JJ 09/80: Woody Herman at The Forum, Hatfield

Forty years ago, Barry McRae saw the parallels between Woody Herman's band and the UK's own NYJO. First published in Jazz Journal, September 1980

Woody Herman. Photo from JJ Archive

The Forum is a concert hall in Hatfield, Herts. I recently caught the Woody Herman Thundering Herd there, and it was the first time I had seen them for close on a year. The one thing that struck me was that, in a very short time, his very young soloists have gained enormously in confidence and creative ability.

Working with old hands like Frank Tiberi and Woody must be a considerable asset, but trombonist Nelson Hines, trumpeter Jim Powell and tenor saxophonist Bob Belden have all made genuine strides. It makes one wonder where the next step will be.

When we think what an excellent training ground the National Youth Jazz Orchestra has been in this country, we realise that there are parallels. True, players like our own Stan Sulzmann, Guy Barker and Paul Nieman had to leave to blossom fully, but these are invaluable workshops.

It could well be that in sticking steadfastly to the rules of the big band tradition, units like Woody’s are more suitable for the young musical apprentice than might be a band that was perpetually experimenting.

What makes the Thundering Herd so valuable is that Herman has never shut his ears to the latest developments. He includes in his programme compositions by the likes of John Coltrane, and he is not afraid to use arrangements by players from within the band. If someone has something musical to say, Woodrow Charles Herman will usually listen.