Woody Herman was a central figure in the development of jazz - a musical giant whose career spanned the big band and bebop eras. Gene Lees has spent close to a decade interviewing Herman's friends and fellow musicians, to produce a vivid portrayal of the triumph and tragedy of a life in jazz. We follow his rise to prominence in the 1930s as leader of 'the band that plays the blues,' through success in the 1940s , when bebop rapidly developed, to the ultimate tragedy that broke Herman's career - when his manager diverted the band's withholding tax to settle gambling debts. Along the way, Lees brings to life the weary routine of performing on the road, with its constant one-night engagements and unending travel, broken only by brief stays at home and moments of camaraderie.
Gene Lees is the author of many books on jazz and popular music, including Waiting for Dizzy, and Cats of Any Color. He was formerly an editor of Downbeat, and is the founder of Jazzletter. The legendary Dizzy Gillespie called Lees 'the glowing jewel of jazz' for his perceptive writing about the music.