Gregory Herbert, one of the most talented saxophonists of his generation, was born in Philadelphia 67 years ago this month. After a brief engagement with Duke Ellington when he was 17, Herbert spent four years as a music major at Temple University in his hometown, concentrating on alto saxophone, clarinet and flute. In 1971 he joined Woody Herman’s Herd, that perpetual incubator of young talent, and began to specialize as a tenor saxophonist. Based on his work with Herman, conventional wisdom in the jazz community was that Herbert had the potential for a long, influential career. This piece from a 1974 concert in Zurich, Switzerland, presents some of the evidence. Richard Evans’ arrangement of The Temptations hit “I Can’t Get Next To You” begins with Herbert and fellow tenor men Gary Anderson (on the left) and Frank Tiberi, then devolves to Herbert as the featured soloist.
After he left Herman, Herbert worked with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, Chuck Israels’ National Jazz Ensemble and Blood, Sweat & Tears. He made memorable recordings with Jones-Lewis and Israels and with Harold Danko and Chet Baker. When he died in Amsterdam of a drug overdose in 1978, he was 30 years old.
This Herman album features Herbert on “I Can’t Get Next To You” and other pieces including his passionate solo on “Tantum Ergo,” Alan Broadbent’s memorial tribute to Duke Ellington.
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