Woody Herman

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Woody Herman 1949

Woody Herman (actually Woodrow Charles Thomas Herman * 16th May 1913 in Milwaukee , Wisconsin; † 29. October 1987 in Los Angeles , California) was an American jazz - clarinet player , singer and bandleader .


Herman, who was considered a musical prodigy on the clarinet, appeared publicly in the vaudeville theater at the age of nine (also as a singer and dancer). In 1930 he moved from Milwaukee and, after brief guest appearances with Harry Sosnick and Gus Arnheim in 1936, took over the core of Isham Jones ' big band , to which he had been a member since 1934. In 1936 the Jones band had their only chart success with Herman as the singer with the songs Life Begins When You're in Love and There Is No Greater Love .

Woody Herman was an excellent clarinet virtuoso; In his playing on the alto saxophone he was heavily influenced by Frank Trumbauer's playing technique . In the course of his career he put together numerous successful orchestras.

Band history

The first formation that emerged from the Jones Band, Hermans, was initially called The Band That Plays The Blues; In late 1936 the band made their debut at Roseland in Brooklyn and had their first small hit in October 1937 with I Double Dare You (# 18). In 1939 he had a hit with Woodchopper's Ball , which sold over a million times. This was the breakthrough to become one of the leading orchestras of the late swing era . Important musicians of this time were Joe Bishop and Gordon Jenkins . In late 1939, she replaced the Glenn Miller band at the Glen Island Casino and played twice at the Famous Door .

He called his later orchestras Herd or Herman's Herd . Well-known musicians who played in his big bands included the rhythm section consisting of drummer Dave Tough , bassist Chubby Jackson , guitarist Billy Bauer and pianist Ralph Burns as well as the saxophonists Stan Getz and Flip Phillips as well as the trumpeters Shorty Rogers and the brothers Pete and Conte Candoli . Rogers, along with Neal Hefti and Ralph Burns, also worked as arranger for Herman. In the first “Herd”, Herman had hits like Caldonia , Laura and Northwest Passage. She also impressed the classical camp - Igor Stravinsky was so impressed by the skills of the band that he composed the Ebony Concerto for her in 1945 . The singer in the First Herd was Frances Wayne ; with her the band had a hit with Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe .

Woody Herman 1976

After Dave Tough, Hefti and Wayne left the band, Woody Herman made some line-up changes; In early 1946 the vibraphonist Red Norvo was added. After a break he put together "the second herd" in Los Angeles in 1947, with the legendary Four Brothers saxophone section, then from Getz, Zoot Sims , Serge Chaloff , Herbie Steward (1948 Al Cohn instead of Steward, later with Gene Ammons , Jimmy Giuffre , Richie Kamuca etc.). The number was composed by Jimmy Giuffre (for three tenor and one baritone saxophone) and gave each of the “brothers” solos before playing together in the finale. The second herd, with which he also took up bebop currents (as in Lemon Drop ), existed until 1949, when Herman accepted an engagement in Cuba, the third herd from 1949 to 1955. With her he went on a European tour in 1954. He then played alternately in smaller combos and for larger tours (like in South America 1958) with big bands.

With the fourth herd (from 1963) he went on tour again, z. B. 1965 at the Antibes Festival and Basin 'Street West in San Francisco, where the live album Woody's Winners was recorded. In 1966 Herman made guest appearances in Europe, in 1968 at the Newport Jazz Festival and in 1969 in Germany. In October 1974, his orchestra accompanied Frank Sinatra at his television concert The Main Event in Madison Square Garden , which reached a billion viewers worldwide and set the TV range record for the moon landing . He remained successful with his Thundering stoves until the 1980s .

In the 1950s and 60s, Hermans Big Band experimented with elements of modern jazz styles such as cool jazz and bebop , which were cleverly combined with the forms of traditional jazz. In addition to his importance as one of the leading swing clarinetists (together with Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw ), it was in particular Herman's ability as an organizer of innovative and creative ensembles that made him stand out from the personalities of 20th century jazz.

The singer

His biographer George T. Simon also highlights his importance as a singer; he sang a lot of comedy, blues and swing tracks, but impressed most as a ballad singer, like in It's a Blue World, This Time the Dream's on Me or I'll Remember April . He also sang Exotica like Pancho Maximilian Hernandez and a cowboy rhumba and was duet partner for Bing Crosby , Peggy Lee , Billy Eckstine , Dinah Shore and Nat Cole . After his vocal number Laura was successful for Columbia , he recorded the album Songs for Hip Lovers as arranger in 1957 with accompanying musicians such as "Sweets" Edison , Charlie Shavers , Ben Webster and Marty Paich . The author Will Friedwald points out that Herman was best known as a singer before he had his great instrumental hit with Woodchopper's Ball in 1939 and his singing included all forms of singing musicians of the 30s, 40s and 50s; "His voice was important to him as a child star in vaudeville and then as a sideman in various of the leading white dance bands of the thirties," said Tom Gerun, Harry Sosnick, Gus Arnheim and Isham Jones . With soloists from the Jones Orchestra, Herman put together his own band That Plays the Blues formation. Jack Kapp used Herman as a B- band with titles that no one else wanted to play. In early 1939, Herman's vocal hits kept pace with his successful instrumental numbers.


We actually never had the feeling that we were working for this person, but rather with him. He recognizes what we are doing and he lets us feel it too. And the boys recognize and respect him. This makes them work all the more. "

No well-known band leader has been valued more by both the men who work for him and those he worked for. "


  • Will Friedwald: Swinging Voices of America - A Compendium of Great Voices. Hannibal, St. Andrä-Wölker 1992, ISBN 3-85445-075-3 .
  • Studs Terkel : giants of jazz. Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt 2005, ISBN 3-86150-723-4 .
  • Woody Herman & Stuart Troup: Woodchopper's Ball. Dutton, NY; German edition Vienna 1992, ISBN 3-85445-067-2 .
  • Steve Voce: Woody Herman. 1956, 1991.
  • George T. Simon: The Big Bands. Schirmer Books 1981 (with interview with Herman).
  • Gene Lees: Leader of the Band - Life of Woody Herman. Oxford 1997.
  • William Clancy, Audree Kenton: Woody Herman - Chronicles of the Herds. Schirmer Books 1995.
  • Carlo Bohländer , Karl Heinz Holler, Christian Pfarr: Reclam's Jazz Guide . 3rd, revised and expanded edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-15-010355-X .
  • Richard C. Knebel: Blue Flame: Woody Herman's Life in Music . West Lafayette (Indiana), Purdue University Press 1995

Web links

Commons : Woody Herman  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Gene Lees : Cats of Any Color: Jazz Black and White . Oxford University Press 1994, p. 40
  2. See Simon, p. 228. Simon reports that around 1944 he himself introduced the name Herman's Herd to denote the orchestra in the jazz magazine Metronome .
  • Will Friedwald: Swinging Voices of America - A Compendium of Great Voices. Hannibal, St. Andrä-Wölker 1992, ISBN 3-85445-075-3 .
  1. Quoted from W. Friedwald, p. 249.
  2. See Friedwald, p. 249.
  1. Nat Pierce, cit. in Simon, p. 224.
  2. Nat Pierce, cit. in Simon, p. 225.