Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Benny Goodman 100

I reused some of the images from a previous Benny slide show. The audio is from:
"Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing)" from Benny Goodman, At Carnegie Hall 1938 -- Complete (2-CD reissue). Benny Goodman*, clarinet with Ziggy Elman, Chris Griffin, Harry James*, trumpets; Red Ballard, Vernon Brown, trombones; Hymie Schertzer, George Koenig, Art Rollini, Babe Russin*, reeds; Jess Stacy*, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Harry Goodman, bass; Gene Krupa, drums. Carnegie Hall, New York City: Jan. 16, 1938. [* indicates soloists]

More on Sing, Sing, Sing from npr by Patrick Jarenwattananon
My boss readily admits that she doesn't know a whole lot about jazz. But she lets me write all this nonsense on the Internet, so I'm not complaining. And at least she's willing to learn. So every week, she and I get together to listen to and Instant Message about a different great jazz song.
Today, as we approach Benny Goodman's 100th Birthday Anniversary, I pulled the definitive (live) version of "Sing, Sing, Sing," from the momentous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert recording. By way of prologue, I'll cite this bit from John McDonough's recent All Things Considered essay placing Goodman in historical context: "Goodman was a unique breed of American idol -- one of a tiny handful whose sudden fame became a permanent marker in American popular music. But the Swing Era, which he triggered more than 75 years ago, was about more than just Goodman."
Boss Lady: So, bear with me here, but this could be the soundtrack to a madcap comedy pre-Technicolor
me: It certainly has that rollicking quality to it
Boss Lady: A chase scene!
me: I want Gene Krupa playing the bass drum and floor tom for any chase scene I would ever score
This song is almost a feature for him
Boss Lady: I was noticing that. Was he a favorite of Benny Goodman?
me: That, and he was in BG's band at the time -- but one of the great Swing Era drummers for sure
Boss Lady: This seems to have a much looser, less predictable structure than some of the other big band music we've listened to.
me: Interesting ... I do think the melody (or the themes, we'll at least say) are very intricately written out
But this comes at the end of a big, long, Concert Event, and BG lets the soloists really stretch out here ... it clocks in at over 12 minutes
Boss Lady: I notice Benny Goodman's not taking much of the spotlight for himself.
me: Well, you haven't gotten to the end of the piece yet
Interesting story: BG is known for taking the virtuosic, almost rubato, flights-of-fancy solo on this tune
On the studio recording, and most other takes
And on the original release of the music from this live concert, they even edited out the last solo, from pianist Jess Stacy.
It was only when they reissued this stuff that the general public got to hear the literally show-stopping turn that Stacy took.
Boss Lady: Now I hear it ... the clarinet starts about 7:30 into the piece. It's funny that in this live setting, the clarinet is so much more subdued, even refined, than the solo instruments that came before.
Although that high note just went to the stratosphere
me: Yea, he's on a totally different tip, right? It's not drivingly hot -- it's awesome in a different way.
What do you think about the piano solo?
Boss Lady: In the middle of it now ... I like the way it started building energy and momentum, and then dips down with a surprisingly tender, light touch.
And then to be followed by the raucous cowbells, or whatever that is ... quite a dissonance
me: It is, isn't it? That signals the beginning of the end of the printed program of the concert ...
I'm struck by how Jess Stacy's solo is just so different. Almost sounds like he's referencing impressionistic 19th Century Romantic composers ... and then he throws in a bluesy run to remind you where we are
Boss Lady: I guess I'm surprised they both chose to do more introspective than bombastic solos in the last official song of the evening. But then again, I don't know much about them, or if that was part of their signature style.
me: I'll admit, I don't know Jess Stacy terribly well, but I know that BG was capable of a lot of different things, from hot swing to classical: Bartok once wrote a trio with him in mind
That pedigree is, I think, part of why he was able to play Carnegie Hall in 1938
Boss Lady: How often had jazz been played at Carnegie Hall before this?
me: Never, really -- which is why this show was so special
Goodman was certainly the guy to do it -- he was a radio star, an extraordinary talent, obviously, and he had the ambition
And in doing so -- bringing both his big band, his (so-called interracial) trio and quartet, and a mixed "jam session" it was clear he designed it is an Event. It really turned the tide for the New York music literati, who might have previously seen jazz as a lesser art form previously.
Opened the door for Duke Ellington, Woody Herman ... I saw, of all people, Ornette Coleman there in 2006.
Boss Lady: You mention Ornette Coleman, who's a sax man, right? Seems like that instrument is a lot more popular than the clarinet these days. Has the clarinet fallen out of favor?
me: It certainly did for a long time, and even now it's a conscious against-the-grain decision if anyone wants to take up the jazz clarinet
BG was one of the last to play the clarinet, a mainstay of New Orleans jazz, when it was still a popular soloist instrument
We remember him in particular because he had the good fortune to play it better than most
Boss Lady: What do you do that's better than most?
me: Other than wasting time?
I'll defer to the readers on that one

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