The air they blow through their horns is rarified.
Oxygen, the great Memphis-born Dr. Herman Green has breathed into jazz legend through saxophone and flute with the likes of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, and immortalized in R&B history on the old Stax and Sun Records.
Full-blown trumpet wind Willie Waldman has pumped into a universe of recording artists - from West Coast hip-hop royalty Snoop Dogg and the late Tupac Shakir, to Jane's Addiction's Perry Farrell, to Grateful Dead son Rob Wasserman - with force of a jazz funk hurricane.
Together, the mentor Dr. Herman Green and the protégé Willie Waldman are set to blow into their "20-Below Zero Tour" with a blast of fresh air, the latest jet stream of the rarified kind that continues on a journey that started 30 years ago upstairs at Club Handy on Beale Street in Memphis.
The legend of Dr. Herman Green begins in 1952 when he recorded and went on the road with B.B. King. From 1956 to 1958, Herman worked as band leader at San Francisco's world famous Black Hawk jazz bar, where his Herman Green Quintet served as the house band hosting whichever jazz great of the day who happened to bee-bop into the club. Miles. John Coltrane. Cannonball Adderley. Art Blakey. Stan Getz. Charles Mingus. Wes Montgomery and brother Buddy Montgomery. Eric Dolphy, Chet Baker, Chico Hamilton, a virtual trail of Jazz Hall of Fame musicians that led to a gig as lead saxophonist in Lionel Hampton's band. With Hampton, Herman Green performed with Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Freddie Hubbard, among a long list of other legendary stalwarts, before moving to New Orleans and sharing the air - and stages - with Wynton Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, and the first family of New Orleans' music, The Neville Brothers.
After New Orleans, the great Dr. Green returned home to Memphis. That's either Herman's flute or sax on those Stax records put out by Willie Mitchell, Ann Peoples, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Al Jackson, Isaac Haynes, Al Green, and, yes, Booker T and the MGs classic "Green Onions."
And that's the legendary Dr. Herman Green that a fresh-faced, young band-scholarship student from Memphis State University heard one night while hanging out on Beale Street with friends. "This incredible band," recalls Willie Waldman, who ran into the club upstairs to where Dr. Green was performing, pulled his horn out, jumped on stage and started blowing licks he had learned in marching band.
Dr. Green was not impressed.
"Now son," he said, "don't you ever jump up some man's bandstand ever again without first asking and number two, you sound like some marching band classic player. You have two choices one, I kick your ass and send you outta here, or two, take lessons."
Waldman avoided a butt-whuppin' by choosing the second option. A good career move. He began taking lessons with Herman Green, and Calvin Newborne, an education he continues on a weekly basis to this day, 30 years later, and a schooling that offered a full-time gig. Playing trumpet five nights a week in the Herman Green Machine on Beale Street, Willie Waldman honed his chops with a slew of Grammy-winning jazz musicians, most of whom were also taught by Dr. Green. Waldman joined forces with Richard Cushing, Jimmy Ellis, Ross Rice and Clint Wagner in 1987 to form Freeworld, regarded as the finest band on Beale Street.
Willie Waldman moved to LA in 1991 to record with Dearth Row records. Recording with Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Tupac Shakir and the entire Dogg Pound. Willie also worked with Stephen Perkins of Jane's Addiction in the group Banyan, and performed on a series of gigs with Bob Weir's Ratdog, m.o.e., and the Dead's Mickey Hart.
Together for 30 years now, Herman Green and Willie Waldman have performed at clubs and music festivals nationally and internationally as The Willie Waldman Project and Banyan. Both also hit the studio breathing the rarified air of their wind instruments into Jimmie Vaughan's Grammy-winning record "You Get The Blues".
Now, on the heels of last year's first 20-Below Zero tour that went coast to coast, including the northern plains of North Dakota where the temps actually below zero at six gigs.
This time, Dr. Herman Green and Willie Waldman are shooting for 10 sub-zero gigs. Cold air. Lots of snow lots of skiers. Makes for a great crowd everywhere.