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Leader of the Band: The Life of Woody Herman Hardcover – December 7, 1995


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (December 7, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019505671X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195056716
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,623,313 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lees (Cats of Any Color), who calls himself "one of the many souls whose lives were reshaped by Woody Herman," writes affectionately here about his friend and mentor, the great clarinetist, saxophonist, singer and band leader who was a major figure in the jazz world from the 1930s to his death in 1987. Drawing on interviews and informal conversations with Herman, his wife, his daughter and many of his friends and associates, he covers Herman's career from the early days on the road with various groups through his later popularity with his own bands-the "Herds"-which he led during the big band era and later. Herman's story has been told before, but Lees, with insight gained from years of friendship, is particularly successful at portraying the character of a likable, humorous man who was a father figure to his musicians and whose easygoing nature, lack of business sense and ill-fated choice of a business manager led to his well-known problems with the IRS. Especially moving are the descriptions of Herman's last days, when he was ill and weak, yet forced to keep working because of his enormous debt to the IRS.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Few bandleaders led lives as full as Woody Herman's. A clarinet prodigy, Herman launched his career in music early, rose to prominence in the swing era, investigated the bop revolution, and kept going long after his style of performance was diagnosed as being in decline. Lees' biography is remarkably comprehensive and as vivacious as Herman would have wanted. Lees worked for a while as Herman's publicist, and not only does he use the wealth of inside information he discovered during that hitch, but he also includes himself in the story, thereby adding an engrossing first-person perspective to the book's concluding chapters. But Lees' affinity for his subject does not impair his critical faculties. His description of the Herman-Stravinsky Ebony Concerto performance is sharp, and Lees does not pull any punches in discussing what he considers the bandleader's lesser work. None of it is ever dry reading, and Lees' hilarious accounts of the wild goings-on among Woody's band members on the road will excite readers whose memories don't extend farther back than the invention of the compact disc. Aaron Cohen

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By J. Frakes on January 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
Although this was written a little while ago, its nice to have Woody's story told in depth. And this is as deep into Woody Herman's life as it is going to get, probably. It is rich and told as only a good friend of the subject could tell it. We get most of the steadily ongoing personal changes, as expected, covering all the various Herds and bands. And, thanks to Gene Lees' not stepping aside issues, a gratifyingly real look into Woody's life and times. Although the friendship does slip in occasionally, for example, Woody's being one of the great male jazz vocalists? Please! His vocals are some boring jive and meant to entertain the social crowd. Not being a clarinet fan, I always thought he could have put a lampshade on that ax in about 1954 and stuck to alto and soprano, but that's just my short coming. The consistently high level of music and energy his bands produced (with few exceptions), the length of time he was able to keep a big band working, life on the road, the way the band always reflected new sounds and influences to keep modern, the great players that passed through, and the respect and admiration his musicians held for him (after a rather shaky start, surprisingly) all add to his brilliant career. And he loved his wife through the whole amazing trip. And then there's that ugly tax thing, a real tragedy in his old age. Maybe the reason Woody is overlooked a bit historically is because, although he was a gifted musician and leader, he wasn't an arranger and writer in the Fletcher Henderson, Gil Evans, Thad Jones, Duke and Billy Strayhorn tradition. While the book's focus is squarely on Woody and his closest associates, I felt it could have dealt more fully with his music. I found I had to drop a needle on some old sides to get that, but that's not all bad, either. And finally, I think its rather nice living on Humboldt Boulevard in Milwaukee about 5 or 6 blocks from where Woody lived as a kid, although his house is gone (condos, what else?).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By kevinzoot on April 30, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Gene Lees is a great writer of jazz.The story of Woody Herman and his band is one I have always wanted to read and I was not disapointed.Woody deserved a better fate than he had for his great contribution to Americas greatest music "jazz" Kevinzoot.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By CAFA icon on December 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lots of inside info about the big bands in the 30s, 40s, and more. An excellent, detailed chronology of the era.
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