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Nonstandards Fare: Jazz and Pop

When Bob Belden replaced Joe Lovano in Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd in 1979, he embarked on a long-running tour of Midwest high schools and Southern … Read More "Nonstandards Fare: Jazz and Pop"

When Bob Belden replaced Joe Lovano in Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd in 1979, he embarked on a long-running tour of Midwest high schools and Southern colleges. It didn’t take long for Belden to gauge the audience’s appetite. If Herman called for one of his old standards-say, “Four Brothers”-the students would go, “Huh?” But if Herman called for “Aja,” from his 1978 album of Steely Dan tunes, the kids would go nuts.

“A light bulb went off in my head,” Belden recalls. “Those Steely Dan tunes were fun to play, but more importantly they went over because the audience already knew them. That’s the beauty of playing stuff that’s familiar to the listener. You’re not introducing a new melody, so the melody can be a trigger for the audience and brings them along wherever you want to go. If you start playing, and people go, ‘Oh, that’s ‘Kid Charlemagne,’ you’re halfway there.

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Geoffrey Himes

Geoffrey Himes has written about jazz and other genres of music on a regular basis for the Washington Post since 1977 and has also written for JazzTimes, Paste, Rolling Stone, New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, National Public Radio, and others. His book on Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A., was published by Continuum Books in 2005 and he’s currently working on a major book for the Country Music Hall of Fame. He has been honored for Music Feature Writing by the Deems Taylor/ASCAP Awards (2003, 2005, 2014 and 2015), the New Orleans Press Awards, the Abell Foundation Awards and the Music Journalism Awards.