Woody Herman this weekend, jumping into some Big Band of the 1940s. Herman was a child prodigy who sang and danced in vaudeville at age six. Soon after, he began playing the saxophone and later the clarinet. Billed as the “Boy Wonder of the Clarinet,” he cut his first record, “The Sentimental Gentleman from Georgia,” at age 16. After studying music at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for a term, Herman became a touring musician, joining the Tom Gerun band in 1929. In 1934 he became part of the Isham Jones Juniors; when it disbanded in 1936, Herman used its most talented sidemen to form his own ensemble, which he publicized as the “Band That Plays the Blues.” The group was propelled to stardom in 1939 with the success of “Woodchopper’s Ball.” More than a million copies of the song were sold, and it became Herman’s theme.
During the 1940s Herman’s band, then known as Herman’s Herd, was noted for its exuberance and technical brilliance. It had its own radio show, appeared in motion pictures (such as New Orleans, 1947), and in 1946 performed Igor Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto at Carnegie Hall. As did many other bandleaders after World War II, Herman dissolved his band in 1946, but within months he formed his Second Herd, featuring tenor saxophonists Zoot Sims and Stan Getz. (Getz attained stardom with his solo on Herman’s “Early Autumn.”) The band pioneered the combination of three tenor saxophones and one baritone saxophone and became identified with the song “Four Brothers,” which used that grouping. Herman at this time was also one of the few big band leaders to incorporate bebop-tinged material into his repertoire, as on the hit “Caledonia,” which featured Herman’s eccentric vocals. After the Second Herd disbanded in 1949, Herman continued to form and lead his “Thundering Herds.”
To get an idea of what Woody Herman was up to in 1945, here is a sampling by way of Armed Forces Radio and their legendary One Night Stand series (a virtual who’s who of Big Band Jazz throughout the war and into the 1950s, most of which have thankfully survived), performing at the Cafe Rouge in New York on July 23, 1945.
We could use a little help from our friends: