About this Recording
8.120739 - HERMAN, Woody: Thundering Herd (The) (1945-1947)

‘The Thundering Herd’ Original Recordings 1945-1947

The end of World War II witnessed a change in America’s place in the world. Thanks to its resounding success in defeating the Axis forces, the U.S. emerged from the war as a world power: proud, potent, and pulsating with creative energy. Just as Patton’s Third Army was marching across Europe, a smaller but no less powerful army of musicians was making its first recordings for Columbia Records. The new Woody Herman orchestra typified the direction Americans were heading: taking chances, swinging hard, and combining the stagnating big band sound with exciting new charts penned by young Turks experimenting with the sounds of bebop. Between 1945 and 1947, there was no orchestra, black or white, which could measure up to the heat generated by what became known as ‘The Thundering Herd’. The nickname was apt; the Herman band was like a herd of wild buffalo, thundering its way through virgin musical territory, unstoppable and brimming with enthusiasm. In fact, the spirit of the band was so great that sheer instrumental volume wasn’t enough; the Herman band often heightened its musical frenzy with shouts, screams, and shrieks from its talented crew.

Herman’s previous band, known as ‘The Band that Plays the Blues’, had been decimated as member after member was drafted into the army. Herman had felt the band was stifling and decided to expand its scope, using musical voices patterned after the Duke Ellington orchestra. The key elements to Herman’s Herd would become fiery rhythm, superb soloists, and innovative arrangements.

The rhythm section of pianist Ralph Burns, guitarist Billy Bauer, bassist Chubby Jackson, and drummer Davey Tough anchored the band’s sound and kept it swinging. Jackson was the cheerleader of the outfit: cajoling, screaming, and encouraging the musicians on every song. Burns, along with trumpeter Neal Hefti, provided distinctive, modern arrangements. Burns burned out early as the band’s pianist and principle arranger, often resorting to Benzedrine to stay awake during all-night arranging sessions.

The soloists were led by the swaggering tenor sax of Flip Phillips and the ferocious trombone of Bill Harris. Other standouts during this period included high-note trumpet players Sonny Berman and Pete Candoli, vibraphonist Margie Hyams, and Herman’s own high-flying clarinet.

This compilation features some of the best and most exciting sounds of the Woody Herman orchestra between 1945 and 1947. Bassist Chubby Jackson compared the Herd to the Chicago Bears. ‘It was charge-through-the-brickwall jazz’, he was fond of saying, and the early recordings for Columbia were the musical equivalent of the Big Bad Wolf, blowing down every house in town.

One of the first songs they recorded was Apple Honey, named for an ingredient that supposedly enhanced the flavor of Old Gold cigarettes, the sponsor of Herman’s radio show. According to Ralph Burns, the song was basically a head arrangement in the style of Duke Ellington. Flip Phillips takes the first solo followed by a blustery chorus by Bill Harris, accompanied by screams from the rest of the band. Woody Herman was an underrated soloist; he positively glistens in his brief passage. The song is capped off by the hysterical hightrumpet playing of Pete Candoli followed by a disjointed, deliberately reckless ending.

Candoli’s reputation as a supercharged soloist prompted his wife to fit him with a Superman costume, which he once wore to a concert at New York’s Paramount Theater. During Apple Honey, Candoli, in costume, came sliding down a wire from a balcony to land just in time to play the bridge.

Herman said that he gave Bijou the subtitle Rhumba a la jazz because ‘I was trying to explain why we were abusing the Latin rhythm. I guess you might call this a stone age bossa nova.’ The song is a showpiece for the trombone of Bill Harris. Caldonia, a song associated with jump blues saxophonist/bandleader Louis Jordan, was thrown together in a head arrangement the day before it was recorded. It’s highlighted by a startling solo by Bill Harris on valve trombone, a Dizzy Gillespie-inspired unison trumpet passage designed by Neal Hefti, and Woody’s own idiosyncratic vocal. The recording was Herman’s first for Columbia, cut in New York’s venerable Liederkranz Hall on East 58th Street, a favorite facility for jazz and dance bands.

The beginning of Goosey Gander is based on the old folk song “Shortnin’ Bread”, but it then meanders into a swaggering blues, with Phillips, Harris, and Candoli taking solos.

Along with Apple Honey and Caldonia, Northwest Passage was based on the chords to “I Got Rhythm”. The song starts off like a Goodman sextet number but then after a Flip Phillips solo, the brass pushes the momentum to a riff-soaked conclusion, with Chubby Jackson’s bass pounding underneath.

Neal Hefti’s The Good Earth is a tour de force for Phillips; listen for a musical tug-of-war as he battles with the brass section. By this time, Pete Candoli’s younger brother Conte, no slouch himself on the trumpet, had also joined the band at the tender age of eighteen.

With its nonsensical vocal chorus, Your Father’s Moustache shows the Herd’s loose sense of humour at work. Substituting for Tough on this song is Buddy Rich, who rides the rhythm underneath a quirky solo by Sonny Berman. Bill Harris devised the melody and the ensemble passage is credited to Neal Hefti.

Wild Root, a Neal Hefti melody based on “Flyin’ Home”, remained untitled until the band landed Wild Root Cream Oil as a radio sponsor. Panacea’s witty medicinal lyrics were written by jazz critic/pianist Leonard Feather, a friend of the band, and sung by Woody Herman, showing his affinity for the blues. Ralph Burns’ arrangement featured three levels playing against each other: soloist, trumpets and trombones.

Blowin’ Up a Storm starts with a subdued piano solo by Tony Aless with instruments slowly added until the inevitable hurricane-like climax. Mabel! Mabel!, featuring another Herman vocal, was based on the familiar song “Humoresque”, by Antonín Dvořák.

For the recording of Steps in May 1946, Herman used the ‘band-within-a-band’ approach in forming the Woodchoppers, a smaller unit that focused on a somewhat quieter sound centered on the vibes/guitar combination of Red Norvo and Billy Bauer. Rogers named the composition in honour of Duke Ellington’s clarinettist, Barney Bigard.

Igor was another Rogers composition, named for classical composer Igor Stravinsky, a favourite of the band (Stravinsky returned the favour, writing the “Ebony Concerto” for Herman). Chubby Jackson and Ralph Burns would often get high on marijuana cigarettes while listening to Stravinsky records. Jackson was a notorious pothead, going so far as to smuggle dope in his Kaye bass while touring Sweden with a bebop band in 1946.

Lady MacGowan’s Dream was a two-part composition by Ralph Burns named for a Herman groupie who would host wild orgies for the Herd in sumptuous Chicago hotel suites, complete with marijuana, brandy, and sour cream baths! Before the truth came out about Lady MacGowan, the inspiration for Burns’ immortal tune was described as an ‘English poetess’. As it turned out, she had been in and out of mental institutions, often staying in hotels, throwing parties, running up huge bills, and then vanishing.

At the same session, Shorty Rogers produced the shape of sounds to come with the bebopinfluenced Back Talk, with chord changes based on “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby”.

The most ambitious project the First Herd presented was Summer Sequence, an eight-anda- half minute composition for piano and orchestra written by Ralph Burns, which made its premiere at Carnegie Hall in March 1946. The work was inspired by summers spent on Long Island, New York, Chicago, and California. The three movements, recorded in September 1946 were described simply as ‘slow and peaceful’, ‘fast and furious’, and ‘just happy’. Fifteen months later, a fourth movement was added to Summer Sequence (which Woody called ‘Early Autumn’) that would eventually become a breakout hit for saxophonist Stan Getz. Shortly after this, Herman decided to shut down his band and take a break. He returned, reenergized, a year later, with his celebrated Second Herd.

Cary Ginell – a winner of the 2004 ASCAP/Deems
Taylor Award for music journalism

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