Archive for the ‘Woody Herman’ Category

Woody Herman and my visit to Winnipeg - October 2012

Woody Herman May 16, 1913-October 29, 1987

Woody Herman May 16, 1913-October 29, 1987

I recently spent a few days in Winnipeg. The main reason was to direct the wonderful Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra in a concert celebrating the up coming 100th Birthday of Woody Herman on May 16, 2013. This was my 5th visit to direct this fine band and in many ways it is beginning to feel like my “other” band.

There a lot of great jazz players in Winnipeg, as there are in every city in Canada, and I’m never disappointed in the quality of the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra. Besides the great ensemble players, the band is also populated by some every fine, strong soloists. A big treat for me on this visit was an opportunity to work once again with pianist/bassist/composer/arranger Ron Paley. Ron and I had met briefly in 2005 when I went to conduct a pops concert with the Winnipeg Symphony, he was the piano player on those concerts. On that trip there was no opportunity to “hang,” but this time we made a point of getting together a few times. I had long been aware of Ron, and he of me apparently, mostly through the old Jazz Radio Canada program in the 1970s. Like I mentioned in another post, this was a weekly CBC  Radio jazz show that broadcast studio and live sessions of both big and small jazz ensembles. This was the program where I first heard many of the great Canadian jazz musicians, including Canadian big band giants Rob McConnell and Phil Nimmons.

It seemed that as soon as I arrived on October 11, and checked into my hotel, I was off to conduct the first of 6 band workshops spread over my first 2 days. I love doing these types of things, interacting with the students, digging their energy and enthusiasm. But seeing their pleasure when they hear themselves playing better as we go through the music is the best reward. One of these groups was a ensemble of University of Manitoba music students, headed by 2nd year trumpet student Miles Thomsen, calling themselves the South Side Big Band. These students are not involved with the university’s jazz program but want (need?) to play jazz in a big band setting. The band is sounding good. What really struck me was how familiar this was to my own experience. Jazz at UBC in the early 1970s was frowned upon by many of the faculty, so we students created our own band. I played the role of Miles Thomsen in those years. It was that activity that led me to writing and to my eventual career. I’m sure similar things will happen to these fine young players.

Here are the groups I worked with over the 2 days of clinics:
Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute
Acadia Junior High Jazz Band
Fort Richmond Collegiate Junior Jazz Band
Fort Richmond Collegiate Intermediate Jazz Band
Nelson McIntyre Collegiate Jazz Band
South Side Big Band

I had 2 very long and intensive rehearsals with the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra. In the first I made sure we played through everything once, only stopping a couple of times to address something. This gave me, and the members of the band, a chance to evaluate what would take time in the second rehearsal and what we could just play through once more. Everyone in the band is totally familiar with Woodchopper’s Ball, so there was no need to thoroughly rehearse it, or any of the other easier pieces. The charts I knew would take the most time were Ralph Burn’s exquisite Summer Sequence, La Fiesta, Lazy Bird and After You’ve Gone. The second rehearsal is the time to really work on those tricky spots and to get the right conceptions happening. This band does so many concerts with a large group of visiting performers and writers that they have become very adept at getting to the needs of the music quickly. Still, it is very much a time management issue when dealing with limited rehearsal time and making sure you get through everything thoroughly so the music gains the “lived in feeling.”

My first Woody Herman lp

My first Woody Herman lp

The Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra is spearheaded by artistic director and trumpet player Richard Gillis and consists of a rotating group of about 25 players, who are each called upon to play some of the WJOs concert series. While there were a few players this time out I had never worked with before, there were others that have become musical friends.

Of course it becomes a little uncomfortable singling out just a few players as everyone in the band played great. That being said, 3 players jumped out at me on that visit. Ron Paley and his always flowing and creative piano solos. Between the rehearsals and the 2 concerts I don’t think he repeated a single idea. Music just seems to flow out of him with a graceful ease. Greg Gatien’s tenor playing was also consistently high, he adapted easily as we moved from era to era and style to style. But I guess the player that really knocked me out the most on this trip was drummer Rob Siwik. Rob is one of the few players in the WJO who has been on every concert I’ve directed and he has always played great. But this time he seemed possessed. He was in the groove at all times, he listened intently to the soloists and supported then and truly kicked the band along, no matter the tempo. He was always with me and able to deal with whatever I felt needed changing during each of  the performances. I was thrilled, and I’m fussy about drummers. I’m sure Woody would have loved having him in his band.

Finally, I really should comment on the hospitality I received, especially from the orchestras general manager - Brent Johnston. Thank you Brent. The staff, as well as the food, at the Inn at the Forks were great as well.

Here is a list of all the players on my concerts with the WJO:

Saxophones:
Alto Saxophone/Clarinet - Jeff Cooper
Alto Saxophone/Tenor Saxophone/Clarinet - Neil Watson
Tenor Saxophone - Greg Gatien
Tenor Saxophone - Paul Balcain
Baritone Saxophone - Ken Gold

Trumpets:
Shane Hicks
Darren Ritchie
Jeff Johnston
Richard Boughton
Richard Gillis

Trombones:
Brad Shigeta
Jeff Presslaff
Karen Carlson
D’Arcy McLean

Piano:
 Ron Paley
Guitar:
 Keith Price
Bass:
 Gilles Fournier
Drums:
 Rob Siwik

For more of the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra go to <http://winnipegjazzorchestra.com/>

Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra
Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra

For these concerts celebrating the long band leading career of Woody Herman I wanted to choose a program that would show the changes in the music Woody’s band performed over his 50 year career as a band leader. I also wanted to avoid programing too many of the old Woody Herman standbys. But, in putting a program like this together it is important to play some of the pieces that are so closely associated with his bands. Another factor in deciding which charts we would play was to try an give a good overview of some of the great arrangers and composers who wrote for Woody. Naturally, along with these main points, I chose writers and pieces that appealed to me and would help create a good balanced program. I needed to make sure that every tune didn’t feature the same tenor saxophone player and that there would be enough variety in tempos and styles. Of course I missed quite a large number of charts strongly connected to Herman, but it was only a 2 hour concert, so some iconic charts were left at home.

The centerpiece of our program was definitely Ralph Burns’ extended work Summer Sequence, written for a Woody Herman concert at Carnegie Hall in 1946. Also premiered at that same concert was Igor Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto. A unique feature of Summer Sequence is the treatment of the rhythm section, particularly piano and guitar. Burns shifted these instruments from their traditional accompaniment roles to playing melody and even writing some sectional interplay. Originally a 3 movement work, in 1947 Herman asked Burns to add a fourth movement in order to fill out 4 sides of a 2 disc 78 release. The new movement, a reworking of the main theme from the first movement, was designed to feature a young Stan Getz. In 1948 the newly added last movement was further reworked into a new stand-alone composition for Getz - Early Autumn.

woody-summer-sequence-lp-hl7093

Here is the program for the October 14 concerts. I did all the transcriptions.

Blue Flame - Joe Bishop (1941) [Transcription]
Woodchopper’s Ball - Joe Bishop; Woody Herman (1939)
The Good Earth - Neal Hefti (1945) [Transcription]
Bijou (Rhumba A La Jazz) - Ralph Burns (1945) [Transcription]
Your Father’s Moustache - Bill Harris; Head arrangement with contributions by Ralph Burns (1945) [Transcription]
Summer Sequence - Ralph Burns (1946-1947) [Transcription]
Four Brothers - Jimmy Giuffre (1947)
Early Autumn - Ralph Burns, Woody Herman & Johnny Mercer (1948)
Keeper Of The Flame - Shorty Rogers (1948) [Transcription]

Intermission

Mo-Lasses - Joe Newman; arranged by Nat Pierce (1963) [Transcription]
After You’ve Gone - H. Creamer, T. Layton; arranged by Bill Holman (1963)
Body and Soul - Johnny Green; arranged by Nat Pierce (1963) [Transcription]
I Can’t Get Next To You - Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong; arranged by Richard Evans (1969) [Transcription]
A Time for Love - Johnny Mandel; arranged by Alan Broadbent (1971) [Transcription]
Lazy Bird - John Coltrane; arranged by Bill Stapleton (1974)
La Fiesta - Chick Corea; arranged by Tony Klatka (1973)
Blues for Red - John Fedchock (1986)

Encore

Caldonia - Fleecie Moore; Head arrangement with contributions by Ralph Burns and Neal Hefti (1945) [Transcription]

I had a great time, and I hope I get to head back to Winnipeg soon.

Here is Woody Herman playing Bill Holman’s arrangement of After You’ve Gone on a British television program in the early to mid-1960s. watch?v=JvJIBEuDTI4

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