JJ 06/69: Woody Herman in concert in the UK

First published in Jazz Journal, June 1969

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Although a certain amount of current pop material now rubs shoulders in the repertoire with original jazz scores and the Herman ‘classics’, the basic style of the band is unchanged. Drive, accuracy, power and attack are the hallmarks of Woody’s music and once again he produced a young band (made up mostly of musicians we had never heard of before) which was of a remarkably high standard of musicianship.

Where he finds all these brilliant players, how he blends them into so homogeneous an ensemble and where they all disappear to after a brief stay with the Herd are equally mysterious problems, calling for a Sherlock Holmes rather than a jazz critic to provide the answers.

Of the tenor soloists Steve Lederer has the most direct jazz style, but he is given less solo space than the note spattering Sal Nistico or the supremely stylish Frank Vicari

On this occasion the trumpet section boasted a fine soloist in Harry Hall, a versatile player whose range covered post-bop stylings as well as a ‘primitive’ plunger style with competence if little individuality – but that too has been a feature of Herd soloists these past twenty years. The trumpet section remained standing as is now the tradition in this band and blew with great verve and accuracy, with Bill Chase featured in many of the high-note endings. The trombones lack the expressive qualities of Duke’s section and the sonority of the Count’s four pieces, but they have a clean incisive attack. Of the trombone soloists Bob Burgess ran a similar stylistic gamut to that of Harry Hall on trumpet, while Bruce Fowler showed a little more originality, if considerably less taste, in his solos.

The Herman sax team is forever associated with the three tenor/one baritone sound of Four Brothers. It is pleasing, cool and ultimately monotonous. The baritone man Ronnie Cuber sounded capable of contributing to a richer and more adventurous saxophone section. Occasional spots of alto lead were provided by Woody himself, who also played some antiquated clarinet and passages on soprano which manage to sound ‘with it’ and quaint at the same time. Of the tenor soloists Steve Lederer has the most direct jazz style, but he is given less solo space than the note spattering Sal Nistico or the supremely stylish Frank Vicari – this latter is quite a brilliant player who sacrifices everything to the perfection of style, in his case the rather mannered Sims/Getz approach. The rhythm section played with drive and featured a pianist whose solos revealed a virtuosity wholly in keeping with the Herman tradition – another dazzling and anonymous sounding musician.

In this band excitement and virtuosity are all. Woody is wise to avoid a drum feature – in the context of the Herd it would be wholly superfluous.
Eddie Lambert