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Published: 17 July 1997

448 Pages | 36 photos

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

ISBN: 9780195115741

Bookseller Code (01)

Leader of the Band

The Life of Woody Herman

Gene Lees

Few people know jazz as well as Gene Lees. The Washington Post called him "one of those writers who's a joy to read on any subject at all." The late Dizzy Gillespie has called Lees "the glowing jewel of jazz" for his perceptive writing about the music. Now comes the book that jazz lovers (and Lees's fans) have been waiting for--Leader of the Band, a vivid, full-scale biography of Woody Herman.
Asked by Herman in 1986 to write his biography, Gene Lees spent close to a decade working on it, interviewing many of Herman's childhood friends and lifelong acquaintances as well as numerous musicians, including Les Brown, Milt Jackson, Peggy Lee, Tony Martin, and Red Norvo. The result is a strikingly immediate and well informed portrait of one of the great figures in jazz history--a musical giant whose career spanned the big band and bebop eras. Lees illuminates Herman's great success between 1945 and 1950, when bebop rapidly developed, revealing how Herman successfully made the transition with bands that became famous as Herman's "First Herd" and "Second Herd." He brings to life the weary routine of performing on the road, and goes on to capture the ultimate tragedy that broke Herman's career--when Herman's manager diverted the band's withholding tax to settle gambling debts. Herman was tormented by the IRS for decades, until he died, penniless, in 1987.
Woody Herman played a central role in the development of jazz--and he played it, as he did the music, with dignity and breathtaking ability. In Leader of the Band, one of our finest writers captures the life of this great bandleader, vividly portraying the triumph and tragedy of a life in jazz.


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