Woody Herman: Laura
Woody Herman (clarinet, also sax, vocals)
The Essence of Woody Herman (Legacy/Columbia)
Sonny Berman, Charlie Frankhauser, Pete Candoli, Ray Wetzel, Carl Warwick (trumpets), Ed Kiefer, Ralph Pfeffner (trombones), Sam Marowitz, John LaPorta (alto saxes), Flip Phillips, Pete Mondello (tenor saxes), Ralph Burns (piano), Billy Bauer (guitar), Chubby Jackson (bass), Dave Tough (drums).
Composed by Johnny Mercer & David Raksin. Arranged by Ralph Burns.
Recorded: New York, February 19, 1945
Rating: 98/100 (learn more)
This track was the first recording made for the first session in Herman's contract for Columbia Records. Herman had led a pretty good band for several years that played major venues and made some good recordings on Decca, but by 1943 he was beginning to shift direction to music that was more modern and exciting. With the hiring of Chubby Jackson, Herman had a new bassist who recommended excellent other young musicians; from Charlie Barnet's band alone came pianist/arranger Ralph Burns, vocalist Frances Wayne and trumpeter/arranger Neal Hefti. Herman found Bill Harris, who'd been fired by Benny Goodman for poor music reading. Dave Tough was also a Herman choice. Older than the other musicians and active since the '20s, he proved the biggest surprise with his modern, subtle style, which the musicians loved. A regular radio program for Old Gold cigarettes in 1944 was good exposure for Herman's new direction, and by the time his Columbia contract began, the musicians were roaring.
However, they also played Ralph Burns-styled ballads. This theme from the movie of the same name was a major hit for Herman, and the recording has everything: a great song, wonderful vocal by the leader (who also introduces the theme on alto sax), an excellent, romantic arrangement by Burns, gorgeous playing by the individual sections and the entire band, a pretty transition by vibist Marjorie Hyams, and then a kicking solo by Harris based on the melody. Also note baritone saxophonist Skippy DeSair's anchoring of the entire band: his sound rings through the entire ensemble at some points in the recording.
This track is a sensational beginning to a distinguished series of recordings by one of the most popular big bands of all time.
Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof