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Four Brothers: Together Again!


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At 3 p.m. on February 11, 1957, four saxophonists who had played in Woody's Herman's late-1940s bands entered Webster Hall in New York City to record an album for RCA's Vik label. The musicians were Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward and Serge Chaloff. Except for a two-hour dinner break, the session lasted 10 hours, wrapping at 1 a.m. The result was The Four Brothers: Together Again!, a superb album that shows off the enormous reed work of four seasoned swingers.

For those who are scratching their heads about this Four Brothers business, let me explain. In late 1947, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre wrote an arrangement for Woody Herman called Four Brothers to showcase the band's saxophone section. Most tenor saxophonists at this point were under the spell of Lester Young's smooth approach on the instrument, and Giuffre's arrangement was designed to spotlight the section's Lester Young chops--both collectively and individually through solos. Hence the term, “Four Brothers." The saxophonists sounded as one together but went their merry way when playing alone. [Photo of Jimmy Giuffre by Herb Snitzer]

After Four Brothers was recorded by Herman in December 1947, the single was a jazz hit and an early example of how saxes could be harmonized like the Pied Pipers, Modernaires or any other big band vocal group of the period. But Four Brothers was more than just another arrangement: The emphasis on blended harmonies and Young-like saxes playing together would become the basis for West Coast jazz just a few years later.

Actually, the history of this four-sax concept had its start shortly before Woody Herman's band. In early 1947, tenor saxophonists Steward, Sims, Giuffre and Stan Getz were trying out the format while playing at Pontrelli's, a club in Los Angeles. The group featured trumpeter Tommy De Carlo, the band's leader, the four tenor saxophonists, and a three-man rhythm section. For three months, the octet worked the club with arrangements by Gene Roland and Giuffre.

In September 1947, Woody Herman organized a new band. He had broken up his previous one earlier in the year and by the fall was ready to re-group. Herman hired Sims, Steward, Getz and Serge Chaloff on baritone. Giuffre was still arranging, but with a new family, he was working at J.C. Penney in Los Angeles to make ends meet. Herman added Sam Marowitz on lead alto.

Tenor saxophonist and arranger Al Cohn joined Herman's sax section in January 1948, replacing Steward. Giuffre didn't join the band until spring of 1949, replacing Sims. Interestingly, not until Herman formed his next band, in 1950--the so-called Third Herd--did the four-saxophone sound made famous by Giuffre's Four Brothers become dominant in the orchestra.

For the Together Again! recording in 1957, Sims and Cohn were in New York, Steward was flown in from the West Coast and Chaloff, who was in a wheel chair following a spinal operation, took a plane from Boston. Joining the saxophonists were Elliot Lawrence on piano (he also conducted), Burgher Jones on bass and Don Lamond on drums.

Ten tracks were recorded--Four Brothers, Ten Years Later, The Pretty One, Aged in Wood, Here We Go Again, Four and One More, So Blue, the Swinging Door, Four in Hand and A Quick One. Arrangements were by Cohn, Lawrence and Manny Albam. Collectively, the group swings on every track. Individually, you hear the different colorations of the artists as each digs in with Young-like lines. The sound lost nothing over the years, and with the new late-1950s recording technology, the effect of four saxes blowing harmony had even more impact than the earlier 78-rpm singles.

Interestingly, Tom Lord's Jazz Discography notes that baritone saxophonist Charlie O'Kane was used in the section on the last five tracks. The album doesn't acknowledge this personnel swap, probably because O'Kane's inclusion in the personnel would have negated the album's concept of a Herman reed-section reunion. I'm guessing that the 10-hour session was a bit much for the ailing Chaloff, who may have been triggering re-takes toward dinner. O'Kane was likely brought in to handle the section-work with Chaloff just delivering the solos. Elliot Lawrence was likely the one who reached out to O'Kane, who was playing in his band at the time.

Together Again! would be Chaloff's last session, and he probably knew it, which is why he made the trip. Chaloff died five months later in July 1957 of spinal cancer.

JazzWax tracks: Four Brothers: Together Again! can be found on CD in several different versions. There's an out-of-print Japanese import selling for about $150 here. Or you can buy a copy of the CD released in the mid-1990s for about $15 here. Or there's an import box from Europe (of unknown audio quality) that offers four Zoot Sims albums for $15 here.

Jimmy Giuffre, the composer and arranger of Four Brothers, did not play tenor saxophone on the hit record by Woody Herman in December 1947. But he did record two versions shortly afterward. One was in January 1948 with bassist Harry Babasin and His Potential Philharmonics. The other, in July 1948, was with Buddy Rich.

In many ways, the Rich version (called Four Rich Brothers), is more explosive than the famed Herman version. You'll find it here as a 99-cent download. You be the judge. The sax lineup? Hal McKusick (alto sax), Giuffre, Ben Lary and Warne Marsh (tenor saxes) and Harvey Levine (baritone sax).

JazzWax clip: If you're unfamiliar with Jimmy Giuffre's Four Brothers, here's a clip of the Herman band in 1985 playing it...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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