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HERMAN, Woody: Thundering Herd

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'The Thundering Herd' Original Recordings 1945-1947

The end of World War II witnessed a change inAmerica's place in the world. Thanks to itsresounding success in defeating the Axis forces,the U.S. emerged from the war as a world power:proud, potent, and pulsating with creativeenergy. Just as Patton's Third Army wasmarching across Europe, a smaller but no lesspowerful army of musicians was making its firstrecordings for Columbia Records. The newWoody Herman orchestra typified the directionAmericans were heading: taking chances,swinging hard, and combining the stagnating bigband sound with exciting new charts penned byyoung Turks experimenting with the sounds ofbebop. Between 1945 and 1947, there was noorchestra, black or white, which could measureup to the heat generated by what became knownas 'The Thundering Herd'. The nickname wasapt; the Herman band was like a herd of wildbuffalo, thundering its way through virginmusical territory, unstoppable and brimmingwith enthusiasm. In fact, the spirit of the bandwas so great that sheer instrumental volumewasn't enough; the Herman band oftenheightened its musical frenzy with shouts,screams, and shrieks from its talented crew.

Herman's previous band, known as 'TheBand that Plays the Blues', had been decimatedas member after member was drafted into thearmy. Herman had felt the band was stifling anddecided to expand its scope, using musical voicespatterned after the Duke Ellington orchestra.

The key elements to Herman's Herd wouldbecome fiery rhythm, superb soloists, andinnovative arrangements.

The rhythm section of pianist Ralph Burns,guitarist Billy Bauer, bassist Chubby Jackson, anddrummer Davey Tough anchored the band'ssound and kept it swinging. Jackson was thecheerleader of the outfit: cajoling, screaming,and encouraging the musicians on every song.

Burns, along with trumpeter Neal Hefti, provideddistinctive, modern arrangements. Burns burnedout early as the band's pianist and principlearranger, often resorting to Benzedrine to stayawake during all-night arranging sessions.

The soloists were led by the swaggering tenorsax of Flip Phillips and the ferocious trombone ofBill Harris. Other standouts during this periodincluded high-note trumpet players SonnyBerman and Pete Candoli, vibraphonist MargieHyams, and Herman's own high-flying clarinet.

This compilation features some of the bestand most exciting sounds of the Woody Hermanorchestra between 1945 and 1947. BassistChubby Jackson compared the Herd to theChicago Bears. 'It was charge-through-the-brickwalljazz', he was fond of saying, and the earlyrecordings for Columbia were the musicalequivalent of the Big Bad Wolf, blowing downevery house in town.

One of the first songs they recorded wasApple Honey, named for an ingredient thatsupposedly enhanced the flavor of Old Goldcigarettes, the sponsor of Herman's radio show.

According to Ralph Burns, the song was basicallya head arrangement in the style of DukeEllington. Flip Phillips takes the first solofollowed by a blustery chorus by Bill Harris,accompanied by screams from the rest of theband. Woody Herman was an underratedsoloist; he positively glistens in his brief passage.

The song is capped off by the hysterical hightrumpetplaying of Pete Candoli followed by adisjointed, deliberately reckless ending.

Candoli's reputation as a superchargedsoloist prompted his wife to fit him with aSuperman costume, which he once wore to aconcert at New York's Paramount Theater.

During Apple Honey, Candoli, in costume, camesliding down a wire from a balcony to land just intime to play the bridge.

Herman said that he gave Bijou the subtitleRhumba a la jazz because 'I was trying to explainwhy we were abusing the Latin rhythm. I guessyou might call this a stone age bossa nova.' Thesong is a showpiece for the trombone of BillHarris. Caldonia, a song associated with jumpblues saxophonist/bandleader Louis Jordan, wasthrown together in a head arrangement the daybefore it was recorded. It's highlighted by astartling solo by Bill Harris on valve trombone, aDizzy Gillespie-inspired unison trumpet passagedesigned by Neal Hefti, and Woody's ownidiosyncratic vocal. The recording was Herman'sfirst for Columbia, cut in New York's venerableLiederkranz Hall on East 58th Street, a favoritefacility for jazz and dance bands.

The beginning of Goosey Gander is based onthe old folk song \Shortnin' Bread", but it thenmeanders into a swaggering blues, with Phillips,Harris, and Candoli taking solos.

Along with Apple Honey and Caldonia,Northwest Passage was based on the chords to"I Got Rhythm". The song starts off like aGoodman sextet number but then after a FlipPhillips solo, the brass pushes the momentum toa riff-soaked conclusion, with Chubby Jackson'sbass pounding underneath.

Neal Hefti's The Good Earth is a tour deforce for Phillips; listen for a musical tug-of-waras he battles with the brass section. By this time,Pete Candoli's younger brother Conte, no slouchhimself on the trumpet, had also joined the bandat the tender age of eighteen.

With its nonsensical vocal chorus, YourFather's Moustache shows the Herd's loosesense of humour at work. Substituting forTough on this song is Buddy Rich, who rides therhythm underneath a quirky solo by SonnyBerman. Bill Harris devised the melody and theensemble passage is credited to Neal Hefti.

Wild Root, a Neal Hefti melody based on"Flyin' Home", remained untitled until the bandlanded Wild Root Cream Oil as a radio sponsor.

Panacea's witty medicinal lyrics were written byjazz critic/pianist Leonard Feather, a friend of theband, and sung by Woody Herman, showing hisaffinity for the blues. Ralph Burns' arrangementfeatured three levels playing against each other:soloist, trumpets and trombones.

Blowin' Up a Storm starts with a subduedpiano solo by Tony Aless with instruments slowlyadded until the inevitable hurricane-like climax.

Mabel! Mabel!, featuring another Herman vocal,was based on the familiar song "Humoresque",by Antonin Dvořak.

For the recording of Steps in May 1946,Herman used the 'band-within-a-band' approachin forming the Woodchoppers, a smaller unitthat focused on a somewhat quieter soundcentered on the vibes/guitar combination of RedNorvo and Billy Bauer. Rogers named thecomposition in honour of Duke Ellington'sclarinettist, Barney Bigard.

Igor was another Rogers composition,named for classical composer Igor Stravinsky, afavourite of the band (Stravinsky returned thefavour, writing the "Ebony Concerto" forHerman). Chubby Jackson and Ralph Burnswould often get high on marijuana cigaretteswhile listening to Stravinsky records. Jacksonwas a notorious pothead, going so far as tosmuggle dope in his Kaye bass while touringSweden with a bebop band in 1946.

Lady MacGowan's Dream was a two-partcomposition by Ralph Burns named for aHerman groupie who would host wild orgies forthe Herd in sumptuous Chicago hotel suites,complete with marijuana, brandy, and sourcream baths! Before the truth came out aboutLady MacGowan, the inspiration for Burns'immortal tune was described as an 'Englishpoetess'. As it turned out, she had been in andout of mental institutions, often staying inhotels, throwing parties, running up huge bills,and then vanishing.

At the same session, Shorty Rogers producedthe shape of sounds to come with the bebopinfluencedBack Talk, with chord changes basedon "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby".

The most ambitious project the First Herdpresented was Summer Sequence, an eight-anda-half minute composition for piano andorchestra written by Ralph Burns, which made itspremiere at Carnegie Hall in March 1946. Thework was inspired by summers spent on LongIsland
Disc: 1
Back Talk
1 Apple Honey
2 Bijou (Rhumba a la Jazz)
3 Caldonia
4 Goosey Gander
5 Northwest Passage
6 The Good Earth
7 Your Father’s Moustache
8 Wild Root
9 Panacea
10 Blowin’ Up a Storm
11 Mabel! Mabel!
12 Steps
13 Igor
14 Lady MacGowan’s Dream
15 Summer Sequence, Parts 1-4
16 Back Talk
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