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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke


Recorded New York and Los Angeles 1937 - 1941

Woody Herman and his Orchestra
track 9 Woody Herman and his Woodchoppers

1. Woodchoppers' Ball
2. Blue Flame
3. Dupree Blues
4. Twin Town Blues
5. Laughing Boy Blues
6. Casbah Blues
7. Blues Upstairs
8. Blues Downstairs
9. Red River Blues
10. Dallas Blues
11. Caliope Blues
12. Peach Tree Street
13. Blue Prelude
14. Pick-a-Rib
15. Bessie's Blues
16. Bishops Blues
17. Blues in the Night
18. Blues on Parade

When I first started to take saxophone lessons one of the books recommended for study was 'The Woody Herman Alto Sax Digest' . It came as a pleasant surprise to find that many of the tunes contained in this book are featured on this release.

'The Band That Plays The Blues' Herman's version of the band he took over on the retirement of Isham Jones. The music is mainly the blues or blues based standard tunes. This is the band that was the predecessor to Herman's various 'Herds'

The music is very much of the period - swing based -with a predilection for dance tempos. The standard of playing - both ensemble and solo - is very high and easily comparable with any of the more famous bands from this era.

Unfortunately there is no listing of personnel - but one can assume that all of the clarinet and alto solos and the majority of vocals are by the leader.Herman's clarinet style is facile (but not as facile as Shaw or Goodman) and has a strong blues/New Orleans influence. His vocals in terms of delivery, bring to mind a higher, more light hearted Jack Teagarden.

''Woodchoppers Ball'' has become a big band standard - this version whilst tight is quite relaxed in tempo and does not contain the clarinet ride out featured on later recordings. 'Blue Flame'' which was the band's theme tune before ''Woodchopper's is a more sultry performance altogether. Once again both ensemble and solo playing are of the highest order. This tune recalls the style of early Ellington pieces such as ''Mood Indigo'' and ''The Mooche''. ''Woodchoppers" is much more of a Basie style riff tune, even using a four piece rhythm section in a four in the bar manner to generate the momentum.

''Twin City Blues" is an example of a more complex ensemble style which serves as a forerunner for more modern arranging techniques used in the later Herman bands.

There are some selections which might fall into the ''novelty'' category ''Caliope Blues'' with what sounds like a penny whistle and ''Laughing Boy Blues'' with its laughing refrain - reminiscent in many ways of Jelly Roll Morton's ''Hyena Stomp''

Overall this is a fine and enjoyable set of performances from a band on the cusp of the Swing Era and more modern things to come.

Dick Stafford

D.S. is a professional reed player and teacher living in Coventry

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