Remember Gregory Herbert?

Gregory Herbert, one of the most talented saxophonists of his generation, was born in Philadelphia 67 years ago this month. After a brief engagement with Duke Ellington when he was 17, Herbert spent four Gregory Herbertyears as a music major at Temple University in his hometown, concentrating on alto saxophone, clarinet and flute. In 1971 he joined Woody Herman’s Herd, that perpetual incubator of young talent, and began to specialize as a tenor saxophonist. Based on his work with Herman, conventional wisdom in the jazz community was that Herbert had the potential for a long, influential career. This piece from a 1974 concert in Zurich, Switzerland, presents some of the evidence. Richard Evans’ arrangement of The Temptations hit “I Can’t Get Next To You” begins with Herbert and fellow tenor men Gary Anderson (on the left) and Frank Tiberi, then devolves to Herbert as the featured soloist.

After he left Herman, Herbert worked with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, Chuck Israels’ National Jazz Ensemble and Blood, Sweat & Tears. He made memorable recordings with Jones-Lewis and Israels and with Harold Danko and Chet Baker. When he died in Amsterdam of a drug overdose in 1978, he was 30 years old.

This Herman album features Herbert on “I Can’t Get Next To You” and other pieces including his passionate solo on “Tantum Ergo,” Alan Broadbent’s memorial tribute to Duke Ellington.

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  1. Terence Smith says

    I remember Gregory Herbert because I had the good fortune
    to acquire the Chet baker album called Once Upon a Summertime.
    It’s a great quintet album with Baker, Gregory Herbert, Harold
    Danko, Ron Carter, and Mel Lewis in great form. Herbert
    and Baker complement each other very well, playing the choice
    material with great taste.

  2. says

    Thanks for this tribute to a largely unknown great player–though well-remembered by those of us who knew him.

    Gregory spent the summer of 1964 subbing for Russell Procope with the Ellington band, playing lead alto. Not bad for a 17-year-old.

    He told me that his favorite of all of his albums was Chet Baker’s ONCE UPON A SUMMERTIME, with the two of them along with Harold Danko, Ron Carter, and Mel Lewis.

    It’s a tragedy that Gregory never recorded as a leader. He wanted to do an album with strings. He was a wonderful ballad player, so that would have been a natural for him.

  3. Bill Benjamin says

    Doug….thanks for the post on Gregory. He was a great player. I got to hear him in Chicago with Thad and Mel and he played his behind off. Can’t believe it’s been so long since he passed.

  4. Don Conner says

    Great video, I only knew about Herbert thru the Baker album Once Upon a Summertime. Another potential giant brought down by mother heroin.

  5. gary anderson says

    Spent two years with Gregory on the road with the Herd. What a dynamic player whose life was tragically cut way too short because of stupidity and a bad case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gregory tempted fate constantly with a “Bird” mission in the back of his mind. But all of that can be overlooked because he possessed a unique talent … that combination of soul, heart & technique that is rarely found in any player that young. I heard it on a nightly basis—whether playing for 10,000 people at a festival or 100 on a friday night at an Elk’s lodge … Gregory had it all in front of him. Oh, the notes we never heard …

  6. says

    Herbert was an extraordinarily passionate and gifted player. Thanks for giving him a moment in the sun. I have a Thad-Mel broadcast from Cleveland where he just tears it up on the blues Take a Ladder, really lifts the level of the performance. Harold Danko told me about one night in particular when Herbert took another blues solo. Thad was miserable. He had stopped drinking and was in a terrible mood. Gregory, said Danko, had that look in his eye that he was going to fix things. He poured his heart and soul out and Thad surrendered after a few choruses with a huge smile. It’s great to see Herbert in performance but this approach to the pop tune is almost a novelty number that handcuffs Herbert in an altissimo bag and doesn’t showcase his profound harmonic and technical gifts. I encourage all to hear as much Herbert as possible on record and on audience recordings.

    • Doug Ramsey says

      The Chet Baker album linked in Bill Kirchner’s comment above provides a fine introduction to Herbert.

  7. says

    I’m sorry to only get to know Gregory Herbert’s playing via remembrances and recordings, but there is a bright footnote to this story. His daughter is Danielle Herbert, who regularly fills in for the “featured star” in the hit Broadway show “After Midnight”. She steps in at a moment’s notice for the likes of Fantasia Barrino, Vanessa Williams, etc. and brings the house down, singing “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “Stormy Weather,” “Za-Zu-Za-Zu-Zay” and “Sunny Side of The Street.” The cats in the band all know the story about her Dad and show her extra love and respect; she’s a “jazz kid.” And she’s great!

  8. says

    Happy to learn that Gregory Herbert was the tenor player on that Chet CD. I have a burned copy of that that I got from somebody and never knew who it was. Would never have thought it was a guy who probably wasn’t 25 at the time! RIP Greg.