Still Clinging To The Wreckage 07/20, part 2

In the fourth and final part of his survey of trombonist Bill Harris, Steve Voce concludes a definitive round up of Bill Harris on record

Inevitably the Mosaics must be listed. The only one still in the catalogue is the recent The Complete Woody Herman Decca, Mars And MGM Sessions (1943-1954) (Mosaic MD7-257) that has everything that could be found from the 1946 Carnegie Hall Concert with Harris rampant. It includes two of his greatest ballad performances – Mean To Me and Everywhere.

If you can find them The Complete Capitol Recordings Of Woody Herman (Mosaic MD6-196) gives a home to the spectacular Blues Groove where Woody sings a batch of classic blues with obbligato and solos from Bill. But there is an inexpensive 10-CD Woody Herman set (it costs about £10) that has Blues Groove as well as all the great First and Second Herd tracks.

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The root of it all is the 140 titles on MD7-223 by the First and Second Herds called The Complete Columbia Recordings Of Woody Herman And His Orchestra And Woodchoppers (1945-7). Columbia had their own two-CD collection of First and Second Herd tracks with a raft of alternatives on the 1945-46 Blowin’ Up A Storm (Columbia 503280 – 2 CDs).

Sounds Of Yester Year have two appealing albums by the First Herd at work. One of them, DSOY894, has one of the most outrageous interventions by Bill that you’ll ever hear, as he explodes from the middle of the brass to take one of the most declamatory solos on record

Alastair Robertson seems to have disappeared from civilisation so I can’t check whether the superb Herman V-Disc collection on Hep 2/3435 still lives. If it does it should be bought.

Bill and Flip Phillips complemented each other. Bill plays on 17 of Flip’s tracks from 1950-52 on The Complete Verve/Clef Charlie Ventura And Flip Phillips Studio Sessions.

There was an album of nine long tracks by the Charlie Ventura/Bill Harris Quintet on Jazz Band EBCD 2122-2 and the same label included three tracks by Bill’s quintet on an Ella Fitzgerald album (EBCD 2140).

Sounds Of Yester Year have two appealing albums by the First Herd at work. One of them, DSOY894, has one of the most outrageous interventions by Bill that you’ll ever hear, as he explodes from the middle of the brass to take one of the most declamatory solos on record on Goosey Gander.

The same label also has Bill with the Flip Phillips All Stars and the Bill Harris-Kai Winding Quintet on DSOY2086. That CD is made up from AFRS broadcasts, whilst the other, DSOY894, is from 1946 Wildroot Shows.

Possibly still available and full of good things is Bill Harris Live At Birdland 1952 on Baldwin Street Music BJG 501, a Canadian issue.

Late on Bill moved to Las Vegas in search of regular work. He found it with the little band led by trumpeter Charlie Teagarden and in 1963, when Lionel Hampton was in town, they made an album together under Lionel’s name. This, like one Bill had made with Nat Pierce in 1956, had him playing respectfully with his hair combed. The 1956 album with Nat on Coral was called Kansas City Memories and had Nat doing his perfect Basie backed by Freddie Greene, Oscar Pettiford and Jo Jones. Nat had brought a comprehensive set of charts to the studio, and these were beautifully done, but had the inevitable effect of confining what Bill did. Additionally, he and trumpeter Joe Newman lost their normal atmospheric presence in the recording technique, but this probably wasn’t evident until after the session had finished.

When the bass trumpeter Cy Touff left the Herman band at the beginning of 1957, Woody had no trouble in calling his old friend Bill Harris back to the band, this time for a long and productive stay which began with the tail end of Woody’s Capitol contract. Another season in Omaha, Nebraska in July that year produced some albums on the Status label and these, also long vanished, were riddled with Harris features, showing that, after Woody, Bill was the main attraction.

Granz chose the perfect group to accompany some of Woody’s vocals in March 1957 (Verve MS V2069). Charlie Shavers and Bill made up the brass with Woody’s tenors of the time. Pianist Lou Stein headed the rhythm section of Billy Bauer, Milt Hinton and Jo Jones. Woody knew that Bill was better than anyone at playing obbligato to his singing, and a set of arrangements by Marty Paich made good use of the trombonist.

A season at the Peacock Lane in Los Angeles produced a raft of Herman recordings in 1958, 41 of them still available on the Storyville double STCD 8247/48. Apart from conventional solos in the band, Bill has features on Imagination and yet another Bijou where he indulges in some eccentric high-register acrobatics towards the end. He’s roaring again in the upper register for the eight-minute Wild Root. Richie Kamuca’s on good form throughout.

Bill made his only visit to Europe with the sextet that Woody brought over in April 1959 to make the heart of the Anglo-American Herd. Bill sat in a section with Eddie Harvey and Ken Wray, who had both built their styles on Bill’s. Bill had quietened down by this time, and Ken Wray made a lot more noise. I met Bill at the Manchester concerts and because he was so shy and I was overawed in the presence of my hero, not much was said between us, although we had both agreed to an interview.

A selection from the concerts appeared on a brave LP put together by Jim Lowe, but lack of proper distribution led to its disappearance. Assiduous Herman fans have both houses complete in their collections.

Bill settled in Florida in 1959, leading a quintet with Flip Phillips. The two men had always gravitated to each other for, as Flip said, “We breathed as one. Everything always fell into place without effort.” They worked largely in Miami, and when Benny Goodman wanted to tour in Florida in 1959, he simply hired the whole group and added Jack Sheldon and Anita O’Day.

Anita was under contract to Granz, and so she does not appear on the Music Master albums drawn from the period. Bill was comparatively mild in the small group with Jack Sheldon & Flip Phillips, captured on Music Masters 5040 & 01612-6505 and TCB43032. The double 5040 contains a selection of mixed personnels. One of them has Flip and Bill for the front line in Tenbone, and Bill is roaring in the high register again with a larger Goodman group in Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea. Ten Bone occurs again on 01612-65058 where Benny joins in. Bill has a long solo on 65058’s Air Mail Special, where’s he’s followed by some sensitive trumpet from Jack Sheldon. This time Ten Bone runs for seven minutes with Bill ranging at length through the registers.

Bill died, a comparatively young man, when he was only 54, from a particularly painful form of cancer, in Hallandale, Florida on 21 August 1973.

See part one of this Bill Harris series
See part two of this Bill Harris series
See part three of this Bill Harris series

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