Herb Phillips

Herb Phillips

Herbert Daly Phillips , better known as Herb or Herbie Phillips (April 20, 1935, Lincoln, Nebraska - September 13, 1995, Las Vegas, Nevada), was an American jazz trumpeter, big band composer, and arranger. He was prominent in the Las Vegas music community. He played trumpet in several notable big bands, including those of Louie Bellson, Buddy Morrow, and Billy May, but he is better known as the composer of pieces such as "Little Train," recorded several times by The Buddy Rich Big Band. Phillips worked as trumpeter and conductor for both Frank Sinatra and Frank Sinatra, Jr..

His mother, Evelyn Phillips (née Daly), a graduate of the University of Nebraska and a kindergarten teacher, died in 1949 when Phillips was 14.[1] She had played a major role in introducing Herbie to the arts. Distraught over the loss, and as a teenager, Herbie did not did get along well with his father, Guy W. Phillips, especially when the latter remarried. Herbie moved in with his maternal aunt and uncle. Phillips' father, a salesman for the George F. Burt Company, died in Lincoln, Nebraska, when Herbie was 19.

Phillips graduated from Fremont High School in Fremont, Nebraska, in 1953 and attended the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, during the summer of 1954. After high school, he played trumpet in several territory bands, namely the Dick Mango Orchestra and the Verne Byers Orchestra, that were booked by the National Orchestra Service in Omaha. During Phillips's tour with his second group, the Verne Byers Orchestra, he met band member Pat Thompson, a trombonist, with whom he became close, life-long friends. While touring with Verne Byers, Phillips arranged a few songs, including "Pennies From Heaven."

In 1955, Phillips and Pat Thompson moved to New York City, sharing an apartment at 61 West 83rd Street. At that time, Bill Evans lived in the basement apartment. While waiting to get his union card, a six-month period, Phillips subbed in bands, including those led by Les Elgart, Woody Herman, Dan Terry, Leon Merian, and Jimmy Dorsey.

Around 1960-61, Phillips and his wife Carol moved to Las Vegas, joining Pat Thompson. Phillips spent the remainder of his life in Las Vegas. He played in several show bands and eventually landed a long-lasting gig in the house band at the Flamingo Las Vegas. Phillips played in the Las Vegas Hilton house band from 1970 to about 1983. Even though his colleagues often saw him writing arrangements during show band breaks, as seen in the documentary film of Elvis's first appearance at the Las Vegas Hilton, he generally refused composer work while he was working at the Hilton. Phillips, in those days, concentrated on his house band performances.

With a new act typically every two weeks, Phillips found it difficult to think in a creative way. However, he maintained a large record collection, and fellow musicians would frequent his home to listen to, and discuss, music. He was not interested in investing time or effort in composing, and even turned down potentially lucrative writing and arranging jobs for several singers. When he did arrange big band charts on an avocational basis, he did not tell many people, nor did he rehearse them.[2]

In 1973, Phillips became close friends with James Moody during Moody's seven-year tenure at the Hilton. Also, while working at the Hilton, Phillips performed with the David Rose Orchestra. Several factors compelled Phillips to ultimately leave the Las Vegas Hilton. First, the Hilton management changed the showroom format by bringing in a production show; the type of show that, if it were a hit, would require a musician to play the same music for years. Phillips was disinclined.[2] Around 1975, Phillips injured his lip, which developed into a lump that wouldn't heal. He took lessons to rebuild his embouchure, but worried that if he continued to play, he would permanently damage his lip. Some people, including Verne Byers, felt that the music industry (from the perspective of musicians) fell apart in Las Vegas in 1983.[3] The big band era was at a low, and major casinos were switching from live bands to taped music, which resulted in a major musicians strike in 1989.[4]

Having saved some money, Phillips was in a position leave his job at the Hilton. SomeTemplate:Who consider his lip injury fortuitous, because it led to writing for his own rehearsal band. Though there are a number of rehearsal tapes in circulation (see "Videos" below), Phillips's band never recorded a professionally engineered studio album.[5] His charts were timeless and so much fun to play. Everyone who knew Herbie loved him. He was an instant friend to everyone and always made you feel as if you knew him forever. Absorbic wit, incredible jazz soloist and could make you laugh with just a look.[2] Up until the late 1980s, the Las Vegas Musicians Union had its own rehearsal hall that members used for rehearsal bands, known as "kicks bands." Phillip's rehearsal band was a "kicks band."

Phillips was a member of the American Federation of Musicians, New York City, Local 802 from 1955 until 1960, and Las Vegas, Local 369 from 1961 until 1995.

Visit the Jazz Education Abroad website