5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2011
This superb DVD is a collection of three episodes of Jazz Casual, dating from 1963-64. The show was hosted by critic Ralph Gleason on the old public NET network (the predecessor to PBS). Interestingly, Woody Herman was the only guest to appear more than once.
The Woody Herman big band released a series of exciting live albums in the 1960s. They usually featured hard hitting arrangements from Herman's younger players as well as the always swinging arrangements of pianist Nat Pierce. It's worth noting the Pierce performed most of the functions of musical director during these years.
Program 1 has the Herman Herd at its swinging best. The band has superb soloists in each section: Bill Chase plays powerful trumpet, sounding musical even when playing at stratospheric heights; trombonists Phil Wilson stuns with speed, technique and range; tenor man Sal Nistico has the virtuosity of a Jimmy Dorsey. Chase's arrangement of El Toro Grande lets Sam Nistico wail, and drummer Jake Hanna propels and solos masterfully. This episode is 29+ minutes of energy and blowing.
Program 2 focuses on ballads, including performances of A Taste of Honey (made famous by Herb Alpert), Satin Doll and Mood Indigo. Here the pace is slower, the sound more traditional. Still Herman, like Basie, can swing and have jazz content on even the slow numbers. Every number has plenty of room for solos. The band was playing many college dates at the time, usually featuring a concert section followed by three or four sets of music for dancing. This episode helps give insights into the more mellow side of the Herd and its soloists.
Program 3 starts with a couple Bill Holman charts. The amiable Herman credits his arrangers here and elsewhere. Herman never tries to hog the spotlight and solos on alto more than clarinet.
As always, the band's focus is on swing and melody, but with Herman's eagerness to do new things - play popular tunes of the time, allow young sidemen to contribute to the book, improvise with invention. The Herman band was unique, but closer to Basie then Ellington. This band has great players and plenty of room to solo. Additionally, Herman allows a few bop elements into arrangements and solos, and the band tackles rhythms with more complexity than the normal 4/4 of earlier swing.
These TV episodes features one of Herman's best groups. This congregation never bores. This was in no small part due to a swinging rhythm section. Drummer Jake Hanna is always tasteful, always swinging. Hanna combined the versatility of Dave Tough and the kick of Sonny Payne. Pianist Nat Pierce punctuates in exactly the right places, and he has the chops to impress when he takes a rare solo. Bass player Chuck 'Charlie the Arm' Andrus swings like mad on his solos - and then you notice he plays with perfect drive all the time. This is Herman's strongest rhythm section in decades, maybe ever.
Bottom Line: A delightful bargain for Herman and big band fans - 90 minutes of live performances for under $15 (April 2011). Fidelity is excellent. The picture quality is typical for 1960s B&W television. Only side 2 (NTSC format) is designed for USA players - flip over your DVD if it will not play.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2014
What a great treat to be able to see the band that I listened to so much on the original Philips LP's! This band from the early 1960's was the best of the Herman "Herds" in my opinion. There were no weak links among the sidemen and Woody made certain to let many different individuals shine in solo. This music will not seem dated and stale to you as big band music from the 1930's and 1940's can. You will marvel at the impressive musicianship throughout. Dig the impossible high notes urged from the trombone of Phil Wilson. The screaming lead trumpet of Bill Chase and the sometimes frenetic tenor sax of Sal Nistico plus the driving swing of drummer Jake Hanna are highlights. Interesting how Chase was using a trumpet with the bell bent upward a la Dizzy Gillespie on Program 1 then changed to a conventional horn on the later programs. Program 3 is supposedly back stage at a rehearsal as they tackle an untitled Bill Holman chart - credited as "Jazz Hoot". Dare you not to tap your feet to these swinging arrangements, largely done by band manager and pianist Nat Pierce. Nat gets a solo or two as does the fine bassist Chuck Andrus. Programs 1 and 3 end with one of the best big band charts ever, called "Cousins". This tune absolutely wails! If this doesn't get you moving, check your pulse! They ran out of time on the 30 minute format on Program 1 but get to almost finish the tune on Program 3. Be sure to check out the ending of "Cousins" - available on CD. The climax will blow you away.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2011
This DVD collects three Woody Herman appearances on Jazz Casual circa 1963-64. The arrangements and soloists (including Sal Nistico and Phil Wilson) are top-notch, and there's even a short and fascinating rehearsal segment. 90 minutes total of great big band jazz. Please note that the information on the DVD case indicates that saxophonist Bobby Jones is in the band for the first two shows, but it looks like he's only on the first show, with Carmen Leggio having replaced him for two and three. (This is the same Bobby Jones who briefly made a name for himself a few years later as a member of the band of Charles Mingus.) Lastly, dig Jake Hanna, a great big band drummer!