“Four Brothers” (1947) Woody Herman with Zoot Sims, Serge Chaloff, Herbie Steward and Stan Getz/ (1971) Billy May with Justin Gordon, Bill Perkins, Don Lodice and Don Raffell

“Four Brothers”

Composed and arranged by Jimmy Giuffre.

Recorded by Woody Herman and His Orchestra for Columbia on December 27, 1947 in Hollywood.

Woody Herman, clarinet, directing: Stan Fishelson or Bernie Glow (Glotzer), first trumpet; Ernie Royal,(*) Marky Markowitz and Milton “Shorty” Rogers (Rajonsky), trumpets; Ollie Wilson, Bob Swift and Earl Swope, trombones; Sam Marowitz, first alto saxophone; John H. “Zoot” Sims, Herbie Steward, Stan Getz (Gayetskis), tenor saxophones; Serge Chaloff, baritone saxophone; Fred Otis, piano; Gene Sargent, guitar; Walt Yoder, bass; Don Lamond, drums.

The story – Part One: the sound.

After seven or eight years of slowly increasing success as a bandleader, Woody Herman experienced a period of great success in 1945 and 1946. Because of several reasons, both personal and professional, he broke up his successful band at the end of 1946. Through the year 1947, he took some time off in his new Hollywood home with his wife Charlotte and their small daughter Ingrid, and reassessed his career. Although Woody was only 34 years old in 1947, he had nevertheless been working continuously from the time he was 12 years old, over twenty years. He was exhausted both physically and emotionally, and needed some rest.

But after a few weeks of relative inactivity (1), he started to become restless. He had spent his entire adult life, and several of his adolescent years, as a performer, almost constantly on the road. In addition, from late 1936, he had been a bandleader, and he found that to be far more intoxicating than any alcohol, drug or other controlled substance. Woody simply reveled in every aspect of being a bandleader. He particularly relished working with young musicians to create new music for his band. As the summer of 1947 segued into autumn, Woody began sending out feelers: he was starting to put together a new band. He made his first recordings with his new band for Columbia on October 19, 1947.

The musical orientation of this band would be more boppish than its predecessor, the one Woody had had such success with. That was one basic difference between them. Another was the use (slightly later) of three tenors in the saxophone section, instead of the customary two, along with an alto and a baritone. The public relations identity of the two ensembles was also different. Journalist George T. Simon of Metronome, had referred to Woody’s mid-1940s band as “the Herman Herd” in print. That moniker stuck. So to differentiate that band from this one, Woody’s management gurus began billing it as “The Second Herd.”

The composer of the music that eventually was named “Four Brothers,” Jimmy Giuffre, later summarized his experience with Woody at the time that tune was composed. He made sure to first give credit to composer/arranger/multi-instrumentalist Gene Roland for his role in experimenting with various tenor saxophone combinations: “Gene was in New York in the late 1940s, and would hang out at a place called Nola Studios, where all the bands rehearsed and musicians met. For some reason, there were a lot of good tenor players around, there must have been a hundred of them. The usual sax section at the time was two altos, two tenors, and a bari. Gene decided to write a four tenor sax piece. He liked the sound very much and everybody did. When he came out to Los Angeles, we got together a band with four tenors. (Above left: Jimmy Guiffre.)

When Woody was forming his Second Herd, he hired three tenors from the group: Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Herbie Steward, and got Serge Chaloff (on baritone) from another group. Woody said to me: ‘Why don’t you write a piece featuring the four-sax sound’? I did, and called it ‘Four Mothers.'(2) Woody changed that to ‘Four Brothers.’ It took months before the band could play it right. Though it’s a four tenor sound, Herman didn’t use four tenors (in that band), so it was played by three tenors and a baritone. He later used the Four Brothers sound all through his Third Herd repertory.” (3)

The story – Part Two: The Brothers:

Even though the saxophone section for Woody Herman’s classic recording of “Four Brothers” contained five saxophones, people tend to forget that fifth saxophone. It was played by Woody’s stalwart lead alto saxophonist from the First Herd, Sam Marowitz. Like the fifth Marx Brother, Gummo, few people remember Marowitz, even though he was a fine lead alto player.

A slightly different Four Brothers saxophone section from mid-1948: Top to bottom – Stan Getz, Al Cohn, Sam Marowitz, Zoot Sims and Serge Chaloff.

The first of the Four Brothers Woody seems to have contacted in 1947 was tenor saxophonist Stan Getz. Getz (1927-1991), born as Stanley Gayetskis, had begun his professional career in 1943 at age 16 as a saxophonist in jazz trombone legend Jack Teagarden’s band. By the spring of 1944, Getz had moved on to Stan Kenton’s band, where he remained well into 1945. By November of 1945, Getz was working with Benny Goodman. That association lasted until February of 1946, when Getz moved into trumpeter Randy Brooks’s band for a few months. He began making records as a leader in July of 1946 with a group billed as “The Be-Bop Boys.” Nevertheless, he still worked with established leaders after that to build his name. He rejoined Benny Goodman for work on radio and recordings in May and June of 1947. He first worked with Woody Herman as a part of an ad hoc studio band in Los Angeles on August 15, 1947. Getz’s ability to read music at sight and play with flawless and seemingly unlimited technique positioned him for stardom in the Herman band, and for a major career after that as a jazz soloist. (Above right: Stan Getz in the late 1940s.)

Baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff (1923-1957) had begun his name band career in mid-1944 in Boyd Raeburn’s band. He worked with Raeburn until January of 1945, when he joined saxophonist Johnny Bothwell’s band for a couple of months. He then moved on into Georgie Auld’s band, where he remained into early 1946. He then joined Jimmy Dorsey in early 1946, and remained a part of that band until the autumn of 1946, when he returned to his home in Boston for a rest. He went to New York in December of 1946 and began free-lancing with various jazz groups, including ones he led. Like others who had earned good money while playing in name bands but had no discernible public recognition, Chaloff soon found that it was difficult to earn a living in New York by simply playing jazz in clubs. He was also in the saxophone section of Woody Herman’s Second Herd when that band made their first recordings for Columbia in Los Angeles on October 19, 1947.

Serge Chaloff was an absolutely first-rate musician who had complete command of his instrument and could read anything. He was also a very good bop influenced jazz soloist. Unfortunately, he was also a heroin addict, and that resulted in some odd behavior from time to time. Woody’s tolerance for the foibles of his sidemen was legendary, but it was pushed to its limit and beyond by various drug-addicted sidemen over the years. Because of Chaloff’s musical ability, Woody more or less ignored some of his behavior, which irritated not only Woody, but most of his other sidemen. At a certain point, Woody could not take Chaloff’s behavior any more. He loved to tell the story of how he eventually handled that: “He (Chaloff) was getting farther and farther out there. He kept saying …’Hey, Woody, baby, I’m straight man, I’m clean.’  I shouted back at him, ‘Just play your (expletive) part and shut up!’ I was so depressed after one gig. There was this after-hours joint in Washington, D.C. called the Turf and Grid. Everybody used to go there. (So I went in there) …all I wanted was to have a drink and forget it. They were seven deep at the bar. Finally, I get a couple of drinks and it’s hot in there, and I hear ‘Hey Woody, baby, whadya want to talk to me like that for? I’m straight baby, I’m straight.’  And it’s Mr. Chaloff. Then I remembered an old Joe Venuti bit. We were jammed in there, packed in and …I peed down Serge’s leg. You know, man, when you do that to someone, it takes a while before it sinks in what’s happened to him. And when Serge realized, he let out a howl like a banshee.” (4) After that things were never the same between Serge Chaloff and Woody Herman. (Above left: Serge Chaloff.)

John Haley “Zoot” Sims (1925-1985) was another tenor saxophonist of uncommon ability. His ability to play swinging jazz was exceeded by few. His professional career began with him playing with Bobby Sherwood’s band in late 1942. He began an intermittent association with Benny Goodman in early 1943, and worked with Benny often until mid 1947. Indeed, after Sims left Goodman in 1947, he worked with him many other times because Benny respected his ability to swing and create provocative jazz. In 1962, Goodman chose him to be a member of an all-star band that toured the USSR, of which Russia was then a part. When that band returned to the United States, an interviewer asked Zoot what it had been like playing in Russia. Zoot in his inimitably laconic way replied: “Man, every gig with Benny is like playing in Russia.” (4A)

When John H. Sims was 15 or 16, he joined a Los Angeles band led by Kenny Baker. Zoot later recalled: “he put those supposedly funny nicknames on the front of his music stands …Scoot, Voot, Zoot. I ended up behind the Zoot stand and it stuck.” (4B)

Stylistically, like Stan Getz, Zoot’s sound was influenced by that of tenor saxophone giant Lester Young. Pianist Lou Levy, who worked with Zoot in Woody Herman’s Second Herd, provided insights into Sims’s ability to create great jazz: “(Zoot) …just composed as he went along. He was a real natural. He didn’t play by chord changes or anything like that. It just came out. …Stan Getz once told me, jokingly, but maybe it was true, ‘the perfect tenor player would be Zoot Sims’s time, Al Cohn’s ideas, and my technique.'”(5) (Above right: Zoot Sims in the late 1940s.)

Herbert Bickford “Herbie” Steward (1926-2003), was perhaps the least well-known of the four brothers. He was nevertheless an excellent tenor saxophonist and jazz player. As a member of the four brothers, he performed nightly with three of the most talented young saxophonists then on the jazz scene, and kept up with them quite nicely. After working with Artie Shaw in 1944-1945, Steward joined Alvino Rey’s band for several months in early 1946. He then worked for a time with Earl Spencer’s band in Los Angeles, and in the summer of 1946 began doing a bit of free-lance work. He recorded with an ad hoc band led by pianist-arranger Ralph Burns, (who had worked with Woody Herman’s First Herd), that contained several other ex-Herman musicians. That connection probably led to Woody learning about him. Steward began working with Woody on various radio jobs in early 1947, while continuing his other free-lance work.(Above left: Les Clarke, Herbie Steward, Chuck Gentry, Lou Fromm and Imogene Lynn “cooking” in Artie Shaw’s Beverly Hills kitchen – November 1944.)

Steward was a part of an band that was put together in the summer of 1947 for a gig by veteran swing trumpeter Tommy Di Carlo to play at a place called Pete Pontrelli’s Figueroa Ballroom. Among the other members were Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Jimmy Giuffre. The book of arrangements they played was written by Gene Roland, who also played trumpet in the band. After that gig ended, the musicians in the Di Carlo band were out of work. Coincidentally, Woody Herman was just then forming his new band. He hired Getz, Sims and Steward at the same time.

Woody, an acutely perceptive judge of musical ability, held Herbie Steward’s musicianship in high regard. “Probably one of the finest musicians in the band was Herbie Steward. I hired him to double on alto and tenor. We were still using a five-man section, and Sam Marowitz was playing lead, with Herbie playing third alto.”(6)

The music:

“Four Brothers” is a jazz contrafact in that it is a new tune based on the chord changes of the standard song “Jeepers Creepers,” which was written in 1938 by Harry Warren (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyric) for the Warner Brothers film Going Places. Louis Armstrong introduced that song in that film.(7)

“Four Brothers” follows the standard AABA 32 bar popular song format. It is a superb example of how creatively the musicians of the swing era could fashion something new and exciting out of existing musical materials. To orient the listener a bit more to what is going on musically, I will cite to jazz historian and musician Loren Schoenberg’s comments about “Four Brothers”: “It has been said that this tune has the same chord progression as ‘Jeepers Creepers,’ but that goes only as far as the general shape of the A sections. Jimmy Giuffre constructed a unique harmonic base for (this tune), with the bridge (the B section) being quite chromatic for 1947. Even someone with the ears of Charlie Parker stumbled through it once before nailing it the second time around on a 1951 live recording of it that captures him sitting-in with the Herman band in Kansas City.”(8)

My friend, guitarist and music educator Dennis Roden, added another bit of information when I asked him about the construction of “Four Brothers,” and its four saxophone solos: “They are soloing over the AABA form, so the the 1st and 3rd soloists blow over the AA chord changes, and the 2nd and 4th blow over BA changes. By that I mean that the 2nd and 4th soloists play the first eight bars of their solo over the “B” changes, and the second eight bars over the “A” changes.” (9)

This classic performance begins at a brisk tempo without any introduction, but with the sound of the three tenor saxophones and one baritone prominent from the downbeat. The first chorus is a showcase for the “Four Brothers” saxophone sound, with those instruments deliciously harmonized, swinging the melody, and being jabbed periodically by contrasting open brass bursts.

The second chorus begins the sequence of four 16-bar jazz solos. Up first is Zoot Sims. His tenor saxophone sound is light, but his swing is immense. In addition, the jazz content of his solo is great. Despite his age (22) he is a fully formed jazz master. One can listen profitably to this solo many times and savor its many delightful nuances and felicities. Note the excellent supportive yet colorful drumming of Don Lamond behind Zoot and the other soloists. (Below left: Don Lamond.)

The second solo is by baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff. It is also a masterful demonstration of instrumental virtuosity, and swing-to-bop jazz sensibilities. Chaloff, at age 24 was the oldest of the four brothers, if only by a few years. But among young musicians, a couple of years can mean a lot in musical maturity and experience. Chaloff’s solo clearly projects his sophistication as a jazz soloist, and it also swings quite nicely.

The third solo is by Herbie Steward. His tenor saxophone sound is warm, his swing is cooler than that of Sims and Chaloff. His phrasing carries the music in a way that suggests water in a mountain stream flowing gently. Once again, the jazz content of this solo is very high.

Stan Getz plays the last saxophone solo. His keening sound and floating swing apparent from his first notes. (At right: Stan Getz and Woody Herman – late 1940s.)

After these solos, there is a shout sequence played by the band with there being a rhythmic full band burst followed by a saxophone section soli set off by bright brass, at first in their middle register, and then up an octave for dramatic effect. Woody plays an eight bar solo that provides a dynamic and sonic contrast, after which there are more ensemble fireworks.

The momentum-building out chorus begins with the band playing upward glissandi punctuated by boppish drum bursts from Don Lamond. Another contrast and swing generator then appears via the saxophones playing a string of repeated but syncopated eighth notes. The intensely swinging ensemble returns playing as before, then there is the finale with each of the four brothers popping in a two solo break. These are played by Getz, Sims, Steward and Chaloff, in that order.

This is a superlative example of music in the swing idiom that is brilliantly creative, and played with panache by an inspired ensemble of gifted musicians under the direction of a virtuoso leader.

For comparison, here is another performance of “Four Brothers” by a band of swing era veterans who understood what was required to get the performance off the ground.

“Four Brothers”

Composed and arranged by Jimmy Giuffre. Giuffre arrangement reconstructed by Sammy Nestico.

Recorded by Billy May and the Swing Era Orchestra on April 5, 1971 for Capitol in Hollywood.

Billy May, directing: John Audino, first trumpet; John Best, Shorty Sherock, Uan Rasey and Bud Brisbois, trumpets; Dick Nash, first trombone; Lloyd Ulyate, Francis Howard and Lew McCreary, trombones; Les Robinson, first alto saxophone; Justin Gordon, Don Lodice, Don Raffell, tenor saxophones; Bill Perkins, baritone saxophone; Abe Most, clarinet; Ray Sherman, piano; Jack Marshall, guitar; Rolly Bundock, bass; Nick Fatool, drums.

The music:

This performance of “Four Brothers” is interesting and rewarding for a number of reasons. First of all, the musicians involved perform this challenging music beautifully, not an easy task. We must remember that this tune’s composer revealed that it took some time for the Herman band to get this music under their fingers. One wonders how many rehearsals it took for these musicians to get to the point where they could produce this performance. Second, Billy May set the tempo of this performance a bit faster than the Herman original. I wonder why he thought that was advisable.

The sequence of tenor saxophone solos here is: Justin Gordon, Bill Perkins, Don Lodice and Don Raffell. The clarinet solo is by Abe Most. First trumpeter John Audino commands the ensemble brilliantly throughout this performance. Drummer Nick Fatool, a master of swing, did what he always did: he provided a swinging base for the musicians to work against. His brief breaks in the last chorus are all about flowing swing, quite unlike the sometimes jagged, bop-inspired explosions Don Lamond let loose on the original recording.

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

Notes and links:

(*) According to trumpeter Red Rodney (real name – Robert Chudnick), who replaced Marky Markowitz in the Herman band toward the end of 1948: “Bernie Glow was the relief lead trumpet. Stan Fishelson was the lead. Ernie Royal was the high lead.” The Woodchopper’s Ball …The Autobiography of Woody Herman, with Stuart Troup (1990), 76.

(1) When I say “relative inactivity” in reference to Woody’s work schedule for the first nine months of 1947, I must stress that he was anything but totally inactive during this period. In fact, he was fairly active making records for Columbia with studio musicians, mostly in Los Angeles, and appearing as a guest on various radio shows. (Woody spent a week or so in New York at the end of March 1947.)

(2) Like so many original tunes from the swing era, “Four Brothers” initially had the same title as a Hollywood feature film. The name its composer, Jimmy Giuffre originally gave it, like the 1941 Warner Brothers film, was Four Mothers. The connotation for the tune’s first title was quite different in the world of swing and jazz than it was for that film, so Woody, careful bandleader that he was, changed the title. Charlie Barnet had no compunction about recording an original tune called “Mother Fuzzy.” He played it often, and always enjoyed the reaction of his audiences when he introduced it, usually after a mock-solemn build-up.

(3) The Swing Era – Into the 50s (1973), notes on the music by Joseph Kastner, 58.

(4) Woody Herman …Chronicle of the Herds, by William D. Clancy and Audree Coke Kenton (1995) 145-146. Hereafter Clancy/Kenton.

(4A) There has been some confusion about weather the tenor saxophonist Leonard Sims, who played with Benny Goodman was Zoot Sims. He was not. They were two different people.

(4B) Leader of the Band …The life of Woody Herman, by Gene Lees (1995) 151-152.

(5)  Clancy/Kenton, 131.

(6) Clancy/Kenton, 113-115.

(7) Here is a link to a swinging performance of “Jeepers Creepers” by Artie Shaw: https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/08/04/jeepers-creepers-1938-artie-shaw-and-tony-pastor/

(8) The Complete Columbia Recordings of Woody Herman …1945-1947 (2004), liner notes by Loren Schoenberg, 24.

(9) My thanks go to Dennis Roden, who patiently guides me through the questions I ask him, with deep musical insight.

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