[Dixielandjazz] Woody Herman documentary reviewed - Hartford Courant

Steve Voce stevevoce at virginmedia.com
Sun Dec 23 01:43:33 PST 2012

I reviewed this for Jazz Journal:

A film by Graham Carter (110 minutes)

Jazzed Media DVD JM9005

It's some time since I enjoyed two hours so much. Graham Carter's film 
of Woody Herman's career succeeds on so many counts. It sits beside the 
few outstanding films about bandleaders -- one thinks of notable 
depictions of Shaw, Quincy Jones and Teagarden. If only someone could do 
the same for Basie and some of the others....
   The opening titles include a copious list of chapters, and it's 
because the story flows so smoothly between these chapters (from the mid 
'30s to the mid '80s) that one sits spellbound from the opening to the 
close. Along the way Herman's character is rounded out as his sidemen 
confirm that he was a kind and generous man, a vital link between his 
musicians and their audience, an imaginative band leader, an unsurpassed 
and instinctive editor of his writers' works, a superb alto player, a 
much better clarinettist than you might think and a jazzman whose 
mission in life was to give a platform to new and young talent. Not much 
for one man, eh?
   The work that Carter has put in to amassing and editing his material 
is remarkable and one might think that a large production team has been 
involved. However, Mr Carter has form. His were the vivid 'A Life in E 
Flat' on Phil Woods and 'Against the Tide' for Bud Shank. He also 
created one that I haven't seen - 'Artistry in Rhythm' - to cover you 
know who.
   He's been assiduous in interviewing anyone that's left, and that 
means 35 musicians and historians like Dan Morgenstern and Bill Clancy 
(Clancy wrote the finest book on Herman). But for me the great pleasure 
is seeing close up on camera people like Ralph Burns, Phil Wilson, Nat 
Pierce and Med Flory. There are also many clips from interviews with 
Woody himself over the years. The voluble Terry Gibbs is a valuable 
contributor and there's much wisdom from a variety of people including 
Bill Holman, John Fedchock and so on.
   The collection of music is good, with much reliance on a 
comprehensive full colour 1976 television broadcast from Iowa. This has 
a fine Four Brothers and Alan Broadbent's remarkable 12-minute 
exposition of Blues in the Night (nobody should need reminding what a 
fine singer Woody was). There's a vintage Lemon Drop by the Second Herd 
with Gibbs and a splendid I've Got News for You. The First Herd was 
sadly never properly done on film, so there's no Flip Phillips and no 
more than a mention of the Candolis. One brief Bill Harris solo and 
mentions only of Fontana and Urbie Green because of course the Third 
Herd didn't get much on camera either. Never mind, the whole thing has 
tremendous atmosphere and there's enough typical Herman music to make 
sure that the time flies by.
   Incidentally the 'includes almost 400 rare photographs' claim 
mightn't sound sensational. But the truth is these pictures are 
absorbing and, surprisingly to someone who's been a lifelong fan of 
Woody's, they are largely new to me. They have also been beautifully 
   Most importantly, this is the kind of DVD that you'll want to watch 
again...and again.
                                   Steve Voce

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