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Woody Herman: 'The Thundering Herds 1945-1947'


MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: That's why they called them "the band that played the blues." They're playing the blues — "Woodchoppers' Ball" — it's the Woody Herman Orchestra. A.B Spellman, why does this record belong in our NPR Basic Jazz Record Library?

A.B. SPELLMAN, National Endowment for the Arts: Because, Woody Herman led one of the mightiest bands in mid-century American jazz. It was a band that was solid, top to bottom, had great soloists, and it also established a very easy kind of swing. And that swing led the band through all kinds of different changes, and great arrangements.


HORWITZ: Talk about those arrangements, if you will, because this was really a very, very influential band, and there are a lot of people, who were either great arrangers at the time or who went on to become great arrangers.

SPELLMAN: There were great arrangers in every section of the band. The two principal writers were Ralph Burns on piano and Neal Hefti, a trombonist. They both had very influential compositions largely based on establishing a different kind of a sound. It's a sound that is exemplary of the kind of influence that Lester Young had, because it brought out the saxophone so much more. So when you hear these harmonies, you hear a lot of reed domination of the harmony.


HORWITZ: I assume that it's some press agent's alliteration that made these bands known as the Herman Herds — the first Herd, the second Herd, the third Herd — but one of the bands was known as the Four Brothers Band. Talk a little about that.

SPELLMAN: That's because, Murray, this particular band had a very great hit in "Four Brothers," probably the second most popular tune they played besides "Woodchoppers' Ball." These brothers included three of the all-time great jazz saxophonists: Zoot Sims on tenor saxophone, an acolyte of Lester Young, absolutely; Stan Getz, who took Lester Young into an entirely different direction, and himself became one of the most influential saxophonists of all time; and Serge Chaloff, who was a great jazz baritone saxophonist.

HORWITZ: And the other one was Herbie Steward, and together they phrased as one man.


HORWITZ: And so for your NPR Basic Jazz Record Library, we're recommending Woody Herman, The Thundering Herds 1945-1947. It's on the Columbia Jazz Masterpieces label. For NPR Jazz, I'm Murray Horwitz.

SPELLMAN: And, I'm A.B. Spellman.

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