Born: November 2, 1928 | Died: December 19, 2013 Primary Instrument: Saxophone
Herb Geller, born on 2. November 1928 in Los Angeles is an American Jazz Musician, Composer and Arranger.
His musical abilities could have been inherited from his mother, Francis. She worked at the neighbourhood cinemas playing piano accompanying silent movies.
At the age of 8 he was presented with an alto saxophone, purchased from a local music store owner and music teacher who was also a friend of the family and had a used instrument for sale.
Two years later he started clarinet. Herb attended Dorsey High School in the southwestern part of Los Angeles and joined the school band which among others included the musicians Eric Dolphy, Vi Redd and Bobby White.
At the age of 14 he heard Benny Carter perform at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles and was so impressed that he decided to persue a career in music, specializing on the alto saxophone.
Two years later during a summer vacation he had his first professional engagement in the band of the great jazz violinist Joe Venuti.
A short time later he discovered the music of Charlie Parker, who became an important idol along with Benny Carter and Johnny Hodges.
In 1949 Herb went to New York City for the first time, where he performed in the bands of Jack Fina, (with Paul Desmond also in the sax section), Claude Thornhill, Jerry Wald and Lucky Millinder.
During this time he met the pianist Lorraine Walsh in Los Angeles, who later in New York became his wife and also an important musical partner. After three years in New York Herb joined the Billy May orchestra in 1952 and following an engagement in Los Angeles the Gellers returned there to live.
The development of the Long Playing Record created more work opportunities for jazz musicians using many different ensembles and the so-called West Coast Jazz style became popular. Among the groups Herb worked and recorded with were Shorty Rogers, Maynard Ferguson, Bill Holman, Shelly Manne, Marty Paich, Barney Kessel, Andre Previn, Quincy Jones, Wardel Grey, Jack Sheldon and Chet Baker. Lorraine worked as the house pianist at the Lighthouse Jazz Club, and played with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Jack Teagarden, Bill Holman and was the accompanist for the singer Kay Starr. Herb recorded three LPs as a leader for Emarcy plus some with Dinah Washington, Max Roach, Clifford Brown, Clark Terry, Maynard Ferguson and Kenny Drew.
In 1955 he won the “New Star Award” from Down Beat Magazine and achieved worldwide recognition through his recordings with Clifford Brown.
Later Herb worked in the bands of Louie Bellson and Benny Goodman. Lorraine Geller unexpectedly died in 1958.
During a tour through Brazil with the Benny Goodman Orchestra Herb decided not to return to the United States but instead stayed in Sao Paulo for six weeks playing Bossa Nova music at a local club until he departed taking a ship to Europe. Arriving in Paris he played with Kenny Clarke, Kenny Drew, the French pianist Martial Solal, and Belgian guitarist Rene Thomas among others, and also toured with a French radio show, Musique Aux Champs Elyssee.
1962 he was offered a job with the big band of the Radio Free Berlin (SFB) station in Berlin. He accepted this engagement and performed there along with other “Americans In Europe” such as Benny Bailey, Joe Harris, Nat Peck as well as outstanding European Musicians like Ack and Jerry von Rooyen, Ake Persson and Francy Boland.
In Berlin he met his second wife Christine Rabsch. Herb stayed there for three years and then accepted a contract to play lead alto and also arrange for the bigband of the Norddeutschen Rundfunk in Hamburg.
Here he was engaged for 28 years and made Hamburg his home.
During this time the NDR bigband developed from a post war dance orchestra into a top modern jazz band.
The endless list of participating musicians ranged from Don Byas, Joe Pass, Slide Hampton, Bill Evans, Red Mitchell, Art Farmer, Georgie Fame and Chet Baker to avant garde musicians and rock/fusion and included nearly all the big names of European Jazz.
During his work at the NDR Herb Geller was also busy in other directions including his own productions and tours. During this time he also participated in recordings and worked with such famed artists as Ray Charles, The Supremes, Ella Fitzgerald, Shirley MacLaine, Jerry Lewis, Peter Herbolzheimer R,C&B, Craig Russell, Liberace, Udo Lindenberg, Marius Müller- Westernhagen, Paul Anka, George Gruntz, Bert Kaempfert, Billy Vaughn and many more.
During his tenure at NDR he also learned and performed on other woodwind instruments besides clarinet: flute, alto flute, bass flute, piccolo flute, oboe and English horn. On flute he played and recorded with Bill Evans and Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell.
He also composed the music and lyrics to two musicals: PLAYING JAZZ (a musical autobiography) and JAZZY JOSIE B. (based on the life of Josephine Baker - in cooperation with Eddie Jordan).
1996 the Senat of the Hamburg Government gave him the title of “Professor”. He taught at the Hochschule für Musik in Hamburg until his retirement.
Currently Herb Geller continues teaching jazz improvisation and composition and occasionally doing seminars at various national and international institutes and wrote a method of improvisation for Schott And Sons “CROSSOVER”.
He is still active, performing regularly in Germany and abroad as a soloist at festivals and clubs in various formations including some big bands as well as with such diverse artists as Knut Kiesewetter, Lennie Niehaus, Jiggs Whigham, Rolf Kühn, Slide Hampton, Buddy de Franco, Lew Soloff, Charlie Mariano and Jan Lundgren to name a few. He is very proud of his friendship with the late Benny Carter, with whom he had recorded and performed with and participated at the Hollywood Bowl celebration for Benny's ninetieth birthday.
It has to be mentioned, that Herb Geller -despite the influence of Charlie Parker and Benny Carter- developed his own form of expression and individuality, maintaining an always recognizable personal style.
He has recorded as a leader 10 CDs over the last few years, the latest THE ARTHUR SCHWARTZ SONGBOOK has received excellent reviews.
Awards:In 1955 he won the “New Star Award” from Down Beat Magazine and achieved worldwide recognition through his recordings with Clifford Brown.
On 26 November 2005 Herb Geller was knighted for his achievements in Jazz with the title “Ritter der Ronneburg” by Fürst Johann-Georg zu Ysenburg und Büdingen. Modest as always, his comment about this event was “my friends still call me Herb”.
On 24 November 2008 Herb Geller was awarded with the "Louis-Armstrong-Gedächtnispreis 2008" by the association "Swinging Hamburg" for his achievements in Jazz which include being a supporter of the musical new blood as well as ambassador of swinging Jazz for Hamburg.
for Soprano Sax: Yamaha Y62