WOODY HERMAN by William D. Clancy


Chronicles of the Herds
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 A profusion of facts inundates this biography/oral history of one of the most underrated figures in jazz, bandleader/singer/reedman Woody Herman. Clancy, the official archivist of the Herman bands, and Kenton, widow of bandleader Stan Kenton, have put together an almost definitive history of Herman's career. They seem to have interviewed everyone who ever played with Herman for more than five minutes, and the book offers a detailed chronology that covers virtually every personnel change in a career that lasted over 60 years. The result is a book that quickly goes from exhilarating to enervating. The Milwaukee-born Herman, an only child, became interested in music almost from the cradle and, by his own admission, ``went on the road for my first tour when I was nine.'' After a successful career touring in vaudeville as the ``Boy Wonder of the Saxophone,'' Herman gravitated toward jazz. After a rough start and a slow rise, Herman took the leadership of the cooperative band he helped found, the Band That Plays the Blues, winning a devoted following. Out of that band evolved the hard- swinging First Herd, which was followed by the legendary Second Herd, one of the few aggregations to assimilate the innovations of be-bop in a big-band context. After rampant drug use ripped that group apart, Herman carried on with successive Herds and varying results. The authors provide some memorable anecdotes, but one wishes they had delved more deeply into such interesting sidelights as Herman's relationship with Igor Stravinsky (who wrote ``Ebony Rhapsody'' for the bandleader), his singing, his willingness- -unheard of in its time--to hire women instrumentalists, and his later, tragic run-ins with the IRS. Moreover, the book contains at best perfunctory musical analysis. For die-hard Herman fans only. (40 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-02-870496-7
Page count: 352pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1995