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ClassicsOnline Home » HERMAN, Woody: Thundering Herd (The) (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
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
Cary Ginell – a winner of the 2004 ASCAP/Deems
Taylor Award for music journalism
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HERMAN, Woody: Thundering Herd (The) (1945-1947)