Herman, Woody (actually, Woodrow Charles)

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Herman, Woody (actually, Woodrow Charles)

Herman, Woody (actually, Woodrow Charles), renowned jazz leader, clarinetist, alto and soprano saxophonist, singer; b. Milwaukee, May 16, 1913; d. Los Angeles, Oct. 29, 1987. He sang and danced in vaudeville theatres from early childhood. He took up sax at age 11, clarinet at 14 and incorporated them in his variety act. He worked with Myron Stewart’s Band and toured Tex. with Joe Lichter’s Band (ca. 1928), then briefly became a student at Marquette Univ. He played with Tom Gerun (Gerunovitch) from 1929-34. He formed his own band in 1933 but it was not successful. He spent eight months in the Harry Sosnick Band (1934), two months with Gus Arnheim, and gigged with Joe Moss until joining Isham Jones’s Juniors. He joined the band in Denver (ca. late 1934), and remained with it until Jones disbanded in late summer of 1936. Herman and five other ex-members formed the nucleus of a co-operative band, with Herman as leader. This unit played first at the Schroeder Hotel in Milwaukee, but made its official debut at the Roseland in Brooklyn. The orch. (billed as “The Band That Plays the Blues”) gradually achieved popularity, its box-office appeal greatly enhanced by the success of “The Woodchoppers Ball” recording (1939). Herman also recorded with the King’s Jesters in 1938.

In the early 1940s the band underwent extensive personnel changes, and became involved in the new music. For example, Gillespie wrote for them “Down Under” (recorded in 1943) and “Woody ’N’ You” (not recorded by them). Herman began buying shares as the original members left, but the musical evolution was mostly undocumented because it occurred during the musicians’ union strike against record companies, so that the Herd burst upon an astonished audience in 1945. Chubby Jackson and Ralph Burns joined in 1943, both from the Charlie Barnet band; Jackson helped to recruit Neal Hefti, Dave Tough, Flip Phillips, Bill Harris and others until Billy Bauer replaced the last remaining member of the old band. Both Candoli brothers played trumpet mid- 1944 (16-year-old Conte played on summer holiday from high school). The band, later known as the First Herd, performed Stravinsky’s “Ebony Concerto” at Carnegie Hall in March 1946 (reportedly Goodman, who had a classical background, helped Herman to prepare the piece). They disbanded in December of that year. He enjoyed several Top pop hits in the 1940s. He re- formed a “Second Herd” in 1947, also known as the “Four Brothers” band, after a composition by Jimmy Giuffre, because the unusual saxophone section of Herman, three tenors (Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Herbie Steward) and a baritone (Serge Chaloff) were all inspired by Lester Young. Due to financial troubles and rampant drug addiction among the new generation, Herman cut down to a small band in late 1949. He formed the Third Herd in 1950.

During the 1950s Herman continued leading various Herds; in spring 1954 his band did their first European tour. During the late 1950s and 1960s, for several months each year, he led his own big bands, usually specially assembled for specific tours. In spring of 1959 he brought a few star sidemen to Europe and toured with an Anglo-American band; during the 1960s he toured Europe several times. In the later 1960s and early 1970s, he made waves by recording big-band arrangements of rock hits, including a rousing “Light My Fire.” He appeared in many films, and won a Grammy in 1973. He did extensive touring throughout the 1970s, and recovered from serious auto crash in 1977. In the mid- 1970s, Frank Tiberi brought Coltrane pieces into the band; as Herman aged Tiberi took over direction of the band. The group also worked with Chick Corea. Herman’s last years were plagued with tax problems (his manager had failed to file payroll taxes, instead using the monies to finance a gambling habit). The 1RS seized his home while his health was failing, an unusually cruel gesture. Since Herman’s death the band has toured under the musical directorship of Tiberi.


Bijou; Four Brothers; Blues in the Night (1936); Wood chopper’s Ball (1941); Northwest Passage (1945); One Night Stand with W. H. (1945); At Carnegie Hall (1946); Sequence in Jazz (1946); Early Autumn (1948); Hollywood Palladium 1948 (1948); Live 1948, Vol. 1, 2 (1948); Keeper of the Flame: Complete Capitol Recordings (1948); Live in New Orleans (1951); Third Herd, Vol. 1, 2 (1952); Men from Mars (1952); Jazz, the Utmost! (1952); Hey! Heard the Herd? (1952); Omaha, NebrasL• 1954 (1954); Jackpot! (1955); Blues Groove (1956); Live in Stereo (1957); Live at Peacock Lane Hollywood (1958); W. H. Sextet at the Roundtable (1959); Live at Monterey (1959); W.’s Big Band Goodies (1963); Encore: W. H (1963); W.’s Winners (1965); Live in Antibes (1965); W. Live: East and West (1967); Live in Seattle (1967); Concerto for Herd (1967); Heavy Exposure (1969); Brand New (1971); Raven Speaks (1972); Giant Steps (1973); Feelin’ So Blue (1973); Thundering Herd (1974); Children of Lima (1974); King Cobra (1975); Herd at Montreux (1975); 40th Anniversary Carnegie Hall (1976); W. H and Flip Phillips (1978); Plays Chick, Donald, Walter and Woodrow (1978); La Fiesta (1978); World Class (1982); Fiftieth Anniversary Tour (1986).

—John Chilton, Who’s Who of Jazz/Music Master Jazz and Blues Catalogue/Lewis Porter/

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