Woody Herman 50th Reunion Band | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Woody Herman 50th Reunion Band


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Fifty-one years ago, the adventurous swing bandleader Woody Herman made a left turn, assembling an orchestra to replace his "Band That Played the Blues"; the new one, which came to be known as the First Herd and lasted two seasons, played a major role in channeling the then-young idiom of bebop into the jazz mainstream. Herman himself played a middling clarinet, sounded a little better on alto sax, and occasionally sang (with a level of blues feeling that not many other white musicians ever attained). He wrote only a few tunes, and even fewer arrangements; nonetheless, the orchestra was his major instrument: he assembled one band after another of brilliant soloists and allowed hot young arrangers to shape their sounds and directions almost until his death in 1987. Among the soloists who graced Herman's various Herds: tenor men Stan Getz, Gene Ammons, and Flip Phillips; the innovative baritone saxist Serge Chaloff; trumpeter Red Rodney and trombonist Bill Harris; vibraphonist Terry Gibbs; and bassist Chubby Jackson. The arrangers included Jimmy Giuffre, who wrote the anthemic "Four Brothers"--made famous for a new generation by the Manhattan Transfer--and Neal Hefti, who went on to arrange for Count Basie and in the 60s used a Day-Glo version of bebop harmony to write the theme for TV's Batman. But Herman aficionados reserve their greatest accolades for Ralph Burns, one of half a dozen early Herdsmen who will headline this carefully conceived tribute. Burns's arrangements brought a compact focus to the Herd's bebop, but he also excelled at extended composition and the powerful blending of delicate tonal colors--virtues that found their greatest voice in his "Summer Sequence," the rarely heard four-part suite that will top this program. Other original Herdsmen on the bill include the brother trumpeters Conte and Pete Candoli, pianist Lou Levy, and the maverick guitarist Billy Bauer. (The concert is sponsored by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, on whose board this writer sits.) Thursday, August 29, 7:30 PM, Merle Reskin Theatre, DePaul University, 60 E. Balbo; 427-1676.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photos of Ralph Burns; Candoli Brothers.

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