[Dixielandjazz] Woody Herman - Redux

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Nov 1 09:02:44 PST 2003

Let me clarify the opinions about Woody Herman's playing. And how his
sidemen viewed him.

Woody throughout his life communicated through his horn in the musical
language of the 1920s and early 1930s.

But, by the 1940s he had formed bands that communicated musically
through much more modern musical language. Perhaps the best example if
the Herd with the "Four Brothers", circa 1947-48. That band had reedmen
Al Cohn, Stan Getz, Serge Chaloff, Zoot Sims and the fifth guy, Herbie

So in that band you had Herman soloing in 1920/30s language and the rest
of the reeds soloing in the language of Lester Young, Charlie Parker et
al. The band, a GREAT band, was one of the most modern big jazz bands of
the era thanks to arranger Ralph Burns. Woody, as a player did not fit
into that band.  A similar situation today would be if you made Woody
ALLEN the leader of Maynard Ferguson's band, or leader of a Stan Kenton
Ghost Band.

Herman as a player remain firmly rooted in the past, but he led bands
firmly rooted in the future. And he had GREAT MODERN players in the
various Herds. So there was a bit of a dichotomy in the viewpoint of the
sidemen to the leader.

Thus the "Joke", someone pointing to Herman walking down the street
circa 1947 and saying: "There, but for Ralph Burns, goes Ted Lewis."

Did Herman do some wonderful things during his playing career?  Of
course. But he did not at all fit into his "modern herds", especially
the Four Brothers herd. He knew it, and they knew it.

Steve Barbone

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