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Book Excerpts

Jazz Orchestras

By Published: August 7, 2009
Woody Herman's affability was infectious. One night after just about any kind of technical snafu that one could imagine had occurred during one of my shows, we decided to go out after the show and put the evening behind us. We settled into a cozy booth at the Café Pierre and were relaxing listening to the Bucky Pizzarelli
Bucky Pizzarelli
Bucky Pizzarelli
b.1926
guitar
trio entertain a roomful of bluebloods. Everyone instantly recognized Woody and in the rush to our table to greet him and say hello, someone spilled a glass of crème de menthe all over Woody's tuxedo. I rolled my eyes up thinking, "what else can go wrong tonight?" but Woody just laughed it off and told me to relax. In an instant the incident melted away and we were laughing and enjoying the music.

Woody's good nature was ill served by bad management. Toward the end of his life he was hounded by IRS agents demanding restitution for non-payment of taxes. The financial people that he had trusted through the years had betrayed him. Even after his death, his children and heirs had years of misery because of this.

Ever since Benny Goodman had discovered a young Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton
1908 - 2002
vibraphone
in California during the early 30's and brought him into national prominence with his small group recordings. Hamp had ruled mightily from his roost atop the jazz world. As noted previously, I first saw him when, as a 14 year old, I was playing at the Hollywood Terrace, on New Utrecht Avenue in Brooklyn. Hamp had come out to thunderous screaming and clapping from a roomful of worshippers. I immediately noticed that his fly was open, signaled to him and he whirled around to zip up and returned to the vibes with such rhythmic precision that I'm sure absolutely nobody saw this. As the band roared into Hamp's theme "Flyin' Home" the room went wild. I had never seen anything like it in my young life.

Through the next decades Lionel Hampton attained legendary status. By the 70's he had toured everywhere in the solar system with his "all-star" bands, played the most prestigious venues on the planet, received plaudits, honorary degrees and always gave 100% of himself on every gig just as he had in that appearance in Brooklyn when I was a kid. Because his music was so appealing and people who didn't even like jazz came to see his dazzling acrobatics, I booked the band often. During this time, I had my own production company and was producing concerts, plays and novelty shows. I'd been hired by others to put together entertainment packages and orchestras always figured prominently in all of this activity. Hamp's orchestra was important because he could play dances and concerts with equal success. During those years it seemed that I saw him every few weeks.

Hamp had been well mentored by Benny Goodman and he and his wife Gladys had learned how to invest wisely. Hamp had become a favorite of Richard Nixon, entertained during inaugurations and was a frequent visitor to the Nixon White House.

In 1999, as Hamp was aging, there was a concert a Pace with the band. I had to arrange to meet with him long before the show so I could interview him in connection with a biography of Clifford Brown that I was writing which was published the following year. It was going to be a bit sticky because I had to confront Hamp with an unpleasant situation that had occurred years before. In 1953, Hamp and Gladys were booked for the very first "Lionel Hampton All-Star" tour of Europe. Because bebop was in great demand in Europe, Hamp had hired Art Farmer, Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
1930 - 1956
trumpet
, Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
b.1933
producer
, Gigi Gryce
Gigi Gryce
Gigi Gryce
1927 - 1983
saxophone
and a host of other beboppers.


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