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August 02, 1978 - Image 6

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1978-08-02

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Page 6-Wednesday, August 2, 1978-The Michigan Daily
Little thunder in Woody's Herd

By R. J. SMITH
Years ago, and I mean years ago, a
short time after breaking into the 1940s
jazz scene, this man earned a place as a
bonafide American pop star. Through
all the changes, and a life which has
criss-crossed the world, he has held on-
to that role. Time may have passed him
by, as the age of big bands fades and he
is written away asa popularizer and not

an innovator. But his current fame, and
his recent record sales, show he has
somehow left time behind somewhere
as well.
Our parents used to skip school to see
him when "Woody Herman and His
Thundering Herd" would come to town.
Combining the confident smile of a
rounder and loads of good-natured
poise and swagger with the joyousness

of his music - screaming with un-
spoken power and sexuality - Woody
Herman, plunderer of an Afro-
American tradition, helped give jazz a
new audience.
IT'S A LITTLE bit different these
days. There's no swagger - he dances
around a lot like Happy Kyne now. And
all too often, that "Thundering Herd"
storms through hot charts by such
people as Steeley Dan or Chuck
Mangione, jazzed up, presumably, for
someone's dancing pleasure. When you
start calling your band "The Young
Thundering Herd" not so much because
of their age but as a result of yours, you
know you've been around a long time.
But being Woody Herman still means
a great deal - it means that giving a
terrible show, like the one at the Earle
Monday night for instance, isn't much
to be concerned about. I mean, he can
just keep doing it for years and years,
until he gets it right.
AND IF THAT show Monday was any
indication, getting it right will take
plenty of time. Although lip service to
people like Coltrane or Miles is paid in
countless solos, the true flavor of the
band is the pure white big band
tradition of "hep cats" like Stan Ken-
ton, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson,
etc. That translates into being very long
on bashes, crashes and squeals for this
Herd, and keeping apart from any
telltale subtlety or complexity.
The trumpet section especially
seemed to be paying homage to that
pagan idol Ferguson, as they huffed

DailyPhoto by JOHN KNOX
Woody Herman and his "Young Thundering Herd" performed at The Earle
Monday evening.

and puffed and fantasized they were
blowing the house down with their up-
per range acrobatics.
Indeed, the fundamental question
here perhaps should be, Can we trust
ary band that wears matching leisure
suits? Like some high school stage
band, the Young Thundering Herd per-
petually rolled their eyes, bellowed and
stomped their feet, and grimaced as in
orgasm after solos - all exactly as if
they were reaching the Ultimate Con-
nection with their music. The differen-
ce was, there's not enough going on
here to really fool anybody.
THE HIGH points of the show at the
Earle came from a few of the
arrangements. Versions of "Come Rain
or Shine," "Woodchoppers' Ball," and
"Reunion" gave pleasure, but it came
from the (comparatively) subtle or in-
tricate voicings and melodic changes in
the charts, rather than from the in-
dividual offerings.
It's a rough business, playing in a big
band. It's demanding to time and again
each evening have to come off one's
chair cold and be expected to play
something beautiful. Monday night, the
soloists played with much volume and
technical ability, but few musical ideas
were fleshed out. There was more
vigor, and often more substance, than
the soloists for the Jones/Lewis band
displayed last week. But that, overall is
far from being enough. It can be ap-
preciated cerebrally, perhaps, that
these musicians are getting their
breaks now and are learning the ropes;
but ultimately it is not satisfying for the
sake of the listener. It ran be both ways.
A NOTEWORTHY exception to this
general vapidity was the work of the
pianist. Although he was granted scar-
cely any solo space, he treated
Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" craf-
tily and sonorously, and constantly
backed up other musicians with
imagination.
Generally, I'd say this show was of-
ten boring, and made me squirm on
several occasions. For me, this was the
high point of the evening: right before
the end of the last number, after a good
solo, Herman grinned and looked up at
the ceiling. That was it - but it was a
wonderful grin. Herman is getting on in
years, and what was once a beaming
smile has become a tight, tense grin. On
his face were a thousand small lines,
and that face showed dedication and
firmness. Herman has played thousan-
ds of clubs and dance halls -and
auditoriums, and he will play many
more. From my seat, close-up, that
grin reflected a life on the road, and a
love for the music he plays.
In one way, he is bigger than any
criticism.
The Chinese discovered that a silk
cocoon could be unwound and the fine,
long threads couldbe combined and
twisted into yarn. for weaving or short
lengths could be spun much like cotton
,p.4e~ga, .

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