Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Song Is Ended, But the Melody Lingers on

His voice had the husky hush of the lower registers of the clarinet or tenor saxophone. Number three reed. If you listened closely, you might catch a hint of West Texas.

His first break in the world of music to which he aspired came when he joined the iconic Second Herd of Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Herman, an explosive, energetic band that was not about to be hindered by playing for dance but which offered instead short, punchy program music takes, mini-Petrouchka's or The Rite of Spring. In addition to becoming a respected member of the Herman Herd reed section, his composition Four Brothers was a peak moment at the tie big band jazz was about to fracture into smaller groups, jazz equivalents of chamber music intended for listening. Four Brothers featured him on tenor along with Zoot Simms and Stan Getz, with Serge Chaloff on the baritone. From that point on, the Second Herd was known as The Four Brothers Band, during the course of which it was joined by the likes of Milton "Shorty" Rogers and Shelley Manne, among others, playing harmonic delights from Ralph Burns and Neal Hefti

As such things go in music, Rogers and Manne orbited away from The Herd, luring "him" away with them for his one-man reed ensemble and his composing. "He" was Jimmy Giuffre, whom I first met when Shorty Rogers ad His Giants were playing at an iconic jazz club called The Haig, across Wilsire Boulevard from The Ambassador Hotel.

From Giuff, I learned that there was more, considerably more, to Dvorak than The New World Symphony, that there wer joys to be had in the works of the Czech composer Laos Janacek, and that I'd better start listening pronto to the Ravel and Debussy trios. His true voice, I argue, came forth in the clarinet, those potentially soggy tones down at the bottom, places where the blues begin and harmonies cry out like the sounds of passion coming from other rooms when you are unable to sleep and have to listen.

Our good fortune is a considerable recorded legacy left by this quiet giant, dead yesterday at 86.


R.L. Bourges said...

youtube has a clip of the Four Brothers - but that's the equivalent of a bad reproduction of a Gauguin original, I bet. Can't begin to imagine what a live rendition must have been like . blessed moments, for sure.

lowenkopf said...

Live, it was like listening to The Bayeaux Tapestry.

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember a wonderful piano man from the same time period of the Haig's glory days. His name was Bill Howe.

Rudy Antonovic

lowenkopf said...

Rudy, I remember Howe quite well, also Hal Schafer, Ian Bernard, Mort Jacobs. Your reminder pulls the cork out of the memory bottle.

Unknown said...

Bill Howe is still playing piano (at 93 years young) at Stoney Point in Pasadena.