cover image Leader of the Band: The Life of Woody Herman

Leader of the Band: The Life of Woody Herman

Graham Lees, Gene Lees. Oxford University Press, USA, $35 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-19-505671-6

Lees (Cats of Any Color), who calls himself ``one of the many souls whose lives were reshaped by Woody Herman,'' writes affectionately here about his friend and mentor, the great clarinetist, saxophonist, singer and band leader who was a major figure in the jazz world from the 1930s to his death in 1987. Drawing on interviews and informal conversations with Herman, his wife, his daughter and many of his friends and associates, he covers Herman's career from the early days on the road with various groups through his later popularity with his own bands-the ``Herds''-which he led during the big band era and later. Herman's story has been told before, but Lees, with insight gained from years of friendship, is particularly successful at portraying the character of a likable, humorous man who was a father figure to his musicians and whose easygoing nature, lack of business sense and ill-fated choice of a business manager led to his well-known problems with the IRS. Especially moving are the descriptions of Herman's last days, when he was ill and weak, yet forced to keep working because of his enormous debt to the IRS. (Nov.)