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Monday, August 28, 2023

Woody Herman: 1964


A Tast Of Honey

Woody Herman: 1964
Produced by Jack Tracy
Recorded November 20, 22 and 23, 1963 at A&R Studios, New York City
Engineer: Phil Ramone
Philips Records PHM 200-118

Clarinet and Alto Sax: Woody Herman
Trumpet: Bill Chase, Billy Hunt, Paul Fontaine, Gerald Lamy, Danny Nolan
Trombone: Phil Wilson, Henry Southall, Kenny Wenzel
Saxophone: Sal Nistico, Carmen Leggio, John Stevens (tenors) Nick Brignola (baritone)
Rhythm: Nat Pierce (piano), Chuck Anders (bass), Jake Hanna (drums)

Sal Nistico appears through the courtesy of Riverside Records

From the back cover: There are only two kinds of bandleader. One is a businessman, who plays "what the public wants to hear" and is interchangeable with his accountant. The other is an artist, who plays (or coaxes his sidemen to play) what he wants to hear, and hopes he can find a manager to market the results. To the businessman, a night on the bandstand is a day at the office. To the artist, the money is important but secondary; he is never really happy except when his band is playing.

Because  artistry isn't how well one plays but how honestly, the artist's band has to sound like the kind of person its leader is. Stan Kenton has got to be tall, wide-armed, sonorous and tense; his music is. Count Basie is twinkling, graceful, flexibly firm, and undisturbed by thunder. Duke Ellington's music is Duke; suave, theatrical, complex, ironic, melancholy, angry, unpredictable, grand.

Woody Herman? Well, let's see.

Woody is anti-sentiment/. He is so opposed to personal involvement that his emotionalism sometimes shows.

He is blunt and direct. Whereas most bandleaders imply it's all for the audience's own good, Woody's attitude is openly, if pleasantly, go-to-hell. The brass section is his firing squad.

He's a liberal disciplinarian, as long as the band shows up, blows its best. and stays legal. It has to be like this if the band is going to be as free as it is and yet stay within limits. Any band is a bushel of soundable egos. Freudians all, they can hate the leader simply because he's Daddy, and from the tables down Junior's to the place where Charlie dwells ex-Hermanites who now only stand at bars once tried to bar Woody from stands. But when his band is blowing it can go as far as it wants, because Woody isn't part of the herd, he's got the reins in his hand, and you can hear this in the way his clarinet enters after everyone else has fought, saying "Now, now, children, remember Daddy has muscles too." This became even more effective after he shaved his beard off.

Apart from the temporary insanity of the beard, Woody is totally unaffected and natural. Showmanship happens, yes, when it belongs; he drops it in like a four-bar break. If he is adaptable, he is also a tasteful adapter: a good cook can always get part of a meal out of cans, and Woody often adds his unique spices to high-quality staples labeled Ellington, Basie, or Lunceford.

Put this all together, along with agility, perception, musicianship, drive, stubbornness, endurance, far-out humor and eminent sanity, and you don't get a Boy Scout – he is simply not to  one trusted alone with your lead trumpeter – but you do get Woody Herman, or his music. which, in return to the point, is about the same thing. 

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