Woody Herman - clarinet; Nat Pierce - piano; John Beal - bass; Chuck Flores - drums; Art Pirie - tenor sax; Richie Hafer - tenor sax; Richie Kamuca - tenor; Jack Nimitz - baritone sax; Charlie Walp - trumpet; Jerry Kail - trumpet; Cam Mullins - trumpet; Rueben LaFall - trumpet; Dick Collins - trumpet; Cy Touff - bass trumpet; Keith Moon - trombone; Dick Kenny - trombone
One of the powerhouse aggregations to come out of the Swing Era, the Woody Herman Orchestra was a favorite of dancers and jazz connoisseurs alike for its lively blues-oriented swing fare. The Milwaukee-born clarinetist and bandleader first emerged in the early '30s in the bands of Gus Arnheim and Isham Jones before forming his own group in 1936 which soon became known as "The Band That Plays The Blues" for its intricate and dynamic arrangements of blues numbers (which Herman also often sang). The band's 1939 recording of the instrumental "Woodchopper's Ball" became its theme song. Herman's Thundering Herd scored a hit in 1945 with a big band arrangement of Louis Jordan's "Caldonia" and maintained its popularity through Decemer, 1946, at which point Herman disbanded the group and formed his Second Herd, featuring the formidable saxophone section of tenorists Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward and baritone sax ace Serge Chaloff. Together they were the Four Brothers, a tag that stuck in the wake of the popular tune by the same name written as a showcase for them by fellow band member Jimmy Giuffre.
At the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival, Herman showcased his Third Herd, which he had formed in 1950. On Friday night, July 15, they worked up the crowd with an invigorating rendition of "Mother Goose Jumps," a jivey jump blues in the style of Louis Jordan's 1947 hit "Barnyard Boogie" or his 1949 followup, "School Days." Herman had recorded this lively number on 1953's The Third Herd and he sings this bit of jive in convincingly hep manner, quoting from a slew of nursery rhymes along the way, from Old King Cole to Little Miss Muffett to Little Boy Blue, before breaking loose with a wailing clarinet solo. Tenor saxophonist Richie Kamuca and bass trumpeter Cy Touff follow with potent solos of their own on this dynamic big band romp, which is fueled by the outstanding 20-year-old drummer Chuck Flores, a recent addition to the Third Herd. They follow with a lush ballad feature for trumpeter Dick Collins, "Sleepy Serenade," before recreating Jimmy Giuffre's 1947 chops-busting anthem for the Second Herd, "Four Brothers" (which Herman jokingly refers to in his introduction of the tune as "Four Sisters"). Tenor saxophonists Art Pirie, Richie Kamuca, Dick Hafer and baritone saxophonist Jack Nimitz navigate the tricky twists and turns of this challenging head with aplomb while each steps up to the mic to take his turn blowing on this well known stretching vehicle. Woody wails on a bristling clarinet solo here and drummer Flores swings the proceedings with energetic flair while making all the tightly-arranged big band hits along the way. And they segue into Herman's loping mid-tempo swinger "Men From Mars" (from 1953's The Third Herd on MGM), which has the bandleader unleashing a scintillating alto sax solo upfront. Touff follows with one of his patented bass trumpet solos (which sounds strikingly similar to a trombone) and then engages in some call-and-response exhanges with trombonist Dick Kenney before Dick Collins enters with some bracing high note trumpet soloing. Herman returns with his wailing blues-tinged clarinet to take things up a few notches, then pianist Nat Pierce puts an insinuating boogie woogie bow on the proceedings while the band cheers him on with unison hand claps and chants of "All night long!" and "Go!," bringing this groove-oriented house party jam to a spirited close.
Herman induces the Newport match to "light a match" to recreate the flickering effect he had seen at the Hollywood. Then he introduces the band's resident vocalist Lea Matthews, a beguiling 24-year-old torch singer from Oklahoma who resided in Washington D.C. in 1955. Accompanied by Herman's lush orchestrations, she delivers a depth of emotion on two bittersweet offerings that belie her young age, Cole Porter's "Get Out Of Town" and the Judy Garland signature tune, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow."
This was the first of many Newport appearances to come for Woody Herman and his orchestra. And judging by the enthusiastic response from the audience on this Friday evening in 1955, it was a major triumph.