent hits, Broadbent's Blues In The Night chart and Gary Anderson's rock-propelled version of Copeland's Fanfare for The Common Man, even more inspiring in Woody's version, dare it be said, than in Copeland's original! This was an emotional occasion, as one might imagine, and fortunately it was captured for posterity on record. Woody was so carried away that he even forgot to play Woodchopper's Ball.
Four months later, in March 1977, came a dreadful contrast to the anniversary. Woody was driving through Kansas when he fell asleep at the wheel and collided with an oncoming car. His injuries were so serious that there were fears for his life, and it seemed out of the question that he would ever lead the band again. Apart from injuries to his body, one of his legs was horribly mangled. As the anxious weeks went by he showed his resilience and his life was no longer in danger. When the weeks turned to months his determination to pull through had him moving gingerly with the help of a walker, and then, incredibly, in late 1977, he was not only back with the band, but the walker became a familiar sight all over Europe as he led the band on tour.
At the beginning of 1978 the band recorded for Century with a galaxy of guest arrangers including Chick Corea, Vic Feldman, Ralph Burns and regulars Stapleton, Anderson and Broadbent, and at the same time cut an album of ballads featuring Flip Phillips on tenor with an added string section.
By now the Monterey Festival was almost synonymous with Herman's name. The roots of the band had really been on the California coast since Woody made his home there in the forties. Los Angeles was full of off-the-road Herdsmen — Nat Pierce, Bill Berry, Bill Perkins, Shorty Rogers, the Candolis, and in addition there was a pool of brilliant young musicians who worked in the Hollywood studios.
Big bands of a very high standard proliferated in the city, led by Frankie Capp and Nat Pierce, Bill Berry, Roger Neumann, Bill Holman, Bob Florence and many others. But these were static, not touring bands like the Herd.
Up north in Concord, wealthy entrepreneur Carl Jefferson had been developing a fine jazz record label as well as his flourishing automobile business. He had issued albums by the best of the West Coast musicians, restricting himself firstly to small groups. But he was anxious to start a big band catalogue, and was fortunate to find the Frankie Capp-Nat Pierce Juggernaut and the Bill Berry LA Big Band more or less on his doorstep. His issues by these bands were immensely successful, with Juggernaut's first album topping the polls in Europe for many months.
To the Berry and Capp-Pierce bands it must have seemed that they were on their way to international status. But fate had it that Nat's old boss had left Fantasy and didn't have a record company. Jefferson moved in surely to begin a lasting and, in Herman terms, very important association between Woody and Concord. Berry and Capp-Pierce were caught in the backwash and there were no more albums from them as Woody's became the house band. Jefferson was obviously determined to promote his new star properly and the albums the band made added top guest stars, and Woody fronted other groups made up from local stars or former sidemen. With no expense spared in production and the band maintaining its normal high standards the albums could hardly fail.
The first one was done on 15 September 1979 at Monterey. In a remarkable example of hedging his bet, Jefferson recorded Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Slide Hampton and Woody Shaw with the band with Getz as bewitching as ever in the Broadbent chart What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life? But the band was not outshone by the guests, and Frank Tiberi had another Coltrane tune, Countdown, in an arrangement with Frank and Bob Belden on tenors. Dave Lalama, the band's pianist, also followed in the tradition of pianist-arrangers and featured with Woody and baritone Gary Smulyan on Duke's I Got It Bad, which Dave had arranged. Slide Hampton arranged two of Dizzy's compositions, Woody 'n' You and Manteca to feature the composer and guests along with drummer Ed Soph.
While the recording side of things went well, the touring band business was very much in decline as the eighties began and even the perennial Count Basie, by now doyen of the bandleaders, was feeling the pinch. As the 'name' leaders of the sixties and seventies parked their buses, Woody cleverly switched the emphasis of the band's work to schools and from the late seventies on as much as 80 per cent was in teaching clinics at colleges throughout America. Woody had initially been persuaded into this field by Stan Kenton, who so imaginatively developed the idea of a jazz clinic. Woody quickly grew to love this kind of work and found that it was good for both the students and the men in the band. It was also financially rewarding and was vital in keeping the Herd together. At that same 1979 Monterey Festival he led a contingent from the California All-Star High School band. A portfolio of 27 of the Herd's arrangements was produced for use in the clinics.
But still costs rose inexorably. The band had to earn $18,000 a week just to keep its head above water, and although the sidemen were making between $300 and $450 a week, expenses on the road had to come out of that.
Much of the strain was taken off Woody by his expert manager Hermie Dressel, and Bill Byrne took care of the road manager's headaches. Woody paced himself sensibly and tried to keep the overnight hops to under 400 miles. He still had pain from his accident, although he claimed to have got used to the clank of the steel rod supporting the various fractures in his leg.
With some fanfare the Herman band took over a club in New Orleans in which Woody had an interest. The idea was for the band to be permanently resident there, and indeed the Chopper was justly honoured by being made King Of The Zulus at the Mardi Gras celebrations. But the venture began as the world recession deepened, and the idea was not a success.
Back on the West Coast, Jefferson pressed ahead with his ideas for Woody, and shifted his outdoor recordings to his own Concord Festival. In 1981 he brought him back to head a group which included two former Herman stars, Jake Hanna and Dave McKenna along with Dick Johnson, Cal Tjader and youngsters Scott Hamilton, Cal Collins, Warren Vache and Bob Maize. Oddly enough the presence of Japanese clarinettist Eiji Kitamura on this session emphasised the heat and potency of Herman's playing and showed once again what a fine jazz soloist he was and is. In July of that year Woody flew to New York for a session with half a dozen old timers from the Herd. This was a four tenor front line with Al Cohn, Sal Nistico, Bill Perkins, Flip Phillips, John Bunch, George Duvivier and Don Lamond. The music was vigorous and energetic with a tasteful selection of early hits including Tiny's Blues, Four Others, Not Really the Blues and The Goof And I, along with a fine new Cohn composition, Woody's Lament. In such bustling company Woody restricted himself to playing alto on Tenderly. It was notable, as was confirmed in succeeding years, that Flip Phillips's playing was getting better and better.
Stan Getz and Al Cohn returned to guest with the band at the 1982 Concord Festival, and by now there was another new and splendid pianist/arranger, John Oddo, who wrote four of the compositions on the subsequent Concord album and arranged most of the others. Bill Holman contributed Midnight Run which featured Woody, Bill Stapleton on flugelhorn and a new ebullient character on trumpet, George Rabbai. Bill also wrote the band arrangement of The Dolphin to showcase Getz. Lemon Drop reappeared after many years with Rabbai singing the bop vocal and Cohn particularly on form. New names and good soloists abounded as usual — John Fedchock on trombone, Randy Russell and Bill Ross on tenors and Oddo himself at the piano. The album received a Grammy nomination.
In September 1982 the band toured Japan. Stapleton was replaced by Bill Byrne who had missed the Concord Festival, as indeed had Frank Tiberi who now came back to replace Russell. The band had always been so popular in Japan that its presence on its own was enough to fill the various halls, but Al Cohn, Med Flory, Sal Nistico and Flip Phillips had been added to the tour as guests, and the success was overwhelming. The Concord album which resulted showed the usual exotic mixture of titles, with standards like Four Brothers and Rader's Greasy Sack Blues alongside Chick Corea's Crystal Silence, Flip's The Claw (for the tenors) and Oddo's chart of Rockin’ Chair with a good humoured vocal duet between George Rabbai and Woody and space for Rabbai to tread Armstrong ground with his trumpet solo.
Back in the States the band recorded for Concord with Rosemary Clooney, another of the label's big successes. John Oddo wrote all of the arrangements save one, and the session offered a fine chance to hear the quality of the section work. It seems likely that Oddo is to tread the paths made by Ralph Burns and Nat Pierce, because his writing for the band has great substance and depth. Miss Clooney is fortunate in having such support, as an ear bent to the arrangement of Summer Knows will demonstrate.
The big band was working mainly out West as 1984 drew to a close, and Woody began 1985 by taking a small group of alumni into New York's St Regis Hotel. Among the names he planned to use were Carl Fontana, John Bunch, Al Cohn, Flip Phillips and Jake Hanna.
Then disaster struck. It had been discovered that there were huge tax irregularities in the band's affairs of the middle sixties, at a time when the manager Abe Turchen looked after the money. It transpired that Turchen had set money aside for payment to the Internal Revenue Service (including the tax due from the individual musicians) and instead of paying it over had gambled it all away. By the time all this came to light Turchen had died and Woody was held responsible for the full amount and was in grave danger of being sent to jail. The I.R.S. has been relentless in pursuing the old man for the full amount and he has to keep working to pay them or risk having all his possessions seized (there is currently a rumour that the Service is trying to seize the Hollywood home that Woody and Charlotte bought from Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall back in the forties).
It is a sad commentary on the American way of doing things that an honourable man should be hounded and have his last years over-shadowed by reprisals for something that was not of his doing. Surely there must be someone in authority who could write the matter off and leave Woody to enjoy a peaceful old age.
Although he was obviously suffering from severe exhaustion Woody toured Europe in the summer of 1985 with a magnificent group of all stars: Harry Edison on trumpet, Buddy Tate and Al Cohn on tenors, John Bunch on piano, bassist Steve Wallace and drummer Jake Hanna. The music was magnificent with Cohn and Tate particularly striking sparks from each other. Woody, not a hundred per cent fit, had lost some of his fluency on clarinet, but he showed on I've Got The World On A String his vocal abilities were little impaired—the breakneck Caldonia would have thrown a Jon Hendricks, never mind Woody! The musicians in the band showed great concern for the leader and Buddy Tale in particular took care of Woody and his affairs.
Woody had a big band ready for the beginning of 1986, the year of his 50th anniversary as a bandleader. The new library drew heavily on Ellington material and the new Herd was every bit as skilled and effective as the earlier ones. It was notable that the old man's clarinet playing had recovered from the frailly that had been noticeable in his work at the 1985 Nice Jazz Festival. Although it was not to go away and would remain with him for life, he seemed to be philosophical about the burden of his tax problems.
Woody Herman and his Herds have conquered the hemispheres, and his bands are as popular throughout Asia as they are in Europe, as much in demand to work in Los Angeles as in New York. Herman goes on and claims, as he says in the letter to the author printed elsewhere in this book, that he is too old to retire. There is an old adage that if you always want to look young, you should hang around with very old people. Herman has achieved that end by reversing the formula. He always works with young people. One of the greatest achievements of any Herd is the potent dispensation of energy. Energy comes best from young people, but with the experience of the old coach to guide them, it is always deployed to maximum effect.
Of course, you must have the right young people, and one of Herman's talents is in spotting potential greatness in a player before anyone else does (Charlie Parker had this ability as instanced by the way in which he selected the apparently musically incoherent Miles Davis for his group — Parker knew then about Miles what we all know now). Another important quality is Woody's unerring ability to edit a performance on the stand. He knows exactly when to cut a soloist off or, if the man is in full flight and likely to add something constructive, when to let him take an extra couple of choruses without destroying the balance of the arrangement. He looks forward, hates to look back, and if you ask him which was the best band he ever had he'll answer 'The next one'.
On the face of it the formula is fairly simple. Take a team of good soloists, add some good section leaders, a rhythm section with roots, some good writers and a player-coach. Anyone could do it.
Or could they? Phil Wilson's thought is a wise one.
'Nobody does what Woody does as well as he does. If we could only figure out what it is he does . . .'”
Woody Herman died in 1987.