“Sherwood’s Forest” (1946) Bobby Sherwood/ (1959) Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra.

“Sherwood’s Forest”

Composed and arranged by Bobby Sherwood.

Recorded by Bobby Sherwood and His Orchestra for Capitol on June 18, 1946 in Hollywood.

Bobby Sherwood, directing: Jack Walker, Don Dean, John Gabel, Ray Downs and Mannie Klein(*), trumpets; Wes Cope, Skip Layton, Bob Leaman, Jim Marshall, trombones; Seymour “Red” Press and Henry Facometta, alto saxophones; Herbie Haymer, Dave Cavanaugh and Marty Glaser, tenor saxophones; Merle Bredwell, bassoon and baritone saxophone; Ike Carpenter, piano; Basil Hutchinson, guitar; Bart Edwards, bass; Keith Williams, drums. (*) Mannie Klein was not a member of Bobby Sherwood’s standing band. By the time this recording was made, Klein was a very busy Hollywood free-lance. I suspect that Sherwood secured Klein’s services to bolster his trumpet section on this challenging recording.

The story:

Robert J. Sherwood, Jr. was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on May 30, 1914. He came from a musical and show business family. His father played trombone and his mother, piano. Together, they operated a theater in Kokomo, Indiana, and later performed in vaudeville as The Sherwoods. Bobby joined his parents’ act when he was twelve, playing banjo. Later, he mastered the guitar and trumpet, and learned to arrange music. By the early 1930s, he had settled in Los Angeles and began working in radio. In the mid-1930s, he worked as a sideman playing guitar in the band that backed Bing Crosby on radio, which was led by Georgie Stoll. He replaced Eddie Lang. He also did free-lance recording work in Los Angeles in the late 1930s. Beginning on October 2, 1940, he became the bandleader on Eddie Cantor’s NBC radio show.

Sherwood’s first wife (he married four more times) was Dorothy Virginia Gumm, Judy Garland’s older sister. They had a daughter, Judaline Gail Sherwood, born on May 28, 1938. He led the ad hoc studio bands that backed Ms. Garland on records. As a result of Judy’s lobbying, Sherwood got work at M-G-M. Ms. Garland also introduced him to Artie Shaw in early 1940. (Bobby’s lovely arrangement on “April in Paris” for Shaw can be accessed via the link at endnote (1) below.) Bobby also had two sons, Michael W. and William W. Sherwood.

Bobby organized his first standing, touring band in early 1942 in response to interest expressed by one of the founders of the Capitol Records label, Johnny Mercer. The Sherwood band recorded a good many sides for Capitol through the early to mid-1940s. Bobby worked with his own big band with one hiatus through the years of World War II and into early 1947. Although the Sherwood band toured widely, its home base was Los Angeles. At some point in the mid-1940s, he hosted the radio program Bobby Sherwood and His Orchestra on the Mutual Broadcasting System. (Above right: Bobby Sherwood playing the trumpet.)

Sherwood put his band on layoff in the autumn of 1946 when he worked as an actor and musician in the musical play Hear That Trumpet. It is unclear how long this work lasted from initial auditions, through rehearsals and out of New York try-out performances. However, we do know that the show opened on Broadway on October 6, 1946 and closed on October 12, 1946, after only eight performances. Other musicians in this play were saxophonist/clarinetist Sidney Bechet, and trumpeter Marty Marsala. Three recordings of music from the play were made by Bobby and these musicians in October of 1946.(2)

Sherwood returned to Los Angeles in late 1946, and organized another big band that worked through the first few months of 1947. At that point, Sherwood came to realize that the swing era was ebbing, as he had increasing difficulty finding work for his band. He disbanded in the early spring of 1947.

After the Sherwood band was dissolved, Bobby free-lanced in Los Angeles, performing as a musician with and arranging for many different artists.

He returned to New York in the late 1940s, and remained there through the mid-1950s. His work in New York was varied and often non-musical. In 1950 Sherwood was master of ceremonies on Variety Quiz (later titled Midnight Snack), a late-night variety program on WCBS-TV. He was a regular performer on The Red Buttons Show on TV in the 1950s. In 1953, he had a daily early morning program on WJZ-New York. He hosted the Dumont Television Network variety show Stars on Parade in 1953-54, was the announcer for Dumont’s The Morey Amsterdam Show, and hosted the game show Quick as a Flash from March to May 1953. In the mid-1950s, he also hosted of Step This Way, a dance-oriented program broadcast on Saturday evenings on WABC-TV New York. He also appeared on Masquerade Party, a TV game show series which also presented at various times Ogden Nash, Ilka Chase, Sam Levinson, Audrey Meadows, Jonathan Winters and Peter Donald. (2)

Sherwood returned to Los Angeles in 1957 to appear as the bandleader Ned Galvin in the Columbia feature film Pal Joey, which starred Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak. After that, he continued working as a musician, actor and radio disk-jockey. (At right: Bobby Sherwood as Ned Galvin in the film “Pal Joey.” The band he led in this highly entertaining movie was called “The Galvanizers.”)

Sherwood, a heavy smoker, was diagnosed with cancer in 1979. He relocated to the Worcester, Massachusetts area to receive cancer therapy at the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. He died in Auburn, Massachusetts on January 23, 1981.

Of all of his accomplishments, Bobby Sherwood was most proud of his work as a composer and arranger. Here is one of his most provocative musical creations.

The music:

In 1970, Bobby Sherwood was asked to fill in some information about “Sherwood’s Forest.” “I was looking for a little different sound,”(3) was his initial response. What he was probably referring to was the presence in his swing band of an instrument seldom heard in swing or jazz, the bassoon. The role Sherwood created for the bassoon in “Sherwood’s Forest” is to anchor the ostinato (that instrument is soon joined in unison by an open trombone) that begins at the very start of this performance in its introduction. The balance of the intro spots the rich saxophones coordinated with the oo-ah trombones. This is played over a marching 2/4 meter.

The saxophone quintet then play the main melody through the first sixteen bars of the first chorus. In places behind them we hear oo-ah brass deployed subtly. The ostinato that began in the introduction continues through this sequence. The next tract has the trumpets, probably being played into metal derbies, played against a background of surging saxophones and robust open trombones. The ostinato continues into an upward ensemble burst.

A descending interlude leads into the next chorus which begins with a brassy fanfare, then swirling saxophones, and pungent open trumpets and trombones playing discretely. Another quiet (and contrasting) interlude, where the ostinato which had disappeared in the 4/4 sequence reappears. A softly played open trombone is then heard against a rhythmically intense background of muted trumpets.

Another interlude that begins with tom-toms, then tart open trombones, a burst of saxophones and a hot topping of open trumpets.

The next chorus contains the climax of the music, played atop a swinging 4/4 rhythm. Sherwood builds intensity by starting the rumbling low-register saxophones, then adding the open trombones and finally capping the sonic palette with open trumpets. The roiling, low-register open trombones provide the first layer of sound, followed by the saxophones, then the bright, open trumpets. The saxophones and brass chase each other a bit, followed by a wild sequence containing devilishly syncopated trumpets intertwined with vigorously played forte open trombones.

The dynamic level drops, but the rhythmic base, largely projected by the drums, remains intense. There is a generally ebbing of intensity as this remarkably colorful performance wends its way to its brassy conclusion.

My impression of this colorful and creative arrangement is that it is full of contrasts, is played brilliantly by Sherwood’s band, and reflects, at times, Sherwood’s awareness of what his Capitol labelmate Stan Kenton was doing musically in the immediate postwar period. That is not to say that it is derivative of Stanley’s music; it simply suggests Kenton’s musical approach in places.

About the tune’s title Sherwood said: “We had wanted to call it ‘Duel in the Sun,’ (and Capitol) …actually printed the labels for that name and put them on 50,000 records when we learned that that title belonged to a big new movie. So we changed to ‘Sherwood’s Forest.’ We had to stick the new labels over the old, and anyone who peeled the top label off wouldn’t know what he was getting.” Putting all this aside, it might have been simpler if Sherwood had just proceeded with the tune’s first title: “Originally, we called the number ‘Bedlam.” (3)

“Sherwood’s Forest”

Composed and arranged by Bobby Sherwood.

Recorded by Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra for Capitol on August 12, 1959 in Hollywood.

Glen Gray, directing: Conrad Gozzo, first trumpet; Pete Candoli, Shorty Sherock, Uan Rasey and Mannie Klein, trumpets; Simon “Si” Zentner, first trombone; Milt Bernhart, Francis “Joe ” Howard, Tommy Pederson, tenor trombones; George Roberts, bass trombone; Arthur “Skeets” Herfurt, first alto saxophone; Arcuiso “Gus” Bivona, alto saxophone; Irving “Babe” Russin and Plas Johnson, tenor saxophones; Wilbur Schwartz, baritone saxophone; Chuck Gentry, bassoon; Ray Sherman, piano; George Van Eps, guitar; Meyer “Mike” Rubin, bass; Nick Fatool, drums.

The story and music:

I always find it interesting to compare later performances of swing era music with the seminal original recordings. Over decades of doing this, I have found that the quality of later performances varies widely, depending on the circumstances surrounding how and why the newer recordings were made. There are many ways that bands that have played the music of the swing era may have found it hard to recapture the frisson of the original recordings. First and foremost, these later bands are almost never playing together as much as the classic bands of the swing era did. During the swing era, even the most modest of dance bands found themselves working five or six nights a week, week after week. That regimen of work gradually builds the quality of any band’s performances. Over time, such bands often came to a point where they thought as one, breathed as one, and played as one. In addition, individual musicians, even those of only moderate talent, found that playing night after night for weeks or months on end invariably improved their musicianship. The term “road chops” is what musicians call this seemingly magical process of improvement when they do a lot of playing over a lengthy period of time.

Of course, the largest factor of all in how any band sounds is the quality of the musicians who make up the band. Starting in the 1940s, ad hoc studio bands in New York and Los Angeles were increasingly populated by musicians who were veterans of swing era bands. Many of the musicians who worked with the big bands of the swing era had talent, some had a lot of talent. But it took time for every musician, no matter how talented, to break into free-lance studio work. A musician would have to generally wait around for a period of time for his phone to ring summoning him to his first studio gig, usually a recording session. While he was waiting, he kept his playing skills up by working casual gigs of all kinds. Other musicians would hear him play and watch how he comported himself. If he was professional and reliable, calls for casual jobs would increase. If the musician was truly talented, word of his playing would spread. Very often, a musician who was already working frequently in the recording studios would tell the contractor for the dates he worked on about a particularly good musician he had encountered on a casual gig. This recommendation could lead to the contractor putting the new musician’s name on a sub list, to be called on short notice when another musician who had been called for a recording session could not make it for whatever reason. If the sub did well on his first studio call, others would follow. In time, he would move up the pecking order from sub list to third, second and first call. Only the best musicians were on the first call list.

The keeper of the lists was the contractor. The contractor was the person who was called by the producer when the planning for a recording date or dates had reached a point where the musicians who would be needed had to be contacted and commit to the contractor to make the date(s). That call often happened weeks before the recording date or dates. The various swing era recordings made by swing era bandleader Glen Gray starting in the mid 1950s were usually produced by Dave Cavanaugh, a former swing era musician himself, and someone who had begun his association with Capitol Records in the 1940s. That association would continue well into the 1970s. Cavanaugh and Gray would conceive of an idea or theme for an LP, they would gradually select the music to be recorded. They would work with arrangers to have the music prepared and ready to be played so that the orchestra could come into the recording studio, and with a minimum of rehearsal, make the recordings that were required. (Above left: Capitol Records producer Dave Cavanaugh – He produced dozens of very successful big band recordings at Capitol from the 1950s through the 1970s.)

The contractor Glen Gray or Dave Cavanaugh would call was Mannie Klein. Klein was an extraordinary trumpeter. He could come into any recording session, look over the music he was expected to play, and then play it flawlessly on the first try. Klein had begun his career in New York in the late 1920s, playing in bands of all sorts, eventually becoming one of the most successful studio musicians in Manhattan. Early on, Klein also began working as a music contractor in New York. He often called trumpeter Charlie Margulis to work with him on sessions as a lead trumpeter. In late 1937, Klein moved to Los Angeles, sensing quite accurately that the studio music scene there was about to begin a period of growth. He also started a music contracting business in Los Angeles, often working with his brother Dave Klein, and later his wife, Marian, to line-up musicians for recording dates. Starting in the early 1950s, Klein began to use Conrad Gozzo as his lead trumpeter of choice. Over the next decade, they worked on hundreds of studio dates together. The musicians on Mannie Klein’s call list were among the best of the best. They could play anything with a minimum of rehearsal, and when it came to playing swing, they brought genuine conviction to their performances, in addition to incredible skill. (Above right: Conrad Gozzo and Mannie Klein circa 1960.)

In this performance, Glen Gray set a slightly slower tempo than Bobby Sherwood had. The ensemble unity of this band was impressive – these guys often played together as a big band in all sorts of studio settings. Conrad Gozzo, as always, commanded the brass; Skeets Herfurt, the reeds, including Chuck Gentry, here playing the bassoon part which is half of a unison with the bass trombone played by George Roberts. The trombone solo was played by Milt Bernhart. Nick Fatool’s drumming is the acme of tasteful swing.

I must also mention that Glen Gray was an excellent conductor who had long experience leading bands through the swing era. He clearly knew how to get top-notch performances out of his band of virtuoso musicians.

The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) Here is a link to Artie Shaw’s recording of Bobby Sherwood’s arrangement on “April in Paris”: https://swingandbeyond.com/2023/05/12/april-in-paris-1940-artie-shaw-and-1955-count-basie/

(2) Here is a link to a very good summary of Bobby Sherwood’s life and career in music: https://jazzriffing.blogspot.com/2013/05/sherwoods-auburn-forest.html  This post provided much of the information I used to create the short biography of Bobby Sherwood that appears in this post. The remainder of the information I used comes from the Wikipedia post on him.

(3) The Swing Era – Postwar Years (1972), 58. Notes on the music by Joseph Castner.

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2 Comments

  1. Superb article. I especially appreciated your discussion on big band “re-creation” albums. This is a little-discussed topic but an important one. In many cases the “re-creation” version of a song is better recorded than the original version. This means listeners may only want to hear the newer version, and are not even aware of artistic differences between the versions.

  2. Larry, I agree with you. My attitude about these later performances is the same as Charlie Barnet’s, as expressed in his autobiography, “Those Swinging Years” at page 177: “(those remakes)… covered a wide variety of artists and a long span of time. Many put this effort down as a kind of invasion of sacred precincts, but a lot of the old numbers sounded very good in stereo. The solos were written out for the musicians on the dates, and they didn’t always come off. But the ensembles were often played with impressive gusto, to which the modern recording did justice, especially when you compared performances of the same arrangements on scratchy old 78s. …Nevertheless, I can understand the resentment some felt toward this series.”

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