Woody Herman’s ‘Golden Wedding’ – even the scratchy sound can’t ruin its magic

An orchestra leader at a dance decided to play Name That Tune. I knew all the answers but let others offer them. However when he got to the last one, it was my favorite instrumental of all time, I couldn’t contain myself and said, “I know!” The orchestra leader was in disbelief. No one ever guessed that one. And indeed no one else in the room knew what it was.

I shouted, “Woody Herman’s ‘Golden Wedding’!” He was dumbfounded. “How do you know that one?”

How did I know it?

When I was about seven a jukebox was brought into our house with many 78 speed records. It was for a party we were going to have to celebrate my brother’s Bar Mitzvah. One of the records was this one and as soon as I heard it, I went nuts and listened to it over and over. There is not one second of it that I do not adore. The drums are subtle, the clarinet is talking to us and the band is perfect in its accompaniment. It was love at first hearing.

Years later I had a friendship with someone who taught me how to listen to jazz. He wanted to know what I knew before he began my “education.”. Among other things I effusively told him about how much I loved this record and he answered me:

I am proud to call you my first student. You really understand what joy and happiness can give back to you as the listener. Now so many people just miss this or don’t care for or perhaps don’t TRUST what great music can do for them…

He used to tell me I had special ears because it saddened him that too many don’t get the joy of listening to wonderful musicians the way he and I did.

Here is how I describe this brilliant record:

Woody herman is known for “Woodchopper’s Ball” and “Four Brothers” and such. But the best Herman for me is his first version of the recording of “Golden Wedding.” This is a Klezmer sounding record that in just a couple of minutes packs so much punch and creativity that it captivates me and takes me heavenward.

The record opens with a subtle bunch of drum rhythms that mesmerize. That introduces the number with insouciance. The sticks roll around and then add punctuation and then continue a melodious quiet set up. Here comes the clarinet letting you in on the melody, a Yiddish treat. The drum leads to a twiddle and bells with cymbal punctuation. So ends the first phrase. This repeats. The listener’s ears are ready for more. The clarinet wails and moans as it starts to be getting to be too much to bear. The trumpet comes in with this statement. “Ya think? Well what about what I have to say?” The band is now getting interested and quietly building up steam. All the while the tom tom drummer is saying, don’t forget me. Now the drum says, “It’s my turn.” A conversation between drums begins (at 1:01) Then the cymbal talks. That sound is so good. Small drum rolls get quieter and keep up the tension.

THEN (1:43)

BLAST! All hell breaks loose! The orchestra says LET’S GO! Brass and all swing out and drive you mad. Then…(2:09) back to the beginning as we collect ourselves. We have to close this out now. The excitement is wonderful but it’s time to put this to bed. Can we top what has happened so far? A quiet rhythm on the drum pulses. This leads to the opening theme on the clarinet – remember me? Get ready – as the closing begins. (2:15) With the band giving perfect backup the clarinet rises a tone at the end of each try. Can it go any higher? No way. But it does! At the end it squeezes out one higher note as the band winds it all up.

So satisfying a journey for so much fun in just a few short minutes. Perfection.

The Herman band tried to redo this one later, but it wasn’t as good. Anyone else who tried to record it could never top this one. A masterpiece.

How did I know that answer? I only listened to this record maybe a hundred times while we had that jukebox.

Listen to it and see if you can resist it.

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