The Four Brothers

On February 11, 1957 at 3 p.m., four saxophonists from Woody’s Hermans late-1940s bands entered Webster Hall, New York City to record an album on RCA’s Vik label. Serge Chaloff, Zoot Sims and Herbie Steward were the musicians. The session lasted ten hours and ended at 1 a.m., with the exception of a two-hour break for dinner. The Four Brothers: Together Again! was the result. It is a fantastic album that showcases the incredible reedwork of four experienced swingers. Let me tell you what the Four Brothers is all about. Jimmy Giuffre, tenor saxophonist, wrote a Four Brothers arrangement in late 1947 for Woody Herman to highlight the band’s saxophone section. Many tenor saxophonists of this time were influenced by Lester Young’s easy approach to the instrument. Giuffre’s arrangement was meant to highlight the section’s Lester Young skills, both individually and collectively through solos. “Four Brothers” is the name of the group. Although they sounded like one, the saxophonists were able to play their own tunes. The single, Four Brothers, was recorded by Herman December 1947. It was a jazz hit. Four Brothers was not just an arrangement. The emphasis on blended harmony and Young-like instruments playing together would be the foundation for West Coast Jazz a few years later. The history of the four-sax idea actually began just before Woody Herman’s band. The format was first tried out by Stan Getz, Stan Getz, Sims, Giuffre, and Sims, tenorsaxophonists. They were performing for dancers at Pontrelli’s in Los Angeles, in early 1947. The band consisted of Tommy De Carlo, the group’s leader, four tenor players and a rhythm section consisting of three men. The octet was responsible for managing the club’s arrangements, which were arranged by Gene Roland and Giuffre for three months. Woody Herman formed a new band in September 1947. After disbanding his old band earlier in the year, he was ready to re-group by the fall. Herman hired Sims and Steward on baritone, Getz, and Serge Chaloff. Giuffre was still organizing, but he had a new family and was working at J.C. Penney Los Angeles to make ends met. Sam Marowitz was added to Herman’s lead alto. Al Cohn, a tenor saxophonist who also acts as an arranger, joined Herman’s sax section on January 1948 to replace Steward. Sims was replaced by Giuffre in spring 1949. The four-saxophone sound that Giuffre’s Four Brothers made famous, the Four Brothers, was not dominant until Herman formed his next group, the so-called Third Herd. The Together Again! Cohn and Sims recorded in New York in 1957. Steward flew in from the West Coast while Chaloff, who was recovering from a spinal surgery, flew in from Boston. The saxophonists were joined by Elliot Lawrence, Burgher Jones (also conducting), Don Lamond and Don Lamond. Ten tracks were recorded: Four Brothers, Ten Years Later and The Pretty One. Don Lamond played drums and Burgher “Buddy” Jones on bass. Manny Albam, Lawrence Cohn and Manny Albam arranged the tracks. The group plays every track together. As each artist digs in with Young-like lyrics, you can hear the various colors. This sound has not changed over the years. With the advent of late-1950s recording technology the harmony created by four saxes was even more powerful than those on 78-rpm singles. Tom Lord’s Jazz Discography mentions that Charlie O’Kane, a baritone saxophonist, was part of the section on the five last tracks. This personnel swap is not acknowledged on the album, possibly because O’Kane’s inclusion would have negated the album’s idea of a Herman Reed-section reunion. Chaloff may have felt that the 10-hour session was too much for him. O’Kane likely was brought in to do the section-work, while Chaloff only performed the solos. Elliot Lawrence was most likely the one to reach out to O’Kane. He was at the time playing in his band. Together Again! This would be Chaloff’s last session. He probably knew this, so he made the trip. Chaloff, who died in July 1957 from spinal cancer, passed away five months later. from

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