Benny Goodman (1909-1986) was a jazz clarinetist and band leader from Chicago, Illinois. The ninth child of Russian immigrants, Benny was a precocious student, taking up clarinet at age ten and playing professionally by age fourteen. Over the next decade or so, Goodman’s reputation as a soloist grew. By 1934, Goodman formed his own orchestra. Between 1926 and 1933, Goodman was sought as a soloist, and recorded extensively as a studio musician, occasionally under his own name.
Though they were featured on a national radio broadcast from New York City in 1934, the Benny Goodman Orchestra struggled to gain popularity until a west coast tour in the summer of 1935. On August 21st, at the Palomar Theater in San Diego, Goodman dared to defy the wishes of the theater manager, and played the more modern arrangements he and his band mates preferred. The moment is beautifully captured in this scene from “The Benny Goodman Story”, a 1956 movie starring Steve Allen as Goodman:
The band’s popularity exploded after the west coast tour, and for years after Goodman’s orchestra was the most popular band in America, if not the world. Benny Goodman became known as “The King Of Swing”.
The list is long, so here are just a few great musicians who contributed to Benny Goodman’s music:
Teddy Wilson (1912-1986), piano
Lionel Hampton (1908-2002), vibraphone
Gene Krupa (1909-1973), drums
Harry James (1916-1983), trumpet
Charlie Christian (1916-1942), electric guitar
Red Norvo (1908-1999), vibraphone
Mel Powell (1923-1998), piano
Fletcher Henderson (1897-1952), arranger
Peggy Lee (1920-2002), vocals
Goodman may be the most successful big band leader of all time. He did not invent the swing band style; band leaders Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, and Chick Webb had a greater role in its invention. Goodman was in the right place and time, but there’s no question that Goodman was both prolific and daring. He was color blind, and integrated music eleven years before Jackie Robinson. Goodman was image conscious, but fully devoted to playing clarinet and making music. Between the orchestra and small band projects, there are lots of good songs, and I spent a considerable amount of time deciding upon the best selections.
Benny Goodman with Peggy Lee on vocals:
Goodman’s big band created a number of jazz standards, but I enjoy his small band work most. Like Duke Ellington and Count Basie, Benny Goodman created an impressive body of work with small combos. He is famous for integrating music, by forming the great quartet of Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. After the quartet’s success, sextets became Benny’s typical small combo, and the work with young Charlie Christian on guitar is particularly strong.
The quartet, both young and old:
Unfortunately, there are no videos of the sextet with Christian, Wilson, Hampton and other jazz legends.
How Good Is Goodman?
Throughout these performances, Goodman’s clarinet playing is smooth and nimble; each note feels logical and well chosen — in summary, he always sounds perfect. However, I may prefer both Artie Shaw and Sidney Bechet as soloists, who seem to my untrained ears more expressive and emotional. The jazz guides in my library may discuss other clarinetists with more affection, but none with more admiration than Benny Goodman:
“The clarinetist of whom the layperson thinks first when jazz clarinet is mentioned is Benny Goodman. He, too, stemmed from the circle of Chicago style. He is the “King of Swing”, whose scintillating and polished clarinet playing is the reason why the clarinet and the swing era are largely synonymous. “B.G.”, as he is known, was one of the great stylists of jazz, a musician of superlative charm, spirit and gaiety. His clarinet playing is associated in equal degrees with his his big band recordings and those he made with various small combos: from the Benny Goodman Trio, with Teddy Wilson on piano and Gene Krupa on drums, through the quartet in which Lionel Hampton first found public recognition, to the Benny Goodman Sextet in which guitarist Charlie Christian helped pave the way for modern jazz. In terms of expression, Goodman accomplished on the clarinet almost everything other instruments could not achieve until teh advent of modern jazz. On the other hand, B.G. was a master of subtleties. His dynamics ranged smoothly, like those of no other clarinetist, from softest pianissimo to jubilant fortissimo. Particularly astonishing is the skill with which Goodman managed to play even the softest notes and still, even when playing with a big band, capture the attention of the listeners in the very last row of a concert hall.”
— Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Günther Huesmann, “The Jazz Book, From Ragtime to the 21st Century”
“Although not the actual founder of swing, BG’s phenomenal success in 1935 launched the Swing era and, without watering down his music or displaying an extroverted show biz personality, he became a major pop star. His eccentricities (being very self-possessed) resulted in some odd incidents and a great deal of misunderstanding through the years, but they consistent with the fact that Goodman’s main interest in life was playing clarinet and that everything else was secondary.”
— Scott Yanow, “The All Music Guide to Jazz”
“The soloist who set the pace in the Goodman band was, of course, Goodman, the first jazz musician to record Mozart. Yet the ghost and spirit of New Orleans and Chicago were all over every note he played, especially in the fervent pitch fluctuations that made his solos sear with a heat surpassed only by Edmond Hall. Like Norman Zapf, who in 1934 dropped a smooth steel skin over a Hudson locomotive to produce America’s first streamlined steam engine, Goodman dropped a prodigious virtuosity over the work of his early mentors to produce an equally modern musical silhouette. Goodman and his immensely symbolic Carnegie Hall concert seemed proof of the technocratic notion that refined technique was not a barrier to passion but, as in classical music, a key to it. Not a crutch but a lamp.”
— John McDonough, “The Oxford Companion to Jazz”
Benny and Bop Music
In the forties, jazz evolved from swing into bop, and Benny Goodman did not fully participate in the transition. Like Sidney Bechet, he never embraced the changes, believing that swing was superior. Still, an argument can be made that Goodman’s sextet recordings with Charlie Christian are in the transition zone as early prototypes of bop jazz. Enjoy the comedic video version of “Stealin’ Apples”. The suggested septet version in the list of songs is delicious.
1978 Europe Trip, Part 1
In the summer of 1978, I was a couple years into college, and my sister was set to start her junior year of high school, when Daddy took us to Europe for two weeks to tour European high energy physics labs. A memorable tour, with a couple of special experiences.
I was enamored with my father, and paid close attention to everything he did, including the music he liked. By 1978 I had assembled a mental list of songs he remembered from his childhood. Parents can amaze you with their memories; it seems every time an old song from the thirties or forties played on the radio, he knew the words and the melody.
Dad told me a story one night. He was in the Navy, sometime in either 1945 or 1946. He was at the Great Lakes Training Center in Illinois, working as a radar technician late at night, when an uptempo version of “After You’ve Gone” came on the radio. It was etched in his memory, especially Benny Goodman’s stop-time flourishes at the end the song. It had been over thirty years since he had heard this rendition.
Our two week European trip took us through England, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. In England we stayed outside London in a town called Abingdon. That must be where I found this rare version of “After You’ve Gone” on a compilation of Goodman sextet recordings from 1945, though the memories are sketchy. European record stores were fascinating, filled with then forgotten swing era jazz music. I purchased the Goodman record, along with a compilation of Louis Armstrong Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings, both of which I still own. That was the first time I helped Dad recover a memory. In following years, I tracked down songs by pianists Albert Ammons and Thomas “Fats” Waller that Dad remembered. But the Benny Goodman discovery was the first time. Just one way to show devotion, and to bring some joy to my father’s life.
Benny Goodman Song Notes:
Benny Goodman’s recording career is long and prolific. With these old jazzmen, it makes sense to include enough data to find the preferred versions of the many standards presented here.
Charlie Christian – The Genius Of the Electric Guitar
Seven Come Eleven
Gone With “What” Wind
Royal Garden Blues
As Long As I Live
I Found A New Baby
Air Mail Special
Till Tom Special
Ken Burns Jazz: Benny Goodman
Memories Of You
King Porter Stomp (Live)
Roll ‘Em (Live)
Why Don’t You Do Right?
Sing, Sing, Sing
The Complete RCA Victor Small Group Recordings
Moonglow (Take 1)
Moonglow (Take 2)
Stompin’ At the Savoy
Body And Soul
The Birth Of Swing (1935-1936)
You Turned The Tables On Me
Among the three other sextet recordings from 1945, “Slipped Disc” can be found on B.G. In Hi-Fi, a decent transcription of “I Got Rhythm” can be found on 100 Clarinet Classics, and “After You’ve Gone” can be found on a compilation called Remembering The ’40s. It took me a while to find all three; a few years ago they were available on the end of the famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert. This version of “After You’ve Gone” must be among the least favorite for aficianados. Perhaps a sentimental choice, but Goodman, Red Norvo and Teddy Wilson can set a house on fire.
“Stealin’ Apples” is perhaps the best example of Goodman playing bop style jazz. It can be found on yet another generic compilation, Be Bop Jazz Essentials.
“The Kingdom Of Swing” is also hard to find, but the best version comes to the top when typing “benny goodman kingdom of swing” into search. See under Benny Goodman Greatest Hits. “The Kingdom Of Swing” is notable for its arranger, pianist Mary Lou Williams.
This is by far the hardest collection to capture in a few fine albums.
“The Earl” is found on V-Disc. Other versions of pianist Mel Powell’s composition may be more important. Very happy with this one.
“Bugle Call Rag (#2)” is found on The Birth Of Swing (1935-1936)
The Essential Benny Goodman, Columbia’s best attempt to distill his career, has many of the previously mentioned songs, plus:
Taking A Chance On Love
Don’t Be That Way
“Blue Lou” is found on Big John’s Special.
“Clarinet A La King” is found on 16 Most Requested Songs or Stompin’ At The Savoy.
“Blues In The Night” is found on the great compilation Small Groups 1941-1945 but sounds gummy compared to the version on Peggy Lee Sings With Benny Goodman.
“Shirley Steps Out” is another bop single, primarily credited to guitarist Al Hendrickson. 100 Jazz Guitar Favorites comes to the top of the list when Shirley steps out.
Hard to believe, but I cannot find one song from Benny Goodman’s most famous record, the Carnegie Hall Concert of 1938, worth having. A matter of taste.
Benny Goodman Songs:
Moonglow (Take 1), Benny Goodman Quartet ✭✭✭✭
After You’ve Gone, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭✭✭✭
Rose Room, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭✭✭
Moonglow (Take 2), Benny Goodman Quartet ✭✭✭
Solo Flight, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭✭✭
Air Mail Special, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭✭✭
Why Don’t You Do Right?, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭✭✭
I Found A New Baby, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭✭✭
These Foolish Things, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭✭✭
Seven Come Eleven, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭✭
Gone With “What” Wind, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭✭
Don’t Be That Way, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭✭
Memories Of You, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭✭
Roll ‘Em (Live), Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭✭
Where Or When, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭✭
Stealin’ Apples, Benny Goodman Septet ✭✭
Grand Slam (Boy Meets Goy), Benny Goodman Sextet ✭✭
Stompin’ At The Savoy, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭✭
Avalon, Benny Goodman Quartet ✭✭
Body And Soul, Benny Goodman Trio ✭✭
Slipped Disc, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭✭
I Got Rhythm, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭✭
Goodbye (Live), Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭✭
Flying Home, Benny Goodman Quartet ✭✭
Royal Garden Blues, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭✭
The Kingdom Of Swing, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭✭
If I Had You, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭✭
Blues In the Night, Benny Goodman ✭✭
Sing, Sing, Sing, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭
Sing, Sing, Sing (Live), Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭
Memories Of You, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭
King Porter Stomp (Live), Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭
Let’s Dance, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭
Taking A Chance On Love, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭
The Earl, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭
Blue Lou, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭
Clarinet A La King, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭
Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye, Benny Goodman Quintet ✭
Bugle Call Rag (#2), Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭
Blue Skies, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭
Shirley Steps Out, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭
As Long As I Live, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭
Benny’s Bugle, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭
Clarentitis, Benny Goodman ✭
Royal Garden Blues, Benny Goodman ✭
Till Tom Special, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭
Fralich In Swing, Ziggy Elman ✭✭
Flying Home, Lionel Hampton ✭✭✭✭
The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise, Mel Powell ✭✭✭
These Foolish Things, Teddy Wilson ✭✭✭
These Foolish Things, Nat “King” Cole ✭✭
Blues In the Night (Parts 1 and 2), Jimmie Lunceford ✭✭
Blues In the Night, Dinah Shore ✭
I Found A New Baby, Sidney Bechet ✭✭
Taking A Chance On Love, Anita O’Day ✭✭
Taking A Chance On Love, Tal Farlow ✭✭
Taking A Chance On Love, John Kirby & His Sextet ✭✭
Waitin’ For Katie, Ben Pollack & His Orchestra ✭
Avalon, The Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭✭✭
Avalon, Django Reinhardt (The Benny Carter Orchestra) ✭✭
Avalon, Sidney Bechet ✭✭
Moonglow, Ethel Waters ✭✭
Moonglow, Art Tatum ✭
I Found A New Baby, Sidney Bechet ✭✭
King Porter Stomp, Fletcher Henderson ✭
Blue Skies, Willie Nelson ✭
Body And Soul, Coleman Hawkins & His Orchestra ✭✭
Body And Soul, Louis Armstrong ✭✭✭
It’s Tight Like That, Tampa Red & Georgia Tom ✭✭
It’s Tight Like That, Jimmy Bracklen’s Toe Ticklers ✭
Who?, Red Nichols & the Five Pennies ✭✭
The Shiek Of Araby, Red Nichols & the Five Pennies ✭✭
Stompin’ At the Savoy, Chick Webb & His Orchestra ✭✭✭
Stealin’ Apples, Fletcher Henderson ✭✭
Basin Street Blues, The Charleston Chasers ✭✭
After You’ve Gone, Louis Armstrong ✭
After You’ve Gone, Bessie Smith ✭
After You’ve Gone, The Charleston Chasers ✭
Body And Soul, Coleman Hawkins & His Orchestra ✭✭
Body And Soul, Louis Armstrong ✭✭✭
Beale Street Blues, The Charleston Chasers ✭