When you speak with tenor saxophonist Dick Hafer, you notice that his voice is as cool and easy-going as his horn. It's a gentle voice, a voice that has a mellifluous sound that makes you want to keep him talking just to hear it. Because his voice puts you at ease. Like many tenor saxophonists who came up in the late 40s, Dick was deeply influenced by Lester Young's linear, swinging style. Which made Dick an ideal section player, especially as bands began to emphasize reed sections. In the early '50s, that band was Woody Herman's. [Photo at top, from left, Dick Hafer, Woody Herman and Dick Collins in the early '50s]
In Part 2 of my three-part interview with Dick,he talks about Woody Herman's Third Herd...
JazzWax: Picking up where we left off, what did you do after you left Claude Thornhill in 1950?
Dick Hafer: I went back with Charlie Barnet briefly. But there were a lot of junkies in the band. Charlie grew disgusted and broke it up.
JW: What did you do?
DH: I went home to Reading, Penn. But in July 1951, arranger Ralph Burns [pictured] called and asked if I wanted to join Woody Herman. I said, “Yes, sure.” Ralph told me to fly out to Kansas City, where I’d join the band on the road. It was the first time I had flown on a four-engine plane.
JW: What did you do when you arrived?
DH: I checked into the Muehlebach Hotel, where the band was staying. I didn’t know anyone in Woody’s band. I knew trumpeters Doug Mettome and Don Fagerquist but only by reputation. When I checked in, I called Woody’s room. It was about 11 a.m. He said, “Oh yeah, Dick Hafer. We’re rehearsing this afternoon with Bird.” “Bird?” I said. “Yeah, I want you to come over and listen to Charlie Parker. He’s playing with us tonight. You won’t have to play.” So I drove out to the big auditorium there where the band was rehearsing.
JW: How was Parker?
DH: Bird knew the whole book. At one point he said he wanted to play Early Autumn, but Woody said, “It’s not really a good piece for you. It’s too slow.” Kind of a crazy thing to say, since Bird could play anything. After the rehearsal, we went back to the hotel and had dinner. Then I saw tenor saxophonist Jack DuLong. Jack said he was leaving the band, that he got an earlier flight home. He said, “You’re going to have to play tonight.” [Pictured, from left: Arno Marsh, Dick Hafer, Bill Perkins, Sam Staff and Woody Herman in 1952]
JW: What happened?
DH: When I showed up with my horn that night, Woody asked, “Where’s DuLong?” I told him what Jack had told me, and Woody put me on the band right there.
JW: So you…
DH: Right, I sight-read the book with Bird sitting right next to me. After playing with Barnet, I wasn’t afraid of anything.
JW: Based on the recording of Four Brothers, there was always talk that Bird was high. Was he?
DH: No way. He was home in Kansas City visiting his mother, and whenever he was home he never got high. Bird simply didn’t know the changes to Four Brothers. He was standing in front of the band without music soloing. After the bridge, he stumbled on the notes. Same on the second chorus. But by the third, he had it down. Listen to what he did with How High the Moon and Lemon Drop. Amazing.
JW: What did you do after the concert?
DH: We went to a club, and Mettome, one of the great trumpeters of all time, and Bird jammed. The two had known each other for some time. A funny story—two years later, I was in New York across from the Alvin Hotel near Birdland. My wife Betty and I were walking down 7th Ave. in the afternoon when I spotted Bird walking toward us. I said to my wife, “Here comes Bird. He won’t know me.” [Pictured, from left: Arno Marsh, Dick Hafer, Bill Perkins and Sam Staff, with Woody Herman in front in 1952]
JW: What happened?
DH: Bird walked right up to me and gave me a hug and said, “Dick, how you doing?” He had remembered me from that one night in Kansas City.
JW: What happened when Carl Fontana joined Herman’s band in late 1951 and Urbie Green left?
DH: We were at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York. The band was good, and Urbie’s [pictured] playing was the best thing about it. But Urbie’s first wife Darlein was having a baby then, so he decided to give notice to be with her and his family. He recommended Carl, who I didn’t know. No one did.
JW: How did you learn of the change?
DH: I got to the gig early one day in late ’51 and went to the back of the dressing room. A guy was standing there in a shabby overcoat. I said, “Can I help you?” He said, “I’m Carl Fontana, I’m going to take Urbie Green’s place.” I said, “Oh really.” Later, Carl told me I had made him feel like two cents [laughs].
JW: What did you do?
DH: I went across the street to the bar and told Doug [Mettome] and Don [Fagerquist]. They were surprised, too. Later, when Woody auditioned Carl [pictured], he called for Woodchopper’s Ball. He always auditioned new players with that tune. Carl stood up to play, and what came out of his trombone was incredible. Right there, the Third Herd was born. He sobered everyone up. The rest of the band got serious. Then Urbie came back in mid-’52 and the two of them were in the band. It was amazing.
JW: How was tenor saxophonist Bill Perkins?
DH: Bill [pictured] was a really fine player and a wonderful man. He was always practicing. He was into Lester Young really heavy. He was always looking to buy different horns. One time he picked up a silver tenor and spent the afternoon painting it gold so Woody wouldn’t put him down. He liked to play an old Conn like Prez [Lester Young] did.
JW: How about alto saxophonist Sam Marowitz?
DH: I loved him. I worked with Sam when I left Woody in ‘55 and settled in New York. Sam was playing lead alto with Elliot Lawrence at the time. The band business by that time had hit a low. Elliot had these odd playing jobs and Sam was contracting for them. Sam hired me.
JW: Why did you leave Herman?
DH: When tenor saxophonist Jerry Coker left the band, they got Richie Kamuca, who had left Stan Kenton. On our first date with Kamuca, we played Apple Honey and Woody pointed to him to solo. From that day on, I didn’t get to play many solos anymore. So I gave Woody a month’s notice. I told him that when we reached New York, I was going to leave the band. [Pictured in reed section, from left: Dick Hafer, Jerry Coker and Jack Nimitz]
JW: Did you?
DH: About a week before we got to New York, Woody asked me to stay a couple of extra weeks. He said the band was going to do a jazz concert in Washington, D.C., with Louis Armstrong and Bobby Hackett [pictured]. I said, “OK, I’ll stay.” This was June ’55. But I caught a really bad cold and couldn’t really enjoy playing.
JW: What did you do?
DH: I went into the dressing room. I told Woody I had to go home to recover, that he didn’t have to pay me for the three days we had played the theater. He said, “Get lost.” I was really hurt. I had been in there for four years. I vowed never to talk to him again. And for the longest time I didn’t.
A special JazzWax thanks to trumpeter Al Stewart. Also, special thanks to Dick Hafer for sharing his photos.
JazzWax tracks: Charlie Parker's Kansas City appearance with Woody Herman's band in July 1951 can be found on Woody Herman with Charlie Parker and Tito Puente. The reason I recommend this one (even though the Puente tracks were recorded later for Everest) is that you get all of the Kansas City play list. Others are more limited.
Dick with Herman's Third Herd also can be found on Scene & Herd 1952, Let's Go to Town: Woody Herman and His Third Herd (1953), Jantzen Beach Oregon 1954.
JazzWax clip: Here's Four Brothers with Charlie Parker and Woody Herman in July 1951. The reed section: Charlie Parker (as) Dick Hafer, Bill Perkins, Kenny Pinson (ts) Sam Staff (bar)...