“Summer Sequence Part 4”
Composed and Arranged by Ralph Burns.
Recorded by Woody Herman and His Orchestra for Columbia on December 27, 1947 in Hollywood, California.
Woody Herman, alto saxophone, directing: Bernie Glow,Stan Fishelson, Marky Markowitz,Ernie Royal and Shorty Rogers, trumpets; Ollie Wilson, Earl Swope and Bob Swift, trombones; Sam Marowitz, alto saxophone; Herbie Steward, John H. “Zoot” Sims, and Stan Getz, tenor saxophones; Serge Chaloff, baritone saxophone; Fred Otis, piano; Gene Sargent, guitar; Walt Yoder, bass; Don Lamond, drums.
Clarinetist, alto saxophonist and vocalist Woody Herman (1913-1987) began his career as a professional musician at an early age in his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He progressed as a sideman through a succession of bands through the 1920s and into the early 1930s, reaching the band of composer Isham Jones in 1934. He worked with Jones from 1934 until 1936, when Jones gave up his band to go into what turned out to be a temporary retirement. The band, which was a solid performing unit, voted to stay together as a cooperative (members-owned) band, with Herman as leader. They worked with marginal success through the late 1930s calling themeslves “The Band That Plays the Blues.” Their slow ascent to more commercial success was helped in 1939 by a hit record, “Woodchoppers Ball,” which was indeed a blues.
Herman continued to lead a second-tier band (in terms of popularity) through most of the years of World War II, even though his band was getting stronger as a performing unit during this time. By 1945, Herman had the best band he ever had led to that point, and was riding a crest of popularity with a sponsored network radio show. He continued to have great success through 1945 and 1946, but disbanded at the end of 1946 for personal reasons.
In one of the stranger developments of the swing era, the great composer Igor Stravinsky came to write a concert piece for the Herman band, “Ebony Concerto,” which was premiered in 1946 in Carnegie Hall in New York. In order to fill out the concert where “Ebony Concerto” was to be presented, Herman had one of his arrangers, the gifted Ralph Burns, (pictured at right) compose a piece which was called “Summer Sequence.” It was a three-part work which ran about nine minutes, and Herman recorded it in September of 1946. The fourth part of “Summer Sequence” was written some time later, and an adaptation was recorded by a new Herman band on December 28, 1947.
By late 1947, Herman, who had spent most of his life as a performer touring the U.S., had grown restless living at his home in Hollywood, and reformed a band. The new Herman band’s music was to be more “progressive” than that of the band he broke up at the end of 1946, specifically it was to be more bop oriented. Although Woody definitely worked in that direction with this new band, he also retained his artistic relationship with arranger Ralph Burns, whose writing was definitely “modern” for the mid-1940s, but cannot be said to necessarily be bebop.The apparent reason why Herman asked Burns to compose the epilogue or fourth segment of “Summer Sequence” was to feature the solo playing of two of Herman’s talented young sidemen, trombonist Ollie Wilson, and tenor saxophonist Stan Getz.
Wilson (pictured at left) was a lead trombonist who started to make a name for himself in Artie Shaw’s band in 1945. His silky sound and virtuosity were in the tradition of the great trombonist Jack Jenney, whose marvelous solo on Shaw’s 1940 landmark recording of “Star Dust” was very influential. Getz, who was a super-technician on tenor sax, played with a variant of Lester Young’s airy, light sound. He was also beginning to develop as a first-class jazz player. The setting Burns fashioned for their playing on “Summer Sequence Part 4” couldn’t be more lovely. The soloists in order are: Fred Otis, piano, Gene Sargent, guitar; Wilson, trombone; Herman, alto saxophone; and Getz tenor saxophone (pictured at right with Benny Goodman in the background, 1945). Notice the melody and use of the saxophones after Getz’s solo. They were the basis for Ralph Burns’s next extension of this music, the sublime “Early Autumn,” which is also presented below.
This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Composed and arranged by Ralph Burns.
Recorded by Woody Herman and His Orchestra for Capitol on December 30, 1948 in Los Angeles, California.
Woody Herman, alto saxophone, directing: Bernie Glow, Stan Fishelson, Red Rodney, Shorty Rogers and Ernie Royal, trumpets; Ollie Wilson,Earl Swope, Bill Harris and Bob Swift, trombones; Sam Marowitz, alto saxophone; Stan Getz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, tenor saxophones; Serge Chaloff, baritone saxophone; Terry Gibbs, vibraphone; Lou Levy, piano; Chubby Jackson, bass; Don Lamond, drums.
The story and music:
In terms of sheer jazz solo ability, this Herman band certainly ranks among his greatest. Red Rodney and Shorty Rogers were excellent jazz improvisers, as was Ernie Royal, who could do what they did on trumpet, only an octave higher. Trombonist Earl Swope’s playing was attuned to the complexities of bop, while Bill Harris’s wild sliphorn excursions were strongly individual, but rooted in the swing era. Young Ollie Wilson could improvise on ballads with great warmth. Sam Marowitz was Woody’s favorite lead alto during the 1940s. His sectionmates, Stan Getz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims (on tenors), and Serge Chaloff (on baritone), were all very capable post-swing soloists, with Chaloff being the strongest bopper. Terry Gibbs brought the feeling of bop to the vibraphone. Pianist Lou Levy was conversant with the harmonic basis for bop, and a fine soloist. The two young lead trumpeters, Bernie Glow and Stan Fishelson, were among the best to emerge from the 1940s. Bassist Chubby Jackson and drummer Don Lamond were Herman stalwarts in the post World War II era.
Although these musicians loved nothing more than romping away on some up-tempo bop tune, in order to fit-in with the Herman band, which had a relatively wide musical scope, they also had to be able to deliver disciplined yet warm ballad performances. Ralph Burns’s “Early Autumn” certainly fits into that category. (Burns and Herman are pictured at right.) As noted above, it grew out of the fourth segment of Burns’s concert suite “Summer Sequence.” The soloists, each of whom plays beautifully, are: Woody Herman, alto saxophone; Terry Gibbs, vibraphone; and Stan Getz, tenor saxophone. Here Getz builds on his earlier improvisation in “Summer Sequence Part 4,” fashioning a lyrical solo that had a great deal to do with making him one of the foremost jazz tenor saxophonists for decades after “Early Autumn” was released. (Note:The first chorus tenor saxophone section lead is also played superbly by Stan Getz, who is pictured below at left.)
Although all of the music in “Early Autumn” is lovely, I have been perplexed for many years by the apparent harshness of the sound of Terry Gibbs’s vibraphone (which I have tried to soften in the digital remastering process) on this classic recording. I knew that this was not a technical problem, because recording technicians had been recording the vibraphone solos of Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo, among others, beautifully for years prior to this recording. In preparing these notes, I finally found the explanation for that sound. Here it is. Woody Herman recalled: “My real first delving into Terry’s inner self had to do with doing a show in Milwaukee, my home town. He had a thing on “What’s New?,” a lovely ballad, and he used mallets that in appearance and sound were something like tongs that you would use on an anvil. So one day, casually, after a couple of shows, I said: ‘Terry, did you ever think of using softies, you know, mallets, for a thing like “What’s New?” He says: ‘Man, you can’t do that! I can’t make it, man, like it’s going to ruin the clank, you know?’ So I said ‘Forget it.’ P.S. That was it for the next year…tongs and anvils.” (*) At some point post-Herman, Terry Gibbs evidently changed the type of mallets he used, and had a brilliant career in jazz.
Herman’s difficulties with many of the sidemen in this band stemmed mostly from problems caused by narcotics use. (This definitely did not apply to Terry Gibbs, pictured at right.) In addition, there was a feeling among many of the young boppers that Woody was “old-fashioned.” Little did they then know that he was providing them with one of the richest musical opportunities they would ever have. His take on dealing with these unruly young turks: “I had the feeling sometimes that the asylum was being run by the inmates.” Eventually, almost all of the musicians who worked for Woody Herman came to understand what an excellent bandleader and musical mentor he was, and what incredible career-advancing opportunities he had provided them.
This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
(*) “Woody Herman…Chronicles of the Herds,” by William D. Clancy with Audree Coke Kenton (1995) Schirmer Books, pages 131-2.
Here is a link to a later work by Ralph Burns: