Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Benny Goodman: "Creativity Grows Out Of Two Things: Curiosity And Imagination."

On a cold night in January 1938, Benny Goodman and his band, along with select members of the Count Basie and Duke Ellington bands, performed a concert at Carnegie Hall. No jazz bandleader had ever performed there. The concert was a sensation, reaffirming Goodman as the "King of Swing," and jazz as serious American music. In the eyes of many music critics and historians, this concert remains the single most important event in popular music history in the United States. Superlatives aside, the concert was a study in swing music history and jazz improvisation. 

Publicity style candid photo of Goodman ca. 1970
So who was Benny Goodman. He grew up poor in Chicago, but received quality musical instruction there. Before long, he was playing "professionally" with many bands. The Chicago music scene also gave him an affinity for New Orleans style jazz. At 20, he left for New York and world fame brought about not only by practice and persistence but also by a most unusual turn of events.

In 1935, his orchestra performed regularly in New York on an NBC Radio program entitled, "Let's Dance." It was broadcast live across the country after midnight, Eastern Time. Young people in the East were fast asleep when his orchestra hit the airways, but it was perfect timing for the West Coast. A strike ended the broadcasts after a few months and the band decided on a coast to coast tour. In the interior states, the tour was a disaster because people didn't care for "upbeat" jazz arranged for orchestra. The band was looking forward to the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles as the last stop and an end to the pain. When they arrived, thousands of young fans who had heard them on the radio were waiting to hear them in person. What was to be a welcome end to a disastrous tour turned into the beginning of the Swing Era.

Eighteen months later Goodman and his band found themselves on stage at that Carnegie Hall concert. After several curtain calls at the end of the concert, Goodman announced to the screaming fans that an encore would follow. Sing, Sing, Sing was the last song in that set. It already was a popular piece for the band, but this performance lifted it to holy status in the swing jazz genre. Featured players included Gene Kruppa on drums, Babe Russin on saxophone, Harry James on trumpet, Goodman on clarinet, and Jess Stacy in a masterpiece of improvisation on piano. Here is thirteen minutes and six seconds of invention that transformed swing jazz into mainstream American music.

Today marks the birthday of Benny Goodman (1909-1986). Eighty years after his landmark appearance in Carnegie Hall the world still enjoys the music and legacy of the "King of Swing.  In fact,  recordings of that famous concert have remained in print as best sellers since 1950 when masters were found in Goodman's home. There isn't much more to be said. Go listen to the music!


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain publicity portrait

title quote, quoteikon.com
Benny Goodman entry, wikipedia.org

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