Eddie Bert dropped out of high school in the late 1930s to play jazz trombone professionally. By late 1941, he was playing with xylophonist Red Norvo. Eddie remained with Norvo for a year, then joined Charlie Barnet's band, jumping to Woody Herman before being drafted in 1944.
During World War II, Eddie was stationed just north of New York City, playing in a big band that backed entertainers performing for departing and arriving troops. When Norvo needed a trombonist for the 1945 Town Hall Jazz Concert, he called Eddie, who played the date in uniform. The concert was recorded by Commodore, and the hot-selling discs solidified Eddie's reputation among bands and musicians.
After the war, Eddie joined Stan Kenton's famed 1947 band, turning in a signature solo on vocalist June Christy's spirited hit, How High the Moon. When Eddie left Kenton in 1948, he began rehearsing with Miles Davis' "Birth of the Cool" band. But a practical joke by French hornist Junior Collins caused Eddie to lose his chair to trombonist Kai Winding.
Bad luck was good luck. As Eddie wandered into the studio next door on that day in 1948, he found Benny Goodman rehearsing what would become his "Undercurrent Blues" bop band. Benny knew Eddie from his days with Norvo and hired him on the spot. A year later, Eddie decided to leave Goodman's band.
In Part 3 of my interview with Eddie Bert, he talks below about Charlie Parker, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Milt Jackson, Maynard Ferguson and Chico O'Farrill:
"When I left Benny Goodman’s 'Undercurrent Blues' band at the end of 1949, I started rehearsing with Gene Roland’s 27-piece orchestra, which became known as the 'Band That Never Was.' It got that name because the band never worked and never officially recorded. It only rehearsed. There just weren’t any jobs for a band of that size.
Gene had been an arranger for Stan Kenton, so he had huge dreams. The band was packed with stars but was recorded unofficially only once, on tape, on April 3, 1950. Bird was a terrific guy. The photo of Charlie Parker and me was taken just after he got to rehearsal. If you look carefully, his coat is halfway off. The sax section alone had Charlie Parker and Joe Maini on altos, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims on tenors, and Marty Flax on baritone. You'd think it would have been hard on Maini sitting next to a guy like Parker, but Joe and Bird had a great relationship.
The day after the 'Band That Never Was' tape was made, I recorded four tracks with Artie Shaw, who had just started up a new group after breaking up his bop band. Artie Shaw was like a teacher. He was very strict and didn’t tolerate anyone breaking the rules. As a player, Artie was more legit than Benny. His sound was better, though he wasn’t a jazz player like Benny. With Artie, it was always about the sound, which was great.
By May 1950, I was with Woody Herman. We were at the Capitol Theater in New York, and I had to keep vibraphonist Milt Jackson awake. He was to my right, at the end of the trombone section. On certain numbers, Milt wasn't supposed to play until it was time for his solo. I’d prod him with my arm a few measures before, and he’d snap up right away and start soloing perfectly.
When Woody’s band went out on tour, I roomed with trombonist Bill Harris. He was a strange guy. One time I woke up in the middle of the night, and Bill had headphones on. He was listening to a tape of that odd theme song from the movie, The Third Man, and flushing the toilet over and over again. I have no idea why he was doing that. Maybe it was something from the movie.
I went back with Kenton’s band in the late summer of 1950 because Shorty Rogers was writing the charts and wanted me to join. We had been friends as kids up in the Bronx. I think Kenton’s 1950 band was as good as the 1947 band, mostly because of Shorty’s arrangements.
Maynard Ferguson was in the 1950 band, too. I already knew Maynard after meeting him years earlier in Toronto, where he had his own band with his brother. This was around 1947, before he came to the States. I was up there with Kenton playing a concert. Boyd Raeburn is really the one who discovered Maynard. After we left, Boyd came in and brought Maynard into the U.S. as a high-note trumpet act because you couldn’t hire foreign musicians as full-time players until residency rules were met.
Art Pepper was playing great, too, in Kenton’s 1950 band. So were all the trumpets and trombones. Al Porcino, Chico Alvarez and Milt Bernhart were in that band along with Art and Maynard. I was with Kenton for a few months and recorded in Hollywood. Then we went out on tour, but I left the band with Conte Candoli in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, before Stan headed back to the West Coast. My wife, Molly, and I had kids by then, and I didn’t’ want to be away from them in California.
My first recording date after leaving Kenton was with Chico O’Farrill's band. We recorded his Second Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite and all those early Latin-jazz and dance numbers Chico wrote and arranged, including Dance One, Bright One and Last One.
Chico was fantastic. A really gifted writer—and fast. Chico and I were friends from two years earlier when I played his arrangements in Benny Goodman’s bop band. By the time I recorded with Chico's orchestra in 1951, I had already played with Machito, Al Romero, Candido Camero and other Latin-jazz orchestras and musicians.
As a jazz musician, you had to play different with the Latin bands. They relied on a different beat—it had to be right there, and you couldn’t get distracted by all the other percussion instruments coming in and out. The beat was a different concept than laying back with jazz. You had to play strong but not get in the way of the rhythm. They'd call me to play and record because I was able to keep up with that special clave rhythm.
Mario Bauza was in many of those early Latin-jazz bands. He kept everyone on top of the music. Mario was like the musical director. Machito had a big name but didn’t really have much to do with rehearsing his band. That fell to Mario.
After those Chico O'Farrill sessions in 1951 for the Norgran and Clef labels, I wanted to start playing and recording more with smaller groups."
Tomorrow, in Part 4, Eddie talks about his first leadership dates, how Kai Winding wound up edging him out for the second time to become J.J. Johnson's trombone duet partner, Eddie's feverish recording session with Coleman Hawkins, and recollections of Charles Mingus, Gigi Gryce and Cecil Payne.
JazzWax tracks: The recording of Gene Roland's Band That Never Was isn't available on CD. But it was released in 1979 on a Spotlite LP that surfaces from time to time on eBay. It may still be here.
Eddie's four sides with the Artie Shaw band of 1950—He's Gone Away, Foggy Foggy Dew, The Continental and I'll Remember April—can be found here, on Artie Shaw and His Orchestra 1950.
Eddie's four tracks for Woody Herman in 1950—Spain, Pennies from Heaven, I Want a Little Girl and You're My Everything—can be
found here, on Woody Herman: The Complete 1948-1950 Sessions, a used import that sells for about $10. The tracks also appear on the Complete Capitol Recordings of Woody Herman, which is a terrific 6-CD set from Mosaic Records. Sadly, the box is out of print. If you want it, have eBay alert you by email when it next comes up for auction.
Eddie's four sides with Stan Kenton's 1950 band—Love for Sale, Viva Prado, I'm So in the Mood and Round Robin—are here, on Stan Kenton and His Orchestra (1950-51).
And all of Eddie's recordings with Chico O'Farrill and His Orchestra are here, on The Chico O'Farill Sessions: Cuban Blues. This is a terrific two-CD set. Or you can download the album or tracks from iTunes.