I admit; Desert Island listening this weekend. The legendary Woody Herman and his Orchestra with a set of discs recorded on September 18, 1946, first issued in 1948-1949 by Columbia Records. Sequence In Jazz was a three disc set (with 78s that only amounts to about 3 minutes a side) featuring two compositions by Ralph Burns; Summer Sequence and Lady McGowan’s Dream. It was later reissued on early lps and eventually wound up issued as part of a limited edition set for Mosaic Records (the Complete Woody Herman 1945-1947). It’s interesting that this session came just a little before the legendary Ebony Concerto sessions with Igor Stravinsky.
The post-World War 2 years were an especially interesting and revolutionary time for Jazz, and it’s one of my favorite periods of time in Music – it was particularly innovative and led to an explosion in musical genres, from Bop to Jump Blues, to experimental; all of which signified a freeing up of what was strictly dance music and expanding on the small group and arrangements.
To get caught up to speed on Woody Herman and his inestimable contribution to Jazz during this time, here is an excerpt from his Wikipedia page. Aficionados know this by heart – but those coming to it for the first time may want some historic background:
In jazz, swing was gradually being replaced by bebop. Dizzy Gillespie, a trumpeter and one of the originators of bop, wrote three arrangements for Woody Herman, “Woody’n You”, “Swing Shift” and “Down Under”. These were arranged in 1942. “Woody’n You” was not used at the time. “Down Under” was recorded July 24, 1942. The fact that Herman commissioned Gillespie to write arrangements for the band and that Herman hired Ralph Burns as a staff arranger, heralded a change in the style of music the band was playing.
In February 1945, the band started a contract with Columbia Records. Herman liked what drew many artists to Columbia, Liederkranz Hall, at the time the best recording venue in New York City. The first side Herman recorded was “Laura”, the theme song of the 1944 movie of the same name. Herman’s version was so successful that it made Columbia hold from release the arrangement that Harry James had recorded days earlier. The Columbia contract coincided with a change in the band’s repertoire. The 1944 group, which he called the First Herd, was famous for its progressive jazz. The First Herd’s music was heavily influenced by Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Its lively, swinging arrangements, combining bop themes with swing rhythm parts, were greatly admired. As of February 1945 the personnel included Bill Harris, Sonny Berman, Pete Candoli, Billy Bauer (later replaced by Chuck Wayne), Ralph Burns, Davey Tough and Flip Phillips. On February 26, 1945 in New York City, the Woody Herman band recorded “Caldonia”.
Neal Hefti and Ralph Burns collaborated on the arrangement of “Caldonia” that the Herman band used. “Ralph caught Louis Jordan [singing “Caldonia”] in an act and wrote the opening twelve bars and the eight bar tag.””But the most amazing thing on the record was a soaring eight bar passage by trumpets near the end.” These eight measures have wrongly been attributed to a Gillespie solo, but were in fact originally written by Neal Hefti. George T. Simon compares Hefti with Gillespie in a 1944 review for Metronome magazine saying, “Like Dizzy […], Hefti has an abundance of good ideas, with which he has aided Ralph Burns immensely”.
In 1946 the band won Down Beat, Metronome, Billboard and Esquire polls for best band, nominated by their peers in the big band business. Along with the high acclaim for their jazz and blues performances, classical composer Igor Stravinsky wrote the Ebony Concerto, one in a series of compositions commissioned by Herman with solo clarinet, for this band. Herman recorded this work in the Belock Recording Studio in Bayside New York.
Throughout the history of jazz, there have always been musicians who sought to combine it with classical music. Ebony Concerto is one in a long line of music from the twenties to the present day that seeks to do this. Herman said about the Concerto: “[The Ebony Concerto is a] very delicate and a very sad piece.” Stravinsky felt that the jazz musicians would have a hard time with the various time signatures. Saxophonist Flip Philips said, “During the rehearsal there was a passage I had to play and I was playing it soft, and Stravinsky said ‘Play it, here I am!’ and I blew it louder and he threw me a kiss!” In his own original way Stravinsky noticed the massive amount of smoking at the recording session: “the atmosphere looked like Pernod clouded by water.” Ebony Concerto was performed live by the Herman band on March 25, 1946 at Carnegie Hall.
Despite the Carnegie Hall success and other triumphs, Herman was forced to disband the orchestra in 1946 at the height of its success. This was his only financially successful band; he left it to spend more time with his wife and family. During this time, he and his family had just moved into the former Hollywood home of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. One reason Herman may have disbanded was his wife Charlotte’s growing problems with alcoholism and pill addiction. Charlotte Herman joined Alcoholics Anonymous and gave up everything she was addicted to. Woody said, laughing, “I went to an AA meeting with Charlotte and my old band was sitting there.”Many critics cite December 1946 as the actual date the big-band era ended, when seven other bands, in addition to Herman’s, dissolved.
In 1947, Herman organized the Second Herd. This band was also known as “The Four Brothers Band”. This derives from the song recorded December 27, 1947, for Columbia records, “Four Brothers”, written by Jimmy Giuffre. “The ‘Four Brothers’ chart is based on the chord changes of ‘Jeepers Creepers’, and features the three-tenor, one-baritone saxophone section”.The order of the saxophone solos is Zoot Sims, Serge Chaloff, Herbie Steward, and Stan Getz. Some of the notable musicians of this band were also Al Cohn, Gene Ammons, Lou Levy, Oscar Pettiford, Terry Gibbs, and Shelly Manne. Among this band’s hits were “Early Autumn”, and “The Goof and I”. The band was popular enough that they went to Hollywood in the mid-nineteen forties. Herman and his band appear in the movie New Orleans in 1947 with Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong.
These are the original 78s as issued in 1949. You can crank it up and sit with it for a bit. It’s history and it swings.