Those who have known and worked with the legendary Woody Herman over the span of his 65-year career as a vaudevillian, musician and Big Band leader have a lot to say about him--and don't mind saying it.
"People who've met him will never say a bad word about him," said Nat Pierce, Herman's friend and colleague for 35 years.
Pierce, along with many of Herman's fans and friends, will be singing the praises of the ailing bandleader, at a tribute to Herman at Wadsworth Theater at 8 p.m. Friday. Besides being a concert in admiration of the veteran jazz great, it is a benefit to help pay some of Herman's bills.
Some of those who will be performing gratis are Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Dudley Moore, Mary Ann McCall, Doc Severinsen and "The Tonight Show" Orchestra, Pete Barbutti and John Byner. Also appearing will be about 25 notable jazz musicians, including bassist Chubby Jackson, reed player Dick Hafer and trumpeter Pete Candoli. Pierce and Shorty Rogers will lead the Herman alumni band.
Sponsored by radio station KKGO-FM, the concert will be broadcast live.
Herman was hospitalized with failing health last spring while in Detroit doing a concert. The idea for the tribute was born at that time, said KKGO-FM station owner Saul Levine, when he heard about Herman's misfortune and poor economic situation.
"Herman is the epitome of the Big Band era. As a jazz station we've been playing his music for 28 years," Levine said. The radio station is also responsible for having instituted the Woody Herman Tribute Trust Fund, which Levine said Tuesday has raised about $35,000. "We've had donations from $1 to thousands of dollars," explained Linda Davis, directing of marketing and promotion at KKGO-FM. "The money collected goes to offset his (Herman's) medical expenses. All the net proceeds from the concert will go directly to the trust fund."
Organizers of the event hope to raise some $50,000 from sales of tickets and special tribute posters. A VIP reception, offering a full buffet dinner and drinks, is scheduled before the concert, and is open to the public.
Herman, who is suffering from emphysema and heart problems, has been in intensive care at Cedar Sinai Medical Center for the last three weeks, and will be absent from Friday night's affair. His daughter, Ingrid Herman-Reese, said Tuesday that Herman remains in stable condition, and is aware of the scheduled event.
Early last month, the 74-year-old Herman was nearly evicted by landlord William Little for nonpayment of rent. In 1985, Little had purchased the bandleader's Hollywood Hills home in an Internal Revenue Service auction. After a court hearing, Herman was given permission to remain in the residence, at which time KKGO-FM agreed to pay Herman's back rent--about $4,600.
Herman's troubles with the IRS continue, although there is now a bill in Congress for his relief, which was introduced Sept. 15 by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D.-Mich.). "That tax problem should be forgotten. The IRS should make an exception," Bennett said.
Information: KKGO-FM, (213) 475-9494; Ticketmaster, (213) 480-3232; Ticketron, (213) 410-1062.