Herbert Arnold Geller (November 2, 1928 – December 19, 2013) was an American jazz saxophonist, composer and arranger. He was born in Los Angeles, California.
His musical abilities could have been inherited from his mother, Fran-cis. She worked at the Hollywood neighbourhood cinemas playing pi-ano, accompanying silent movies.
At the age of eight he 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.
After three years in New York, Geller joined the Billy May orchestra in 1952 and, following an engagement in Los Angeles, the Gellers re-turned 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.
His wife 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 accom-panist 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 Herb 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 Rene 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 Free Ber-lin (RIAS) station in Berlin. He accepted this engagement and per-formed there along with other “Americans In Europe” such as Benny Bailey, Joe Harris, and Nat Peck, as well as outstanding European Musi-cians 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 the (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 top modern jazz band. 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 the NDR, Geller was also busy with other things, including his own productions and tours. During this time he also partic-ipated in recordings and worked with such famous artists as Ray Charles, The Supremes, Ella Fitzgerald, Shirley MacLaine, Jerry Lewis, Peter Herbolzheimer, R,C&B, Craig Russell, Liberace, Udo Lindenberg, Marius Müller-Westernhagen, Paul Anka, George Gruntz, Bert Kaempfert, Billy Vaughn and many more.
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 Jose-phine Baker).
In 1996 the Senat 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 composi-tion, occasionally doing seminars at various national and international
institutes. He wrote a method of improvisation called “crossover” for Schott And Sons.
Until his death he was still active, performing regularly in Germany and abroad as a soloist at festivals and clubs in various formations in-cluding some big bands as well as with such diverse artists as Knut Kie-sewetter, 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 the late Benny Carter, with whom he had recorded and performed with and participated at the Hol-lywood Bowl celebration for Benny’s ninetieth birthday.
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”.
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 as well as ambassador of swinging Jazz for Hamburg.