Fans of Woody Herman's Herds and big bands in general should welcome Live Jazz From Club 15, which captures his young band in the sixties.
Those who visited Las Vegas four decades ago, before it became the entertainment capital of the world, knew they could see and hear great jazz in casino lounges adjacent to the main showrooms. Request Records has recently released six CDs of live recordings made in Vegas during that time under the umbrella title Live Jazz From Club 15. Other recordings in the series feature groups led by George Shearing, Stan Getz, Gene Krupa, Maynard Ferguson, Louis Prima and Pete Fountain. The selection also includes the Glenn Miller Orchestra, led by Buddy DeFranco, and the Si Zentner Orchestra.
There is an interesting history behind the tapes used in these live recordings. During the 1950s and 1960s, Las Vegas had acquired the reputation as a gambling getaway where great entertainers could be seen and heard from dusk to dawn. Many resorts booked top jazz performers, along with pop musicians and comedians in their smaller lounge venues. At this time, stereo FM radio was gaining popularity in the country, and Vegas broadcaster Mike Gold started KLUC, transmitting from Howard Hughes' Last Frontier Hotel in 1965 and 1966. While the musicians were playing on-air, Gold's wife, Sylvia, recorded jazz performances, making sure they would be preserved on tape.
Forty years after the Golds retired to Minnesota, their grandchildren discovered these tapes stored away in their parents' home. In 2004 they decided to digitally record them and found the music held up. Last year they released the collection.
From the '60s until his death in 1987, Herman's Herds were filled with youthful musicians on the rise. The group caught here is an exhilarating example of that eracohesive, swinging, filled with high energy. Unfortunately, the players aren't listed on the package, but fortunately, Herman shouts out names of soloists on the various cuts. One standout is tenor saxophonist Sal Nistico, who takes a couple of blazing solos, throwing out notes in fervid abandon on "Sister Sadie and the Herman signature piece, "Apple Honey. Pianist Kenny Asher's funky introduction to "Greasy Sack Blues is called out by the leader.
Herman's clarinet is well-displayed, particularly on "My Favorite Things. The bandleader even takes a vocal turn with a hip version of the old chestnut "Sonny Boy, on which trombonist Carl Fontana gets a chance to display his creative chops. Vocalist Mel Torme was in his prime then, and he joins the band for several selections. He really gains momentum on "I'm Comin' Home, on top of the band's chugging rhythm. On "Fly Me to the Moon, he goes from his trademark "velvet fog crooning to a high-decibel crescendo. On "King of the Road, he also builds to a strong climax.
For Herman afficionados, this recording represents a chance to hear his work from the mid '60s.
Personnel: Woody Herman Band (members unspecified); Mel Torme.