Jazz Professional               

Members of various Herman bands talking about Woody and those eventful years
AL PORCINO (trumpet)

During the period of the late ’40s and early ’50s I was sort of going in cycles. Within ten years I worked with Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and Gene Krupa three times each; I just seemed to be circulating around the three bands.

I didn’t stay too long with Krupa the first time; I had always wanted to work with Woody Herman’s First Herd, as they called it. That great band with Sonny Berman, and with Conrad Gozzo playing the lead. Even though I’d only been with Krupa a few months in the Fall of ‘46, when I did get a call to join Woody, I didn’t want to pass it up. It’s a good thing I did go with him then, because, as it turned out, Woody disbanded in December of that year, and that was the end of that first band of his. He didn’t reorganise until the September of ‘47 when he formed the Four Brothers band.

When I think back on it, it’s really something, the way Fate works. When I joined Kenton in September ‘47, little did I know that Woody was going to come up with such a sensational band. I probably could have gone with Woody at the time, but the last band I had worked with was Kenton, just before he disbanded in the Spring of ‘47.

As it turned out, I did get to work with the Four Brothers band, but it was a later vintage. I didn’t rejoin Woody until 1949, when the Brothers were Gene Ammons, Jimmy Giuffre, Buddy Savitt with Serge Chaloff the only remaining one of the original four. But that was quite a band we had, too. We recorded “More Moon” by Shorty Rogers as a single on Capitol. And we did a wonderful arrangement that Johnny Mandel wrote, called “Not Really The Blues”, on which I got to play lead. I was quite proud of that. 

BILL BYRNE (trumpet)

I joined Woody’s band in August 1965; he needed three trumpet players in about two days. Bill Chase was doing the hiring at that time, and he hired me from New York City. Before that I’d been with a Naval Academy band for five years; then I was in New York playing with Larry Elgart on weekends. When I started with Woody, I thought the book was, as they say, straight ahead. The way you see the figures, that’s the way it’s going to be played; it’s very natural. There aren’t too many left–handed figures on anything in it. You just sit in the band, sight–read the book and if there’s something they’ve changed, they’ll tell you. Things are pretty relaxed.

As a leader, Woody lets the guys in the band take the reins a lot. He lets their personalities enter into it like Duke’s band. Consequently, the band changes from year to year, because Woody will always let the musicians do what they can do. Especially if they’re exceptionally talented; he gives them a chance.

Woody’s approach is to leave it relaxed as long as something is happening—that’s the best way to put it. If nothing is happening musically, then he can crack the whip. But usually we have personnel that have very good talents, and they crack their own whip, in a way. If necessary, though. Woody steps in and uses his experience and knowledge gained through the years to influence us. In rehearsal, he lets the arranger or composer take the whole thing through. He’ll sit there and listen to it, and if he has a suggestion he’ll make it. It’s not an ultimatum; they’ll confer on it together.

As well as playing trumpet with the band, my other function is still that of road manager. I do all the hiring and selecting of everyone with the help of the guys in the band, too. Normally, I ask them for their opinions on musicians; if they don’t have anybody in mind, then it’s up to me to start calling New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and find out who’s available. But if they’re the players they want, that’s ten times better. Sometimes, though, people recommend friends of theirs who aren’t as good; so then you have to weed that out. Ninety per cent of the time, the guys who are recommended are very good.

On Woody’s band, I would say we get rid of no more than three people a year who don’t work out. 


My work with this band has brought me the most appreciation I’ve had in my musical life therefore I remain here. And I do get a chance to play to some extent, unlike many other jobs I might be commissioned to do. Big bands are still a creative and enjoyable thing.

The enjoyment has a lot to do with Woody himself, in one certain respect. He is very receptive to the ideas of younger musicians, and they contribute their arrangements and charts. It’s not a thing where we’re subject only to playing the old material he’s famous for. We do them, but Woody is very versatile in selecting tunes. So these present-day charts make it that much more tolerable, throughout the period of years attached to one particular group.

If one is not sustained by things of this kind, staleness can set in, which invariably results in leaving the band and going on to a new situation. When the band’s personnel changes, the people that have been there do adapt to the contributions of the new players. Things are maintained; as one leaves, maybe another can pick it up and move from second to first, or whatever. And there are always musicians available, who are ready to take the road job, probably after playing with a lot of groups in local areas. That’s the way it just resolves right on through.

Musicians will stay no less than eight months, up to a year-and-a-half on the band that goes for about fifty per cent of the band, I’d say. I played on the last four or five albums by the band; I liked a couple of things I did. I was involved in the origin of the last one, “Giant Steps”. What happened was: we gave a seminar, with a jam session, and I conducted an “Evolution Of Jazz”. One of the high spots of this was my explanation of “Giant Steps”, covering the entire period in which ‘Trane introduced it that is, the rapid changing of tonalities.

Woody was in the audience, and it inspired him to ask for a chart on it. Of course, I had one; so Bill Stapleton and I had a ball collaborating on arranging it for the band. Which led to Woody presenting it as the title tune of a whole album. Really good. These are the things I was speaking about, that continually make it interesting for one to remain for a long space of time. On the next album, there’ll be a couple more of ‘Trane’s tunes “Naima” and “Lazy Bird”.

You know, they’re things which he played in the ‘sixties, and right now commercially it seems to be of great value; because it has been around a long while, a lot of people have become attached to that sort of sound. So this is really nice, and there’s no telling what the album after that will be probably free jazz!

Woody is really adaptable, and he certainly manages to put over newer music, along with the unforgettable “Caldonia”. Actually, that’s what he’s been doing throughout the entire years. Which is fine; people have been accepting him. 

AL COHN (tenor)

Yes, I would say playing with Woody Herman was a kind of a foundation for all that followed. That period with the ‘Four Brothers’ band was the first time I ever got my name out in front of the public really not that I had billing with the band, but we got heard. I met Zoot and Stan Getz there, of course.

It was a very good band, although we didn’t sense anything particularly important about it at the time. We were working so hard, we didn’t have time to reflect. It was a travelling, one-nighter band; in the best of circumstances you get a little tired and bored under those conditions. The band was always charged up on the bandstand it was after the gig was over that there was kind of a let-down.

You know, you spend eight to twelve hours a day travelling, and four hours on the job. Of course, I’m out again now the road is not for everybody, but I enjoy it. I wouldn’t enjoy sitting in a bus ten hours a day any more. However, we don’t have that sort of thing, luckily.

Now, Woody knows what he wants, in terms of a big band sound of today, even if he can’t do it himself. I mean, he can’t put it on paper, and he can’t play that way himself, but he can take the raw materials that are given to him, and mould something out of it that’s his. Not many have that ability.

Woody has a really excellent band now. I don’t think it’s only the Four Brothers sound that identifies Woody. Woody himself has a lot to do with identifying the Herman band. His playing always you know it’s Woody, whether you like it or not. What he does, he does very well.

As a matter of fact, I heard him on a record he did on clarinet with just a rhythm section. And it’s pretty nice—it’s the best I’ve ever heard Woody play that thing. He always plays pretty alto. I like Woody.


After a long tour with Buddy Rich, I had a horrible five-day drive across the country from San Francisco to New York City, and I got home about three in the afternoon I swore I’d never go on the road ever again in my life. At five o’clock the same day, I got a call from Woody Herman’s band, asking me to join him in Chicago that day. I left for Chicago at eight o’clock that night.

Well, that was the band with Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, AI Cohn and everybody I didn’t believe that they would call me. That was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had that personnel was something else. And I really learned a lot from Woody I love and admire him. Woody put up with a lot of things that I don’t think many bandleaders would put up with. But musically, when that band got onstage, it was phenomenal a red-hot bebop band. Also, he lost so much money, because the band was so good that we hardly ever did one nighters.

He put us in the Royal Roost for a month; we played a club in California for a month, then Chicago for a month. You don’t make any money in clubs; it’s one-nighters where you make it. But he wanted the people to hear that band. It was one great soloist following another it got better and better. We used to play “Four Brothers” every night; it didn’t make any sense how guys could play that good at that age. You know they were all young.

“Early Autumn” was a big thing for me; I think it actually won me my first Down Beat award. I had eight bars; Stan Getz had the big solo on it. Stan and myself were both disappointed, in a way, when they put out that take, compared to another one we thought we’d played better on. But Woody knew what a band should sound like; he didn’t go by just solos he just went by the full performance of the whole band. Which I learned later on; when I had a band of my own, I really incorporated that into my thinking.

Last October, Woody came in to see me when I worked New York City. I introduced him on the microphone, and I thought that what I said was being kind of cute and clever but actually it was the truth. I said: “At one time, I used to look on Woody as my father but now I’m too old.” It’s true: when you’re twenty–two or twenty–three and somebody’s twelve or fourteen years older than you, that’s a lot. Later on in life, that narrows right down. Specially with Woody he stays on the road, like a little kid; he’s travelling constantly.

He’s an amazing man. Through the years, I’ve heard his band and seen it a few times, and I think, of all the bandleaders, Woody always has one over the other guys he picks the best soloists. His soloists are always a little better. He’s had people like Sal Nistico a giant player. He manages to find some young kids who can really play well not just in the section, although that’s very important; Woody has a great ensemble band also.

I love Woody as a person; I always will. Indirectly, without even realising it, I may have patterned my big band after his, in some respects.

NAT PIERCE (piano)

The band I had in Boston, with the double-time trumpet figures and everything, was kinda patterned after Woody’s band at the time. We made one record date, to which a lot of the guys from Woody’s band showed up Lou Levy, Earl Swope, Zoot, Serge and so on. They all came around to help us on our way. It was nice.

It was a very friendly situation up there in Boston at that time. So my direction was towards the Herman noise. It was a little cruder then, though. Some of the voicings were strange, and then we wrote too many notes. We did things that were completely uncomfortable to play. In fact, we couldn’t even play ‘em! I don’t think this band or any other could play some of the things we played.

My joining Woody’s band came about because one of the trumpet players that was with my band had gone with Woody, and somehow he convinced him that he should call me up when Dave McKenna went into the army for the Korean war. That was in 1951.

Of course, Ralph Burns was the head man at that point. He was writing all kinds of things pop tunes, originals, novelties. They had everything going on. He had just left MGM when I joined. Wonderful people like Doug Mettome and Don Fagerquist on trumpets, Urbie Green on trombone, Sonny Igoe on drums were still with the band.

Then Chubby Jackson reappeared on the scene with his bass. This was, I guess, around September or October of 1951. By the next Spring we were making records for Woody’s own label, Mars. On the first session we made “Terrisita”, “Moten Stomp”, “Stompin’ At The Savoy” and “Jump In The Line”. Those were the first records I ever made with a so-called big time band. After that I started writing for the band. “Buck Dance” I wrote the beginning and the last chorus and Ralph Burns wrote the middle part all the little four-bar send-offs for the soloists.

Woody wanted to have a thing where we brought in all kinds of different dances: “The Sailor’s Hompipe”, “Turkey In The Straw” and so on. We still play “Buck Dance” we do it as a cha-cha now, during dance engagements.

We may build another monster in that vein, but we never get around to it with so many other things to do.

Woody has a thing going against intros. A long time ago he made a record of “Let It Snow, Let It Snow” with the original Herd Bill Harris and all those people. Neal Hefti wrote this monster intro I think it was twenty-four bars long. Quotes from Stravinsky it was great. Woody loved it. But it took twenty-four bars to get into the song. And Vaughn Monroe came out like, it went one, two, three, four and in. It became a national hit. So Woody said: “It must be the fault of the intro”. So even to this day, it’s very short intros—we go right in.


I was very fortunate because I’d always been surrounded by so many great players. At many times, I automatically played way over my head, way beyond what I ever thought I could play, because of people like Bill Harris, all the men in Woody’s band.

Charlie Barnet really started it for me, and then I joined Woody, and, of course, the rest of that is history. Woody’s band did score heavily; there’s no doubt that I went along for the ride, and enjoyed every moment of it. And to this day I’m tremendously in the corner of Woody Herman he’s like my daddy. I learned a lot from him not only musically, but many different ways.

Seemingly, when I would be in any kind of trouble never all that serious, of course he’d pretty well get together and straighten me out. I’d say he was a humanitarian; plus the fact that he’s enormously dedicated to his music. Really, I put him in the same category as a Duke Ellington, a Count Basie, a Lionel Hampton, and all these bands that had their own sounds. I mean, I know I’m leaving out quite a few bands, but you know the bands I mean, that were dedicated Woody is one of ‘em, there’s no doubt.

Stan Kenton was a dedicated man. They’ve all done their little bit for music; they’ve all contributed, in their own feelings and styles. Yes, you could say that my bass sound was a key factor in Woody’s formula one that has carried on, I love to hear people say that to me.(bass) I believe that most of the enthusiasm and the fire that I had going was given to me by Davey Tough. Because we used to sit in the bus and discuss rhythms and music and little excursions in rhythm, which were the early motivation of what they now call the free, avant garde music, you know.

We would discuss all those little possibilities. That Fortieth Anniversary Concert at Carnegie Hall was a very exciting thing it really was. The old men came back and burned and cooked and romped and stomped—it was really unbelievable. Well, you’ve probably heard the record it was for real.

You know, they have baseball in the States, and every year they have the all-star old-timers’ game; they would cheer a great like Willie Mays, for example, who would get up and just maybe strike out or pop out. But this all-star, old-time thing—we were there for real. We were playing these tunes, cooking like mad, and we hadn’t seen each other on the bandstand, anyway for twenty-five years.

It fell into place immediately; which brings out a belief of truth that’s where we were, and when we got back together, there was not the slightest indication of a struggle. Which usually there can be, because this one is a little older, and can’t quite run the hundred-yards dash like they used to. But with certain musicians I know, that are older they can run that dash. 

DON LAMOND (drums)

Whatever fame I’ve been able to acquire throughout my career, I’d say I became more well-known through my work with Woody Herman than any other band.

Yes, I replaced Dave Tough. I was in Washington, D.C. (where I was raised) at the time. They were down South, in Alabama - some place like that—and Dave took sick. I knew the late Sonny Berman, who was in the trumpet section; we’d been together on a couple of little bands here and there. He recommended me to Woody. So I joined the band and stayed on.

Mainly I wanted to just keep time and swing the band. No two people play alike; I certainly didn’t try to copy Dave. I figured I’d just keep the band swinging to the best of my ability, and I didn’t have him in mind. Except a couple of things—Woody used to like those fast little bass drum beats when he cut off the band at the end of a tune.

Well, I tried that a couple of times, but it just wasn’t in my bag. You know, I didn’t feel right with it. Actually, I played with two Herman bands - the one that recorded “Caldonia”, “Apple Honey” and all that, the one that Dave was in; then I was in the “Four Brothers” band - “Early Autumn”, “Keen And Peachy” and so on. They were both very enjoyable.

If you’re thinking style-wise, I guess they were different from one another. The first band had a tremendous amount of fire; maybe the second band was a little bit more on the relaxed side. It’s very hard to compare those styles.

Of course, Bill Harris was a great artist in that band, and Flip Phillips, Sonny Berman. A wonderful brass section - Neal Hefti was one of the trumpet players; Conrad Gozzo was a powerhouse. It was really an education.

When Woody broke that band up, I went to California, because I was such friends with Jimmie Rowles, the piano player. He had talked me into it. I stayed out there until Woody reorganised, and the second band came into being, with Zoot and Al, and all the guys.

The sound of the tenor lead, as on “Four Brothers”, might have thrown Woody a little when he heard it; he wasn’t used to it. Jimmy Giuffre wrote that arrangement.

That started, you know, in a little band led by a trumpet player named Tommy De Carlo. They were local guys who worked in the Mexican section of Los Angeles; I think he had Herbie Steward, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Jimmy Giuffre. They couldn’t find an alto player they liked; so Stan Getz transposed the lead part and played it on tenor. Jimmy Giuffre got the idea from that and, when Woody asked him to do a couple of arrangements, he wrote in the tenor lead. Which they’ve had from then on.

Without a doubt, those years I spent with Woody were very happy ones. And as a person, Woody’s a doll. A really wonderful guy.

It’s funny, I played a festival with George Wein down in Atlanta recently; Woody was there and we played together. Do you know, that guy hasn’t changed since I was with him. He seems to be eternally young. He still has that very youthful look to me; he hasn’t got old-looking at all. There’s always that enthusiasm for what he’s doing.

One thing I always admired Woody for—he would never have a bad band for commercial reasons. At all times, he tries to have a good band—and he usually manages to have one. He makes it a point to get nice arrangements that he and the guys like.

Woody was always very good to me. He helped me along every step; it was never like a boss–employee relationship. In the band he gave me a completely free hand. He used to say: “Put in whatever you want to put in.” Who wouldn’t enjoy that?