[Dixielandjazz] Woody Herman

ROBERT R. CALDER serapion at btinternet.com
Sun Dec 23 16:16:21 PST 2012

I have a couple of memories of Woody Herman in Scotland, the first being where he played in the now alas closed ODEON cinema in Renfield Street, Glasgow, with a terrific band whose career seems to fit precisely into the one hole in the chronology of Woody's discography.  In those days there was a first house and a second house, as there had been in the same venue with the anazing 1967 Ellington band, which filled the venue twice. Not so Woody, not so much later. There were a few of us spread across the upper level with at the first side a man out of sight in the dark who let out a strange cry at the end of every tenor solo. 

Cecil Payne was on baritone, but the amazing soloist was Joe Alexander, whom I remember from that time in my raw youth as having more Lester Young in his playing than the little I've been able to hear of him on record -- very little, since he died I believe in the course of heart surgery not much later. The young pianist in that band, Al Dailey, also didn't last long enough 

It really was an impressive band, and my standards and range of interest in those days were not so far from what might be expected on this site. 

Woody was brought back some years later,  to a now demolished cinema uphill on the same street. 

Duke Ellington played there on his last tour of UK, when I was in Edinburgh, and I bought a ticket for each show. Each "house" as it was called, in the Edinburgh venue into which he couldn't be booked some years before, because of a supposed risk: the city authorities who owned the place jacked up hall charges for the booker, on the basis of damage caused during a concert by a quartet which might have been called neo-Lennonist). 

I read reviews of the disappointing Glasgow performance, and reports of empty seats.
Woody's band had this feature in which two trumpeters went into the auditorium and sounded off from the back corners. 

They walked up and down the side aisles (realising how far they'd walked when they got there) and tried to do it even less than half-way back, but it didn't work. 

That, as Ken Mathieson will know, was the building called Green's Playhouse, and between the cinema ceiling and the roof of the building George Chisholm began his musical career in a ballroom --  a large ballroom. 

The capacity of the cinema was four and a half thousand. 
The fact seemed to have been lost on the reviewer who spoke of the Ellington band playing a half-empty house. 
Poor audience -- less than nine thousand? 

I can't say whether that fazed the Ellington musicians,  but other than the trumpeters nearly going missing nobody gave up. 

There is the tale of the young lady who refuses to kiss the frog, because he's really a jazz musician cursed by a witch, and she's a financial adviser and knows he's better off as a frog. 

And there is the sadder tale of all those Woody Herman fans cursing the dark matter that passed for Woody's financial adviser!
Not to mention Woody's unrealised wish to record with Pee Wee Russell 

Robert R. Calder 

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