The record industry today is ran by accountants who have no knowledge of music and they don’t want any,” he revealed, “it’s just a business with no feelings and they are successful—so they must be right. They have relieved
themselves of the responsibility of having creative people a long time ago.”
It cost about $25,000.00 a week to keep the Herman band on the road for six days. Payroll had to be met, plus the bus, hotels, commissions, and other expenses. That is an average amount for a band of 16 players. If the band had well-known sidemen, instead of young players, it would be even more. Add a vocalist and it gets bigger. Bookers say you break even the first four nights. If someone requests the band specifically, then the profit goes up, and maybe that’s a seventh day, too.
For a a few minutes we discussed comparisons of yesterday’s and today’s music; (1981) There’s Billy Joel, Rush, Pink Floyd, and others, versus the Big Bands of the past: “Well there is a lot of material that has quality and there is a lot of garbage. But there was a lot of garbage 45 years ago. My music was not accepted by the mature person, they said it was noise. My records were bought by kids and their parents relegated them to the cellar with their phonograph.”
How poignant—I was one of them!
As of that day in 1981, Woody had been clearly out of the cellar for 44 years and was still part of the scene. The crowds still came – - some young and some older. His sixteen players were very young, the average being 25.
“I consider myself a coach—a coach can be old, but not the players.” he quipped, “You need energy to play.” You couldn’t help but notice Woody’s slumped-forward shoulders and pale face. He seemed older than his years, like someone
carrying great weight around, but you couldn’t tell it by his enthusiasm: “Music constantly changes and that’s one gratifying thing about the whole scene. It’s completely different from the music of the forties.”
Woody Herman is responsible for the success of many jazz greats including sax player Stan Getz and vibraphonist Terry Gibbs who were once band members. They still were getting together at annual reunions at Woody’s home in the Hollywood Hills and at various festivals. In 1977, almost everyone from his past bands and herds showed up for his 40th anniversary performance at Carnegie Hall, “…and they all played. Zoot Sims, The Candoli Brothers, Pete and Conte…Chubby Jackson, Don Lamond—they all came out. Then a few months ago we did the Monterey Jazz Festival and Getz was there and I had him do one of our charts.”
Woody never arranged his charts, but he claims to be a very good editor. He kinda prides himself on his ability to make a young player give a better performance than he would ordinarily by rubbing off some of the Herman experience on him. That, I think, kept him musically sharpened and in tune with the continuous growth of music on a day-by-day basis, which explains his joy at remaining in the business.
“Over 80 percent of my year is spent visiting high schools and colleges. What we do there,” he went on, “is hold seminars with clinic sessions where our young men are utilized by players as teachers— so I learn from youth, being around them so much—it’s a different environment so you are open to learning where most people my age are not.”
Woody wouldn’t let us go without telling us about his revered experience recording with Igor Stravinsky some years back. Stravinsky, then considered to be the world’s greatest living composer, wrote a piece entitled “Ebony Concerto” just for his band. Woody called it the high point of his career. Woody admitted he has a lot of miles on him and reminded me that he has spent 44 years as a jazzman and the same amount of years married to the same woman.
“Which is a record for a jazz musician,” he touted as we shook hands and exchanged goodbyes then watched him amble over to the bandstand, charts in hand, ready to play and lead his young players.