Herb Geller

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Herb Geller
Herb Geller, NDR Jazz workshop ca. 1972.
Background information
Birth name Herbert Arnold Geller
Born (1928-11-02)November 2, 1928
Los Angeles, California, US
Died December 19, 2013(2013-12-19) (aged 85)
Hamburg, Germany
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, composer, arranger
Instruments Saxophone, flute
Years active 1946–2013
Associated acts Lorraine Geller
Website www.herbgeller.com

Herbert Arnold Geller (November 2, 1928 – December 19, 2013) was an American jazz saxophonist, composer and arranger. He was born in Los Angeles, California.[1]

Early life

His mother, Frances (née Frances Mildred Fullman, aka Fannie Fullman; 1899–1980), worked at the Hollywood neighborhood cinemas playing piano, accompanying silent movies. At the age of 8, Geller was presented with an alto saxophone, purchased from a local music store owner and music teacher who was also a friend of the family and had a used instrument for sale. Two years later he started clarinet. Geller attended Dorsey High School in the southwestern part of Los Angeles and joined the school band which among others included the musicians Eric Dolphy and Vi Redd. At the age of 14, he heard Benny Carter perform at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles and was so impressed that he decided to pursue a career in music, specializing on the alto saxophone. Two years later, he had his first professional engagement in the band of jazz violinist Joe Venuti.[1]

A short time later he discovered the music of Charlie Parker, who became an important idol along with Benny Carter and Johnny Hodges. In 1949 Geller went to New York City for the first time, where he performed in the bands of Jack Fina, (with Paul Desmond also in the sax section), Claude Thornhill, Jerry Wald and Lucky Millinder. During this time he met pianist Lorraine Walsh in Los Angeles. Walsh later became his wife in New York and an important musical partner. She pursued a career under her [2] name.


After three years in New York, Geller joined the Billy May orchestra in 1952 and, following an engagement in Los Angeles, the Gellers returned there to live. Among the groups Geller worked and recorded with were Shorty Rogers, Maynard Ferguson, Bill Holman, Shelly Manne, Marty Paich, Barney Kessel, André Previn, Quincy Jones, Wardell Gray, Jack Sheldon and Chet Baker. Lorraine worked as the house pianist at the Lighthouse Jazz Club, and played with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Jack Teagarden, Bill Holman and was the accompanist for the singer Kay Starr. Geller recorded three LPs as a leader for Emarcy plus some with Dinah Washington, Max Roach, Clifford Brown, Clark Terry, Maynard Ferguson and Kenny Drew.

In 1955 he won the "New Star Award" from Down Beat Magazine and achieved worldwide recognition through his recordings with Clifford Brown. Later Geller worked in the bands of Louie Bellson and Benny Goodman.

Lorraine Geller died of an acute asthma attack in 1958. Deeply depressed, Herb Geller decided during a tour through Brazil with the Benny Goodman Orchestra not to return to the United States, but instead to stay in São Paulo for six weeks playing Bossa Nova music at a local club and then depart on a ship to Europe.


Arriving in Paris Geller played with Kenny Clarke, Kenny Drew, the French pianist Martial Solal, and Belgian guitarist René Thomas among others, and also toured with a French radio show, Musique Aux Champs-Elysées.

In 1962 he was offered a job with the big band of the Radio in the American Sector (RIAS) station in Berlin.[3] He accepted this engagement and performed there along with other Americans expatriates In Europe such as Benny Bailey, Joe Harris, and Nat Peck, as well as European musicians like Jerry van Rooyen, Ake Persson, and Francy Boland. In Berlin he met his second wife, Christine Rabsch. Geller stayed there for three years and then accepted a contract to play lead alto and also arrange for the big band of NDR in Hamburg. Here he was engaged for 28 years and made Hamburg his home. During this time the NDR big band developed from a post-war dance orchestra into a leading modern jazz ensemble. The endless list of participating musicians ranged from Don Byas, Joe Pass, Slide Hampton, Bill Evans, Red Mitchell, Art Farmer, Georgie Fame and Chet Baker to avant-garde musicians and rock/fusion, and included nearly all the big names of European jazz.

During his work at NDR, Geller was also busy with other things, including his own productions and tours. During this time he also participated in recordings and worked with such famous artists as Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Peter Herbolzheimer, and George Gruntz among others.

During his tenure at NDR, he also learned and performed on other woodwind instruments, including clarinet, flute, alto flute, bass flute, piccolo flute, oboe and English horn. On flute he played and recorded with Bill Evans and Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell.

He also composed the music and lyrics to two musicals: Playing Jazz (a musical autobiography) and Jazzy Josie B. (based on the life of Josephine Baker).

In 1996 the Senate of the Government of Hamburg gave him the title of "Professor". He taught at the Hochschule für Musik in Hamburg until his retirement. He continued teaching jazz improvisation and composition, occasionally doing seminars at various national and international institutes. He wrote a method of improvisation called "crossover" for Schott and Sons.

Geller performed regularly in Germany and abroad as a soloist at festivals and clubs in various formations including some big bands as well as with such diverse artists as Knut Kiesewetter, Lennie Niehaus, Jiggs Whigham, Rolf Kühn, Slide Hampton, Buddy DeFranco, Lew Soloff, Charlie Mariano and Jan Lundgren. He was very proud of his friendship with Benny Carter, his adolescent hero, with whom he recorded and performed. Geller participated at the Hollywood Bowl celebrations for Carter's ninetieth birthday in 1997. In 2008 he was featured on the Berlin Jazz Orchestra, music DVD (Polydor/Universal) Strangers In Night - The Music Of Bert Kaempfert which was released in 2012.

On November 26, 2005, Geller was knighted for his achievements in Jazz with the title “Ritter der Ronneburg” by Fürst Johann-Georg zu Ysenburg und Büdingen. Modest as always, his comment about this event was “my friends still call me Herb”.[citation needed]

On November 24, 2008 Herb Geller was awarded the "Louis-Armstrong-Gedächtnispreis 2008" by the association "Swinging Hamburg" for his achievements in Jazz which include being a supporter of the musical new blood and ambassador of swinging Jazz for Hamburg.[citation needed]

Geller died of pneumonia in a hospital in Hamburg, Germany, aged 85, on December 19, 2013. He had been undergoing treatment the past 12 months for a form of lymphoma.[4] He is interred in Hamburg, Germany.


As leader

  • 1954: The Herb Geller Sextette – EmArcy
  • 1955: Outpost Incident – EmArcy
  • 1955: The Gellers – EmArcy
  • 1957: Fire In The West – Jubilee
  • 1959: Gypsy – Capitol
  • 1963: Alto Saxophone (Josie Records)
  • 1975: Rhyme and Reason / Herb Geller Octet Featuring Mark Murphy & Earl Jordan – Atlantic
  • 1975: American In Hamburg – Nova
  • 1984: Hot House (Circle)
  • 1984: Fungi Mama (Circle)
  • 1986: A Jazz Songbook – Enja
  • 1989: Stax Of Sax – Fresh Sound (reissue from 1958)
  • 1990: That Geller Feller – Fresh Sound (reissue from 1957)
  • 1993: Herb Geller Quartet – V.S.O.P.
  • 1996: Birdland Stomp – Fresh Sound
  • 1996: Herb Geller Plays (Import- Japan Remastered- Limited Edition) Verve
  • 1996: Plays The Al Cohn Songbook – HEP
  • 1997: Playing Jazz – Fresh Sound
  • 1998: You're Looking At Me – Fresh Sound
  • 1998: I'll Be Back – HEP
  • 1999: Hollywood Portraits – HEP
  • 2002: To Benny And Johnny – HEP
  • 2005: The Herb Geller Sextette – Membran Music (reissue from 1954)
  • 2005: The Gellers – Membran Music (reissue from 1955)
  • 2006: Herb & Lorraine Geller: Two Of A Kind – Complete Recordings 1954–1955 (reissue)
  • 2006: Plays The Arthur Schwartz Songbook – HEP
  • 2007: Herb Geller at the Movies – HEP

As sideman

With Chet Baker
  • The Trumpet Artistry of Chet Baker – Pacific Jazz (1953)
  • Grey December – Pacific Jazz (1992; reissue from 1953)
  • My Favourite Songs Vols. 1 and 2: The Last Great Concert – Enja (1988)
  • My Funny Valentine  – Philology
  • Pacific Jazz Years – Capitol
  • The Best of Chet Baker Plays – Capitol (1992)

With Louie Bellson

With Clifford Brown
With Maynard Ferguson

With Barney Kessel

with Dinah Washington
with Ella Fitzgerald
With others
  • Bravissimo II – 50 Years NDR Bigband – ACT (1998)
  • Mel Tormé, Mel Tormé Collection – Rhino (1996)
  • Anita O'Day, Compact Jazz – Verve (1993)
  • Various Artists, The Complete Cole Porter Songbooks – Verve (1993)
  • Blue Night Special Milan (1993)
  • Rolf Kühn, Big Band Connection – Milan (1993)
  • Various Artists, Compact Jazz: Best of the Jazz Vocalists – PolyGram (1992)
  • Various Artists, RCA Victor Jazz: the First Half- century – the Twenties through the Sixties – RCA (1992)
  • Quincy Jones, This Is How I Feel About Jazz – GRP (1992)
  • Anita O‘Day, Anita O‘Day Sings the Winners – Verve (1991)
  • Benny Goodman, Yale Recordings, Vols. 1- 6 – Musicmasters (1991)
  • Marty Paich, The Picasso of Big Band Jazz – Candid (1990)
  • Phil Wilson, The Wizard of Oz Suite – Capri (1989)
  • Benny Carter, Over the Rainbow – Musicmasters (1988)
  • Art Pepper, Art Pepper + Eleven: Modern Jazz Classics – Original Jazz Classics (1959)
  • Art Pepper, Art Pepper, Plus Eleven – Analogue Productions (1959)
  • All That Jazz (The Hi-Los) – Collectors‘ Series (1995)[citation needed]
  • Bill Holman, In a Jazz Orbit – V.S.O.P. (1958)
  • Jimmy Rowles, Weather In A Jazz Vane – V.S.O.P (1958)
  • Benny Goodman, Yale Recordings, Vol. 8 – Musicmasters (1957)
  • John Williams, Here's What I'm Here For – Discovery / Antones (1957)
  • Don Fagerquist, Music to Fill a Void – V.S.O.P (1957)
  • Anita O'Day, Pick Yourself up with Anita O'Day – Verve (1956)
  • Benny Goodman, B.G. World Wide – TCB Music/SWI (1956)
  • Bill Holman, The Bill Holman Octet – Capitol (1954)
  • Lorraine Geller, Lorraine Geller Memorial – Fresh Sound (1954)
  • Various Artists, The Best of Chess Jazz – MCA (1950)
  • Various Artists, Best of the Big Bands: Compact Jazz – Verve
  • Jazz‚ 'Round Midnight (Saxophone) – Verve
  • Benny Goodman, Swing Swing Swing, Vol. 1- 5 Musicmaster
  • Ralph Pena, Master Of The Bass – V.S.O.P.
  • Manny Albam Jazz Lab Vol. 12 – MCA Coral (1957)
  • Manny Albam, Jazz Greats of Our Time, Vol.2. – Coral
  • John Graas Septet And Nonet Jazz Lab Vol. 19 – MCA Coral
  • Klaus Weiss Orchestra, I Just Want to Celebrate – BASF (1971)
  • Herbie Fields, Jazz Lab. Vol.9 – MCA Coral (1954)
  • Jack Millman, Jazz Lab. Vol. 11 – MCA Coral (1955)
  • Gene Krupa and His Orchestra, That Drummer's Band – Verve
  • Benny Goodman Orchestra, Santiaga De Chile 1961 – TCB Records
  • Clarke – Boland Big Band, Change Of Scenes – Ex Libris (1971)
  • Americans in Europe Vol. 1 – Impulse (1963)
  • The Alpin Power Plant Recorded in Switzerland – MPS (1972)
  • Peter Herbolzheimer Rhythm Combination and Brass, Wide Open – MPS (1973)
  • Peter Herbolzheimer Rhythm Combination and Brass, Peter Herbolzheimer Masterpieces – MPS
  • Shelly Manne, Shelly Manne & His Men Play Peter Gunn – Contemporary (1959)
  • Shorty Rodgers And His Giants, A Portrait Of Shorty – RCA
  • Howard Rumsey, Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse Allstars – OJC – Fantasy
  • Stan Kenton‘s Small Group, Plays Bob Graetinger: City Of Glass – Capitol
  • Klaus Weiss Orchestra, Live At The Domicile – ATM Records
  • Bill Smith Quintet, Americans In Europe – Impulse
  • Bob Florence And His Orchestra, Name Band: 1959 – Fresh Sound
  • Barney Kessel And His Orchestra, Barney Kessel Plays Carmen – OJC Fantasy
  • Jan Lundgren Trio with Herb Geller, Stockholm Get Together – Fresh Sound (1994)
  • Nils Gessinger, Ducks 'N Cookies – GRP (1995)
  • Wolfgang Schlüter with The NDR Big Band, Good Vibrations – Extra Records And Tapes
  • Inga Rumpf With The NDR Big Band, It‘s A Man‘s World – Extra Records And Tapes
  • Earle Spencer (1949)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Wynn, Ron (1994), Ron Wynn (ed.), All Music Guide to Jazz, M. Erlewine, V. Bogdanov, San Francisco: Miller Freeman, p. 269, ISBN 0-87930-308-5<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. married
  3. McCord, Kimberly; Kernfeld, Barry (2002). "Geller, Herb(ert)". In Barry Kernfeld (ed.). The new Grove dictionary of jazz, vol. 2 (2nd ed.). New York: Grove's Dictionaries Inc. pp. 24–25. ISBN 1-56159-284-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. http://www.artsjournal.com/rifftides/2013/12/herb-geller-1928-2013.html

External links

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