Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Alto Saxophonist Herb Geller Is Dead at 85

An important figure on the West Coast ’50s scene

Herb Geller and family in 1970. Photo courtesy of the artist
Herb Geller. Photo courtesy of the artist
Herb Geller in the '90s. Photo courtesy of the artist

Herb Geller, an alto saxophonist who was an important player on the L.A. scene in the 1950s before settling in Europe in the early ’60s, died on Dec. 19 in a hospital in Hamburg. After undergoing treatment for lymphoma over the past year, he died of pneumonia, according to his son, Sam Geller. He was 85. The date of Geller’s death was the 51st anniversary of his marriage to his second wife, Christine.

Geller’s sound and attack-speedy, authoritative and emotive-stayed remarkably vital through the decades, and presented an alternative to the West Coast stylists he made his name among in the ’50s. Geller’s playing could evoke Charlie Parker but owed more to Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges and Lester Young. He released albums under his own name on Emarcy in the mid-’50s and played and recorded with a grip of midcentury greats, among them Chet Baker, Shorty Rogers, Bill Holman, Clifford Brown, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Max Roach, Maynard Ferguson, Booker Little, Louie Bellson, Barney Kessel, Jimmy Rowles and Buddy DeFranco, among others. He also worked with Benny Goodman and, later, Bill Evans, and appeared on recordings by a handful of iconic singers-Annie Ross, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Dinah Washington, Mel Tormé and Lena Horne. Along with his first wife and noted collaborator, the pianist Lorraine Geller, he was an “All-Star” at the Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach. Perhaps more than anything, Geller was a consummate working player who lived his life inside music: through one-nighters with big bands, at clubs, in L.A. studios, in burlesques, at basement jam sessions around the world.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published