Woody Herman was born Woodrow Charles Thomas Herman on May 16, 1913 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father had a deep love for show business and this influenced him at an early age. As a child he worked as a Vaudeville singer and tap-dancer, then started to play the clarinet and saxophone by age 12.
1936 saw him joining the Tom Gerun band and his first recorded vocals were Lonesome Me and My Heart’s at Ease. He also performed with the Harry Sosnick Orchestra, Gus Arnheim and Isham Jones, the latter writing numerous popular songes including It Had To Be You. When Jones retired Woody acquired the orchestra, which became known for its orchestrations of the blues. They first recorded for the Decca label as a cover band, eventually getting their first hit with Woodchopper’s Ball in 1939.He went on to have hits with The Golden Wedding and Blue Prelude.
As bebop was gradually replacing swing Herman commissioned Dizzy Gillespie as an arranger and he provided him three arrangements of Woody‘n You, Swing Shift and Down Under in 1942, heralding a change in the music. By 1945 Herman was with Columbia Records, recording the First Herd, the very successful Laura, the theme song to the 1944 movie of the same name. That group became famous for its progressive jazz that was heavily influenced by Duke Ellington and Count Basie. By the end of 1946 the big band era was over and he disbanded his only financially profitable group.
In 1947, Herman organized the Second Herd that remained together until 1987. This band was also known as The Four Brothers Band derived from the song and featured three tenor and one baritone saxophone of Zoot Sims, Serge Chaloff, Herbie Steward and Stan Getz. In the band was also Al Cohn, Gene Ammons, Lou Levy, Oscar Pettiford, Terry Gibbs and Shelly Manne and they had hits with Early Autumn and The Goof and I.
Herman would go on to perform in movies with Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, record for RCA, Capitol, MGM and Verve record labels, put together his Third Herd and variations of the New Thundering Herd and by the Seventies was touring and working more in jazz education by offering workshops and taking on younger sidemen.
The 1980s saw Herman’s return to straight-ahead jazz, dropping some of the newer rock and fusion approaches he had used the previous decade. He continued to perform with his health in decline, chiefly to pay back taxes that were owed because of his business manager’s bookkeeping in the 1960s. Herman owed the IRS millions of dollars and was in danger of eviction from his home. He eventually passed leadership duties to reed section leader Frank Tiberi.
Clarinetist, alto and soprano saxophonist, singer and big band leader Woody Herman was awarded two Grammys for Best Big Band Jazz Album for Encore and Giant Steps, The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, had won Down Beat, Esquire and Metronome polls. He was the feature of a documentary film titled Woody Herman: Blue Flame- Portrait of a Jazz Legend, and was a featured half-time performer at Super Bowl VII. He passed away on October 29, 1987.
Bonnie Wetzel was born Bonnie Jean Addleman on May 15, 1926 in Vancouver, Washington. She learned violin as a child and was an autodidact on bass.
She played with Ada Leonard in an all-female ensemble and soon after worked in a trio with Marian Grange. Bonnie married trumpeter Ray Wetzel in 1949 and the pair worked in the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1951.
Wetzel played in the Beryl Booker Trio with Elaine Leighton in 1953. They toured Europe in 1953-54 and recorded for Discovery Records. She also played with Herb Ellis, Charlie Shavers, Roy Eldridge and Don Byas. During the 1950s she freelanced in New York City. Double-bassist Bonnie Wetzel, who never led a recording session in her short career, passed away on February 12, 1965, at the age of 38.
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Earl Bostic was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on April 25, 1912. He turned professional at the age of 18 when he joined Terence Holder’s Twelve Clouds of Joy. He then performed on the riverboats of New Orleans with Frank Marable before graduating from Xavier University.
He worked with territory bands as well as with Arnett Cobb, Hot Lips Page, Rex Stewart, Don Byas, Charlie Christian, Thelonious Monk, Edgar Hayes, Cab Calloway and others His first recording session was with Lionel Hampton in 1939 along with Charlie Christian, Clyde Hart and Big Sid Catlett. In 1938, and again in 1944, Earl led the house band at Smalls Paradise and while there he doubled on guitar and trumpet. During the early 1940s, he was a well-respected regular at the famous jam sessions held at Minton’s Playhouse.
Forming his own band in 1945, Bostic made his first recordings as a leader on the Majestic label. In the late Forties turned to rhythm and blues and had his biggest hits with Temptation, Sleep, You Go To My Head, Cherokee and his signature hit Flamingo. At various times his band included Keter Betts, Jaki Byard, Benny Carter, John Coltrane, Teddy Edwards, Benny Golson, Blue Mitchell, Tony Scott, Cliff Smalls, Sir Charles Thompson, Stanley Turrentine, Tommy Turrentine and others who rose to prominence in jazz.
He would go on to record Jazz As I Feel It with Shelly Manne, Joe Pass and Richard “Groove” Holmes. He wrote arrangements for Paul Whiteman, Louis Prima, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, Artie Shaw, Hot Lips Page, Jack Teagarden, Ina Rey Hutton and Alvino Rey. His songwriting hits include Let Me Off Uptown that was performed by Anita O’Day and Roy Eldridge, and Brooklyn Boogie, which featured Louis Prima and members of the Booklyn Dodgers.
During the early 1950s Earl lived in Addisleigh Park in St. Albans, Queens before moving to Los Angeles, California where he opened his club, the Flying Fox. Suffering a heart attack he concentrated on writing arrangements. Alto saxophonist Earl Bostic, whose recording career encompassed small group swing-based jazz, big band jazz, jump blues, organ-based combos and a string of commercial successes, passed away October 28, 1965 from a heart attack while performing with his band in Rochester, New York. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hal of Fame in 1993.
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Vera Auer was born on April 20, 1919 in Vienna, Austria, the grandniece of violinist Leopold Auer. She learned classical piano and later accordion. In 1948, along with guitarist Attila Zoller formed a combo. She later added vibraphone to her list of instruments and teamed with Helmuth Zukovits on bass and Franz Mikuliska on drums.
In 1950 the group performed and recorded under her own name and appeared on the Austrian radio AG RAVAG. 1951 saw the band The Audience Award for best combo at the taking was the band at the Vienna Jazz Competition. This was followed by her first tour abroad in Turkey and West Germany, where they also played with Friedrich Gulda.
Vera would go on to play with Joe Zawinul, Hans Salomon and Toni Stricker in her band. By 1954 she was playing mainly in West Germany due to poor working conditions for jazz musicians in Austria. She accompanied Donald Byrd, Lucky Thompson and Art Taylor. In 1956 she performed with Jean-Louis Chautemps at the German Jazz Festival.
In 1959 after marrying Brian Boucher and moved to the United States the next year. She attended the Lenox School of Jazz studying under Gunther Schuller, John Lewis and George Russell. She played with Dave Burns, Cal Massey, J. J. Johnson, Mal Waldron, Ted Curson, Zoot Sims, Walter Perkins and Richard Williams. Around 1970, she recorded as a leader an LP titled Positive Vibes with her quintet, which wasn’t released until 1977 and still amazingly fresh sounds.
She continued to perform into the Nineties on the Jazz Mobile and Jazz Vespers of St. Peter’s Church in New York City. In 1984 the American Public Broadcasting Service Program dedicated a one-hour portrait of her. On August 2, 1996 vibraphonist Vera Auer passed away in Newsane, Vermont.
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Arthur S. Taylor, Jr. was born in New York City on April 6, 1929 and as a teenager he joined a local Harlem band that featured Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean and Kenny Drew. By the late Forties and into the Fifties he was playing in the bands of Howard McGee, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy DeFranco, Bud Powell, George Wallington, Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce and Donald Byrd.
After leaving Byrd he formed his own group, Taylor’s Wailers but between 1957 and 1963 he toured with Byrd, recorded with Miles Davis and John Coltrane, performed with Thelonious Monk and was a member of the original Kenny Dorham Quartet of 1957.
In 1963 he moved to Europe, where he lived mainly in France and Belgium for 20 years, playing with local groups and jazz musicians Johnny Griffin, John Bodwin, and Woody Shaw while he was in Paris. He returned to the States to help his ailing mother and continued freelancing. In 1993 Art organized a second band called Taylor’s Wailers.
He recorded five albums as a leader and 116 albums as a sideman with some of the most influential jazz musicians of the day – Gene Ammons, Dorothy Ashby, Benny Bailey, Kenny Burrell, Paul Chambers, Sonny Clark, James Clay, Jimmy Cleveland, Arnett Cobb, Pepper Adams, Walter Davis Jr., Red Garland, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Continuum, Matthew Gee, Benny Golson, Dexter Gordon, Slide Hampton, Bennie Green, Tiny Grimes, Elmo Hope, Frank Foster, Erne Henry, Milt Jackson, Thad Jones, Clifford Jordan, Duke Jordan, Ken McIntrye, Lee Morgan, Oliver Nelson, Cecil Payne, Horace Silver, Dizzy Reece, Jimmy Smith, Mal Waldron, Julian Priester, Charlie Rouse, Kai Winding, J.J. Johnson, Toots Thielemans, Randy Weston, Sonny Stitt, Jack McDuff, Stanley Turrentine, and the list goes on and on.
Art Taylor helped define the sound of modern jazz drumming and authored Notes and Tones, a book based on his interviews with other musicians. He passed away in Manhattan’s Beth Israel Hospital on February 6, 1995.
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