Sarah Vaughan and Woody Herman – On the Radio: The 1963 ‘Live’ Guard Sessions (2008)

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This is a whodathunkit moment that nearly went un-thunk.

Sarah Vaughan, a singer of dizzying range; and clarinetist Woody Herman (then leader of “The Swingin’est Big Band Ever,” as another 1963 recording trumpeted) were jazz legends, both. But they never released a studio recording together, until these broadcast programs — compiled as part of “On the Radio: The 1963 ‘Live’ Guard Sessions,” issued in 2008 by Acrobat Music.

Recorded for the U.S. National Guard as a recruitment tool, the sessions were part of the legendary Make Believe Ballroom programs by DJ Martin Black. Vaughan and Herman’s between-song chatter comes off as jarringly stiff — and that’s true even outside the context of today’s never-ending tours of duty amongst Guardsmen.

Still, the subsequent tunes are nifty and true.

Herman’s Herd, then in the midst of a sizzling, progressive update of his hey-day sound of decades before, featured trombonist Jack Gale and pianist Nat Pierce (both of whom did some arranging for Woody), drummer Jack Hanna and others. Vaughan was at the top of her game, too, maturely incorporating sounds she’d absorbed as part of the 1940s-era Earl Hines outfit that had included Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Charlie Parker and J.J. Johnson.

She appears on eight of this recording’s 19 tunes, while the Herd gallops through numbers like Gershwin’s “But Not For Me,” Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (though this is marred, no kidding, by talk of how the Guard actually gets to travel quite frequently); Jimmy Giuffre’s “Four Brothers” (embedded below; it’s named for the Herman group’s unique arrangement of three tenors and a baritone, which over the years included Zoot Sims, Stan Getz and Gene Ammons, among others); and “Mo-Lasses.”

“Day In, Day Out,” you can be sure, turns into a romp — with Vaughan firmly snapping the reins. The closing Horace Silver tune, “The Preacher,” finds its own successive vistas within the Herman band’s solos, like a stair-stepping jam session during the old Jazz at the Philharmonic tours.

Imperfect though they may be, there is no denying these singular moments. That keeps “The 1963 ‘Live’ Guard Sessions” from feeling like a one-off, even if it so obviously was.

You couldn’t stop these two from happily swinging, whatever the context.


Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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