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Big Band Report

We Get Letters . . .

By Published: May 1, 2003
April has brought warmer weather, buds on trees and a lot of rain to Charlotte but not much in the way of big-band news, which affords an opportunity to share with you an interesting response from bassist Terry Douds to my recent review of singer Brienn Perry’s album Live at FitzGerald’s with the Woody Herman Orchestra (Big Head Records).

Before scanning Terry’s feedback, here is some of what I had to say in the review:

“There’s no information about [Perry] in the liner notes, so what we hear is what we get; don’t even know why he wears a patch over his left eye. What we do know is that Perry’s no amateur; he must have learned to sing that well somewhere. But the details of his odyssey have to remain a mystery, at least for now. Even so, I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of Mr. Perry. He’s the real deal. Oh, and so’s his back-up crew, even though this isn’t actually the ‘Woody Herman Orchestra’ but a small part thereof . . . chaperoned by some of the Chicago area’s most in-demand sidemen, a number of whom have solid big-band experience of their own. In other words, this may not be undiluted Woody but it sure sounds like his band.”

Terry Douds writes:

“I found your review of Brienn’s album very interesting. There’s not a lot of background info in the liner notes [none, in fact] . . . you’re correct there . . . but try going to Brienn’s web site,, where you’ll find some of the info . . . although having played with Brienn for three years now, I don’t know [anything] about the patch either . . . I just never asked.

“Your comment about it not ‘really’ being Woody’s band backing him up was interesting . . . I’ve been with the band (as the Legacy Herd) since 1995; most of the players here are ‘regulars’ as well. As for your comment about the others being Chicago locals, that’s true — but also part of the band! Tom Matta has been playing [with Woody’s band] longer than I have; Wojo [saxophonist John Wojciechowski] is a recent addition to the Chicago landscape but has been with the band since ’99 or 2000; [trumpeter] Rob Smith goes back before ’95 (though he resides in Michigan); [trombonist] Paul McKee has been a fixture on the band for years, even though he was calling Chicago home for a long time (instead of Iowa, where he is now); [trumpeter] Scott Wagstaff also hails from the ’80s bands, [trombonist] Tom Garling since 2000 or so. [Trumpeter] Mike Plog is another recent Chicago addition, but has been playing [with Woody] since ’96, when he was still in Milwaukee; Roger Ingram [lead trumpet] is from the ’80s bands.

“Basically, Woody’s band is somewhat ‘regionalized’ since his passing, i.e., as the bassist, they won’t fly me out west unless it’s a big deal, as there are other alumni in that area (less expensive travel); same situation in the South with Lynn Seaton and Chuck Bergeron in Texas and Florida. I tend to do the Midwest and East (sharing the East with Todd Coolman and Darryl Hall). Drummers [have] a similar scenario — Bob Rummage was on the band before I came on, though as we move farther east it’s often Jim Rupp, Dave Ratajczak, John Riley or others. Alumni fill most of the chairs these days; we did have an extra reed player to handle the alto chair for Brienn’s charts (since Woody’s is a ‘tenor band’) but basically, it sounds like Woody’s band because it is Woody’s band! We really do play together a good bit — not 24 / 7 / 365 like the days on the bus, but probably 80-plus dates a year . . .

“On European trips it’s generally a pick of the various regions depending on people’s schedules etc. For example, Chuck Bergeron has been [the bassist] on the European band during the time I’ve been on, but I did the ’98 Scandinavian tour, and Spain in 2000. I also did one of the ‘boat trips’ on the Norway in ’98; in fact, Brienn first hooked up with the band on one of those ‘boat trips.’ Rummage did the European tour in ’97, while Rupp handles most of the ‘regular’ European work.

“If you’re not a member, consider joining the Woody Herman Society, which has a quarterly publication called ‘The Herds.’ It has tons of info about the alumni . . . as well as articles and reviews [about] the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Herds as well as the current Legacy Band.

“In any event, thanks for the nice review — I think it’s a pretty wonderful disc, and sounds really great! Tim Powell, Metro Mobile’s engineer, did a great job of capturing the band live — and it shows.!”

My thanks to Terry for taking the time to write. His letter is not only interesting but informative, and I learned a lot by reading it. I meant no slight by writing that Brienn Perry’s back-up band wasn’t “actually the Woody Herman Orchestra,” but was referring to those who’d toured regularly and recorded with the band. Except for Paul McKee and Roger Ingram, I didn’t know that several of the guys backing Perry had played with the Legacy Band outside their home turf, even touring Europe with the band, but given the economics of keeping a large ensemble together these days, it makes perfect sense to have a number of top-drawer players available in every area of the country who are familiar with the book and can sit in whenever needed. As I wrote, they are “some of the Chicago area’s most in-demand sidemen,” and for good reason. They are among the best that area has to offer, which is why I also wrote that “it sure sounds like [Woody’s] band.” Having lived in the Chicago area myself for twenty years before moving to Charlotte in ’97, I’m well aware of the high caliber of musicianship in that city and am especially familiar with the talents of Tom Matta, Joey Tartell, Lou Stockwell, Tom Garling, Richard Drexler, Scott Wagstaff and Bob Rummage, among others. And I remember John Wojciechowski as a star soloist at Western Michigan University.

Of course, I am a member of the Woody Herman Society and receive my quarterly issues of The Herds from Al Julian. There’s a list of Herman alumni in every issue but I don’t think it includes the members of the current Legacy Band, as they’re not quite alumni yet. I’ll have to double-check the next issue. If you are interested in becoming a member, you can find out more by contacting the Woody Herman Society, c/o Al Julian, 12854 SW Doug Drive, Lake Suzy, FL 34266 (phone 941-255-9881). The web site is

My thanks again to Terry Douds for writing and setting me straight about the Legacy Band. You can rest assured that no matter’s who’s sitting in what chair, music director Frank Tiberi won’t settle for less than the best. Long live the Herds!

Where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plains . .
It’s hard to believe that sixty years have passed since Richard Rodgers / Oscar Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! burst on the Broadway scene to change the face of musicals forever (and even harder to believe that I was almost eight years old when it happened). Oklahoma!, whose original title was Away We Go!, is known as “the show that saved the Theatre Guild,” which was about to go belly up during WWII when Rodgers and Hammerstein rode to the rescue. This was the first of their nine Broadway shows (you may have heard of Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I and some of the others). After opening to mixed reviews on March 31, 1943, Oklahoma! ran for a remarkable 2,212 performances and made stars of Alfred Drake, Celeste Holm, Howard Da Silva, Joan McCracken, choreographer Agnes de Mille and some of their replacements (Howard Keel as Curly, Shelley Winters as Ado Annie). In the 1955 film version, Gordon McRae and Shirley Jones starred as young lovers Curly and Laurey, Gloria Grahame as Ado Annie, Gene Nelson as Will Parker, Eddie Albert as the peddler Ali Hakim and Rod Steiger as the menacing Judd Frey. Nothing to do with big bands, just an interesting historical note.

And on that note we’ll close for now. Until next time, keep swingin’!

(Among the best of the recent big–band releases on Compact Disc)

  1. Buselli / Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, Heart & Soul (BWJO)
  2. The Dino / Franco Piana Orchestra, Interplay for 20 (Pentaflowers)
  3. Ryles Jazz Orchestra, Live at Ryles (Vee Records)
  4. Peter Herbolzheimer, 50 Jahre Live (Mons)
  5. University of North Florida, Second Thoughts (Sea Breeze Vista)
  6. The Dutch Jazz Orchestra, So This Is Love (Challenge)
  7. The Claude Bolling Big Band, Paris Swing (Milan)
  8. The Stan Kenton Orchestra, Stompin’ at Newport (Pablo)
  9. The Walt Harper Big Band, West Coast Online (Birmingham)
  10. The Gary Urwin Big Band, Living in the Moment (Sea Breeze)
  11. The Craig Raymond Big Band, It’s Our Time (Alanna)
  12. North Texas University One O’Clock Band, Lab 2002 (UNTJE)

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