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By JON GARELICK  |  September 4, 2007

Hopkins: “Herb was a master of rehearsing a band because he made you feel important in your part even if your part was not the main focus.” As a player, “He was always part of the fabric of the compositions, part of what was going on at the moment.” He brought that same holistic approach to big-band rehearsals. “He’d want you to understand what the trombones were doing in this one section, or why the saxophones are doing this, or what you should be listening for. He brought everyone’s ears out in front of the band.” His classes were as much about “musical philosophy” as anything. “Tangential subjects: orchestration, personality, shading, dynamics, color, density, texture.”

Pomeroy’s widow, Dodie Gibbons, recalls, “He had such great ears that when he would have a rehearsal and something was amiss, he’d know instantly who or where it was. But rather than calling that person out, he’d say, ‘Okay, saxes, everybody play the third bar. Trombones . . . ,” leading each section in turn through the trouble spot, so that the offending player could hear — and correct himself.

As a jazz musician whose career went back to the ’50s, Pomeroy — who gave up the road for the security of a teaching position — was a contract player, someone who could do it all, whether it was playing with Duke Ellington or in a theater-district pit band. Trumpeter Everett Longstreth, who played in many of those situations with Pomeroy, as well as with the Pomeroy big band, recalls grueling 11-day stretches with the Ice Capades. “We did two three-hour shows a day, three shows on Saturday, of really hard playing. When you were finished with that job, you knew you’d worked.” Longstreth recalls Pomeroy’s dedication to his big band, the mad jumble of talented, discordant personalities that had to be brought together into a cohesive whole. When he led the band at the legendary club the Stable, it wasn’t unusual for the non-drinking, non-smoking, non-drugging Pomeroy to bring a “tired” player to the nearby Hayes-Bickford for a plate of macaroni and cheese in hopes of sobering him up for the third set.

“I have never seen Herb upset,” says Longstreth, “and we did a lot of jobs together over the years — which were not always the best jobs or with the best players — but if Herb took the job, he did it. He might never do it again, but he didn’t complain.”

“You can’t find anyone who will say a bad word about this man,” says Harris. “And in the music world, that’s unusual — with the egos and all that. Even the people who would be highly envious can’t say anything bad about him!”

As a trumpet player, Pomeroy didn’t have the lip for the stratospheric upper register, but he was so musical it didn’t matter. “He played the music more than he played the horn,” says Hopkins. His knowledge included Coltrane and Parker, but he also went back to the rhythms and timbres of earlier eras, and, always, to his love of Ellington. Hopkins: “He spoke his own dialect of the jazz language, and he had the technique he needed to play the language he heard.”

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Related: Flashbacks: September 22, 2006, Flashbacks: November 24, 2006, Hearts of glass, More more >
  Topics: Jazz , Entertainment, Music, Harvard University,  More more >
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