I don't know what made me buy a Woody Herman album at age 12. Maybe it was because the name sounded fun, like Woody Allen or Woody Woodpecker. Maybe it was because the record cost only a dollar in the bargain bin.
But no matter why I bought Woody Herman's Greatest Hits, it's one of the luckiest things I ever did. That album of big-band jazz was like a ticket to another world.
Herman was a Milwaukee native, born a century ago on May 16. He worked as a vaudeville singer while still a child. At 15 he started playing the saxophone professionally and later switched to clarinet. He formed his own bluesy orchestra in the 1930s and led various incarnations until his death in 1987.
In a just world, Wisconsin would make a big deal about Herman's centennial. The state is that much cooler for the fact that he's our native son.