Los Angeles Jazz Institute Festival - Woodchopper's Ball: Part 1-4

Simon Pilbrow By

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Poston described the transition of the band into what would soon become known as the First Herd, the importance of Cab Calloway. By 1945, the transition to the First Herd was complete, with the key new personnel including trumpeters Pete Candoli and Neal Hefti; Hefti and Ralph Burns as the arrangers; trombonist Bill Harris; reedmen John LaPorta and Flip Phillips; vibraphonist Margie Hyams, and the rhythm section of Sonny Berman, Shorty Rogers and Conrad Gozzo; Jimmy Rowles returning to the piano chair, guitarist Chuck Wayne and drummer Don Lamond. Footage was shown of the Hit Parade Of 1947, with a blistering "Northwest Passage" featuring Red Norvo on vibes, and finally, from the film New Orleans, which featured Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, the Herman Herd playing "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans," with Norvo and Herman taking the solo honors.

Concert 1: Flip the Whip -Harry Allen Plays Flip Phillips

The first of the small group concerts, this was a happy celebration of Flip Phillips (1915-2001), very individual and brilliant tenor saxophonist and one of the unforgettable characters of the Woody Herman story of the mid 1940s. Led by tenor-man Harry Allen, it was a first-rate quartet with Josh Nelson on piano, Dave Stone on bass, and Paul Kreibich on drums. Allen is a consummate, master tenor player, and, although no imitator of Phillips, this was a very worthy tribute to the master.

Beginning with two pieces recorded by the Flip Phillips quintet on Rock With Flip in 1957, "Lady's in Love With You" was a medium-up swinger, featuring three mighty tenor choruses from Allen, bright and playful piano choruses with solid block-chording from Nelson, bouncy bass solo from Stone and trades with Kreibich's sizzling drums. "Lemon Aid 21" was an easy swinger over "rhythm changes," its riffy, cheeky melody full of wide intervallic leaps. Nelson's opening solo featured low register block chords with a nice, behind-the-beat swing. Allen followed, initially accompanied only by bass, with a raunchy big-toned solo and some mighty double-timing. Stone alternately walked and be-bopped through his solo chorus, before the leaping final melody returned.

A shift of mood, and Burke and Van Heusen's ballad "But Beautiful" was next, originally recorded by Flip in 1949, in a quartet. Allen gave the melody a breathy, expressive reading, with tender, sensitive accompaniment from the rhythm section. Nelson's piano solo, at once both thoughtful and playful, evolved into more teasing, tickling, treble finger-work and then faded gently to its ending. Allen played a passionate, probing tenor solo half-chorus, covering a huge dynamic range, leading into the final sixteen bars of the head, gently caressing the melody, and finishing with a superb, adventurous solo cadenza.

"The Claw," a Phillips original, was introduced as having been recorded on a 1981 album of 'scary tunes,' called Flipenstein. This was a boppy, up-tempo tune based on "rhythm changes." Nelson began his piano solo with a Monkish entrance, leading into a swinging solo running up and down the register, with more Monkish inflections. Allen followed with a virile tenor solo, then Stone with a virtual 'lesson' in walking bass lines and tricks, and finally, energetic drum trades with quirky Nelson piano and muscular Allen tenor. Hoagy Carmichael's evergreen "Stardust" was introduced by Allen as having been recorded by Phillips on Flip Wails (1956), which he described as "the perfect recording." Allen and Nelson began with a rubato duet on the verse, joined by bass and drums as the main melody unfolded with Allen's tenor—quiet, sensitive but passionate— with nice Kreibich brushwork, and masterful saxophone rhapsodizing on the melody with beautifully chosen notes. A magisterial tenor solo followed, the band went into double time for a while, and the rhythm section returned to original tempo while Allen continued his powerful, double-time solo statement. Nelson followed with a sparkling piano solo half chorus before the tenor-man returned to the melody and a nice upper register cadenza.

"A Sound Investment," which Flip had recorded with Scott Hamilton, was a fast tune, based on the form of Sweet Georgia Brown. Allen led into a fierce tenor solo, supported by a driving rhythm section, notably the hard-swinging drumming of Paul Kreibich. A vigorous Nelson piano solo followed, with teasing piano work up and down the keyboard. Drum trades with Kreibich, who, it was announced, was celebrating his birthday, and then a powerful, sizzling drum solo chorus, more fast-and-furious Harry Allen tenor solo choruses, and on to the final head. The generous ovation from the audience marked an inspired performance by a magnificent tenor saxophonist and his quartet.

Panel 1: Terry Gibbs with Kirk Silsbee

At 93, Terry Gibbs (b Oct 13, 1924) exudes a great deal of energy and vitality. His 2017 release, 92 Years Young: Jammin' at the Gibbs House has been hugely successful, showcasing the vibraphone-playing nonagenarian in sparkling form. For this festival, he was an important inclusion, as he is the only surviving member of Woody Herman's Second Herd of the late 1940s. Although the audience was not treated to his playing on this occasion, the indefatigable vibraphonist Terry Gibbs held the floor for a happy hour of 'fireside chat' with Kirk Silsbee.

Gibbs remarked that Woody's Second Herd was at the time considered the best big band in the world because of its superb ensemble playing and its brilliant soloists. For Woody, the most important priority was a tight ensemble sound, "the band sounding good as a whole," and this, he said, was the mark of his great leadership. Woody liked climactic endings and would re- arrange the order of choruses in the arrangements in order to "always end a piece 'big.'"

He mentioned that the famous "Early Autumn" was recorded in nine takes, and that he and Stan Getz had lobbied Woody to use Take #4 as they felt it contained their best solos. Woody resisted, choosing instead Take #8 for release, which they considered an inferior take. The rest is history, the recording gaining instant and lasting fame for Getz, and Gibbs and Getz were each Downbeat poll-winners that year!

He spoke fondly of two band-mates as being his lifelong best friends -pianist Lou Levy and trumpeter Conte Candoli—and that this friendship had begun whilst they were together in the Chubby Jackson band during 1947. Years later, when each died, Gibbs said it was like losing a brother. He spoke of Lou's singular abilities as a conductor/accompanist for singers, and felt that Conte was one of the ten greatest jazz trumpeters of all time, and his own personal favorite jazz soloist.

Gibbs spoke about his 'Terry Gibbs Dream Band' of the late fifties featuring Conte Candoli on first trumpet, Frank Rosolino on first trombone and Joe Maini leading the reed section. There was discussion about the challenge of distributing solo spots fairly in a band when it was full of so many outstanding soloists.

Silsbee and Gibbs spoke about the influence of the Chubby Jackson quintet on Woody's Second Herd, and the adoption of the George Wallington tune "Lemon Drop," via the Jackson band's vocal scat version, into the Herman repertoire, and that Gibbs's comical, low voice scatting was central to Woody's recording becoming a hit. Following this, Gibbs tried to negotiate with Woody for a raise, which, when rejected, led to Gibbs' resignation and signing with Charlie Ventura's band, and Woody's subsequent conceding, offering Gibbs the raise. Gibbs stayed with Herman.

Gibbs spoke fondly of fellow vibraphonist Red Norvo, who had preceded him in Woody's band, and about their different styles, Red's style more rooted in the Swing era. Years later, Gibbs recalled playing at a vibraphone summit concert featuring himself, Lionel Hampton, Gary Burton and others. Red was in attendance, with one side of his body paralyzed after his stroke, but when invited out of the audience to play, he came onstage and played with one hand, generating a thirty minute ovation!

Gibbs spoke fondly of the brilliant lady pianist/vibraphonist Terry Pollard (1931-2009), originally from Detroit, whom he had heard playing there with trumpeter Thad Jones, and who joined Gibbs in his fifties' quintet, playing for four years. He stated that featuring a lady Afro-American musician in his band was seen as being quite bold in the social climate of the time. He spoke of being very active composing music for the group, that he would write twelve tunes, the band would play them, record them, and this process would repeat over and over again. Gibbs has composed and recorded hundreds of his tunes.

Gibbs also spoke fondly of drummer/arranger Tiny Kahn (1924-1953), of his role in the Chubby Jackson band, of his influence on drummers Mel Lewis and Chico Hamilton, and on arrangers Al Cohn and Johnny Mandel.

Kirk Silsbee noted that Gibbs had worked with many clarinetist/leaders throughout his career including Benny Goodman (and later in his career, with Buddy DeFranco and Ken Peplowski). Gibbs maintained that Woody was the best bandleader of all, and this theme was repeated throughout this most entertaining and enlightening session.

Concert 2: Characteristically B.H. -Dan Barrett Plays Bill Harris

Trombone legend Bill Harris, one of the most individual trombonists in all of jazz, was a major voice and much-loved character in the First and Second Herman Herds of the 1940s. In happy tribute to Harris' music and his contribution to the Herman story, Trombonist Dan Barrett, whose influences are wider and probably reach back earlier than Harris, led a capable young quintet with Jason Fabus on tenor sax, Chris Dawson on piano, Nick Schaadt on bass and TYLER KREUTEL on drums, in a thoughtfully chosen mix of tunes associated with Harris.

Opening with "Pennies From Heaven," the bone-and-sax frontline led off with the melody in cheerful interplay and deft key changes between choruses. Fabus led of with a big-toned, swinging tenor solo, followed by Barrett's fluid, full-bodied bebop trombone. Dawson played some sinuous right-handed piano lines, before frontline trades with drummer Kreutel. Featured next was "Dark Shadows," a slow swinger, which Harris had recorded with Flip Phillips. Fabus played a soulful, straight-ahead tenor solo, and Barrett continued with a warm, swinging solo with playful slipping and sliding. Dawson's impish, economic piano half-chorus led into the final return of the melody to the two horns. Ellington's "In A Mellow Tone," which Harris had recorded with Ellington tenor giant Ben Webster, featured bassist Nick Schaadt taking the melody, in conversation with a tenor sax-trombone two- part counter-melody. A bright and bouncy bass solo from Schaadt preceded a witty Dawson piano solo with spare, bebop lines culminating in chunky block chording. Barrett played a happy, bubbly trombone solo, Fabus then played a superb, swinging tenor solo with nice phrasing and double-time fluidity, before Schaadt recaptured the melody and the band played it out as they had begun. Jason Fabus is a very promising young tenor player.
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