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Remembering The Godfather

July 13, 1986

RALPH BURNS

Herman's pianist from 1944-45 and his composer-arranger off and on for 20 years, Burns moved on to a career as a writer of scores for TV and movies. He won Oscars for "Cabaret" and "All That Jazz."

"I still listen to jazz; my roots are still there, and I feel I can go listen to Woody's band to steal ideas when I'm writing for a film. 'Simple Is Better' was always his motto, and good taste; I think he's taught an awful lot of arrangers how to develop that way.

"When I heard about the 50th anniversary concert I decided to write a new piece for Woody . . . it's called 'The Godmother,' because we all call him the Godfather, and this is dedicated to the memory of Charlotte."

NAT PIERCE

Pierce joined Herman in 1951 and, as pianist or arranger, has worked with him intermittently ever since. He has assembled an all-star band composed almost entirely of Herman alumni that will open the show Wednesday at the Hollywood Bowl.

"He's been a father to us all. He was too trusting; that's how the tax mess happened. I found out about it in 1967, when two IRS agents came to my apartment and took me downtown to show them some payroll lists. It turned out that no tax returns had been filed for Woody or the band for three years. . . .

"At one time or another the sheriff wanted to impound Woody's whole library of music; our salaries were attached; there were big bus company bills, and subpoenas galore . . . he now owes $1.5 million.

"Yet, Woody goes straight ahead. I've never met anyone else that had such an amazing attitude."

NEAL HEFTI

First prominent with the Herman band, Hefti later led orchestras of his own, wrote dozens of hits for the Count Basie band ("Cute," "Li'l Darlin"') and scores for films ("Sex and the Single Girl," "The Odd Couple") and TV ("Batman"). He was married to Franc e s Wayne, Herman's singer, who died in 1978.

"The first time I was with him--1944-46--he gave me the chance to really be featured as a trumpeter. He got me going as an arranger--between the written charts and the 'head' arrangements, I was responsible for 'Wildroot,' 'The Good Earth,' 'Apple Honey,' 'Northwest Passage,' 'Caldonia' and later, 'Tenderly.' He also gave me my first chance to conduct; I rejoined the band at Bop City and he had me conduct for Sarah Vaughan.

"Most of all, I have to thank him for his part in my marriage. I didn't have a thing to wear and he loaned me a suit."

JACK TRACY

Tracy produced several of Herman's albums, two of which, "Encore" in 1963 and "Thundering Herd" in 1974, won Grammy awards. ("Giant Steps" in 1973, produced by Ozzie Cadena, also won a Grammy.)

Tracy recalls Woody always kept in touch with his father: "Even after the old man was becoming a little senile Woody continued to call him almost every night.

"One night a musician said to him, 'Woody, aren't you spending an awful lot of money calling your old man? He doesn't even know who you are.' Woody turned to him and said, quietly, 'Yes, but I know who he is.' "

INGRID HERMAN-REESE

Herman - Reese is the daughter of Woody and Charlotte Herman and is currently helping to manage Herman's business projects.

"When kids at school asked me what my dad did and I told them he was a bandleader, they'd say 'Huh?' It didn't mean much to me either, until he took me backstage and I'd meet celebrities in his show like Paul Winchell, the ventriloquist. I took piano lessons for three years, and Dad encouraged me, but nothing came of it. I should have studied pop music and jazz, but nobody seemed to be teaching it then. I wound up spending 15 years in Nashville playing bluegrass fiddle. Now that I'm helping manage Dad's affairs, I'm back in the music mainstream."

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