Woody Herman: Road Father

The Songs:

  1. Fire Dance
  2. Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love
  3. Woodchopper’s Ball
  4. Sunrise Lady
  5. Pavane
  6. I Got News For You
  7. Sugar Loaf Mountain
  8. Isn’t She Lovely

Personnel:

  • Woody Herman – clarinet, soprano & alto saxophone, vocals
  • Allen Vizzutti, Jay Sollenberger, Nelson Hatt, Glenn Drewes, Dennis Dotson, Bill Byrne – trumpet & flügelhorn
  • Birch Johnson, Larry Farrell, Jim Daniels – trombone
  • Frank Tiberi – tenor saxophone, flute, bassoon
  • Gary Anderson, Joe Lovano – tenor saxophone, flute
  • Bruce Johnstone – baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, flute, vocals
  • Pat Coil – acoustic & electric piano
  • Marc Johnson – acoustic & electric bass
  • Jeff Hamilton – drums & percussion
  • Jack Arnold – congas & percussion

In early January of 1978, Woody Herman took his Thundering Herd into the recording studio to utilize the new high fidelity direct-to-disc recording process. It was a particularly grueling method of recording, as an entire side of a vinyl record was cut live into the master disc. There was no stopping to edit mistakes. If a song required another take, the entire side of the album had to be redone. What is remarkable is that in that first week of January, Herman’s band recorded 3 complete albums for Century Records: Together, (an album of standards featuring tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips, who had been a member of Herman’s First Herd in the 40’s); Chick, Donald, Walter and Woodrow, (an album featuring a suite commissioned from Chick Corea on the first side, with the second side consisting of arrangements of Steely Dan hits); and Road Father. The album took its title from a nickname that the parents of former lead trumpet player Bill Chase had given to Herman.)

The edition of the Herman Herd assembled for these dates consists of some of the most talented sidemen Woody ever had, (and considering the prominent jazz stars that had come from his bands over the years, is no small statement). It included lead trumpeters Allen Vizzutti and former Chase member Jay Sollenberger, Birch Johnson, (another in a long line of talented trombonists in the band), an amazing sax section featuring long time members Frank Tiberi and Gary Anderson, along with an up-and-coming Joe Lovano and legendary baritone player Bruce Johnstone, (fresh out of Maynard Ferguson‘s band). The rhythm section was also a powerhouse: Pat Coil on piano (who had just replaced his North Texas band mate Lyle Mays), bass superstar Marc Johnson, and the dynamic drumming of Jeff Hamilton, (now co-leading the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra).

The album opens with a virtuoso tour-de-force for trumpet, Vizzutti’s Fire Dance, featuring the composer. Woody’s own playing is showcased on the next two selections, with his poignant alto sound displayed on the Charles Mingus composition, Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love, followed by the clarinet on the band’s signature song, Woodchopper’s Ball. Bruce Johnstone’s contributions loomed large on the next three tracks: his own original samba Sunrise Lady, his fine bass clarinet work on a beautiful Gary Anderson arrangement of Faure’s Pavane, and his vocals (along with Woody’s) on an update of Ralph Burns’ classic arrangement for Woody of I Got News For You. No Herman record would be complete without a trombone showcase and this date featured Alan Broadbent’s Sugar Loaf Mountain. The album closed with an Anderson arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely, featuring a young Joe Lovano on tenor. (Woody had featured a number of Stevie Wonder’s songs over the years, including My Cherie Amour and Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing).

Since their original release on vinyl, the three albums from these recording sessions have been difficult to find. All three were released in the United Kingdom by the BBC and some can still be found, (albeit used) on Amazon’s UK site: Road Father and Together, (while original vinyl copies of Chick, Donald, Walter and Woodrow are still available on the U.S. site.) In 1999, Hindsight Records released Road Father under the name Fatha Herman, which included the entire album plus two of the Steely Dan songs from Chick, Donald, Walter and Woodrow. It can be purchased in CD format or as mp3 downloads. (Buy it here.)

Suggested Reading:

Gene Lees. Leader Of The Band: The Life Of Woody Herman.

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