How the king of swing earned his name
I’m sure there isn’t a Sun Day reader who hasn’t heard of Benny Goodman, “The King of Swing.” My first encounter with him and his band occurred while I was beginning my musical career as a drummer in the Carl Schurz High School band. One of my best friends and a fellow member of the Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps, Bruce Tietgen, had saved his money so he could purchase a prized album, “The 1938 Concert at Carnegie Hall.” This recording is still considered a ground-breaking collection of the best performances by a band and the individual members. It features Benny and many of the best sidemen in the business. They included Harry James, Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson, and, of course, the man who changed the role of the drummer for all time, Gene Krupa.
There are so many incredible tracks from which to listen. Bruce and I, along with our musician friends, would sit and listen for hours, amazed by the precision of the band, the selections performed by the quartet (Benny, Lionel, Teddy, and Gene), and the outrageous solos by the individual members.
Fortunately, for all of us jazz music fans, this original recording has been re-mastered, and all the great sounds from that night are now available on CD. Amazingly, the original soundtrack was recorded with just one microphone. Obviously, no one anticipated that this would be a historical event in the big band era. In fact, Benny was afraid it was going to be a big bust because the band had never before played in concert. Benny was a great technician as a bandleader in addition to being perhaps the greatest jazz clarinetist of all time.
Goodman was born in Chicago in 1909, the son of immigrants who left Russia to escape anti-Semitism. His father, a tailor, sent Benny to study music at age ten in a synagogue under the tutelage of a Chicago Symphony member. Benny’s aptitude on the clarinet was so apparent that by age 11 he was playing in a pit band and became a member of the musicians union when he was 14. Following the death of his father, he quit school and began to support his family, which included 11 siblings, with his musical talents. Later, he moved to LA to become a featured soloist.
He survived the Great Depression and ended up in New York, where he sat in on recording sessions and radio shows. By 1935, the big bands became the rage of the country, especially because Americans loved to dance to their music. Benny had started his own band the previous year, which included a young man who Benny recognized immediately as a driving force for the music of the day, drummer Gene Krupa.
Ignited by Gene’s rhythms, teenagers and college students invented new dance steps to accompany the swing music sensation. It’s amazing that so much of Benny’s music is still used today in the making of commercials. One of the most popular songs that just makes people want to get up and dance is “Sing, Sing, Sing,” featuring innovative solos by Gene. He, Benny, and Harry combine to captivate audiences with inspired improvisations in solos and duets. The original track of this song is over 10 minutes and finishes in a wild flurry by the band and especially Krupa. Be sure to listen to the original version on YouTube. Google the following: “Sing, Sing, Sing – Carnegie Hall 1938.”
For more of the big band, listen to Benny Goodman, 1938: “Don’t Be That Way” and “One O’Clock Jump.” Check out the crowd’s reaction to Krupa’s riffs and breaks. This style of drumming was ground-breaking for the guys who followed him, like Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson. To sample the cuts by the quartet, try YouTube for The Benny Goodman Quartet 1959 – “I Got Rhythm” video and watch the guys race through this tune to see who could finish first. Also, check out Avalon by the Quartet.
There are so many great cuts on the 1938 album. Once you are on this site, take the time to listen to a few more, such as Benny’s theme song, “Let’s Dance.” It’s no coincidence that our swing band in Sun City Huntley took that title for its name and opening tune. If you are going to emulate a group, pick the best. If you are going to build a library of great jazz music, start with Benny and his 1938 Carnegie Hall recording. He passed away in 1986, always to be the world-renowned King of Swing. We miss you, Benny.
That’s “All That Jazz and More” for now. My next column will focus on a relatively unknown young vocalist by the name of Renee Olstead. Please send your comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.
Mark your calendar for these coming live events:
Sunday, July 1, 11 a.m. – Concert in the Park – the Sun City Concert Band performs by the lagoon preceding the golf cart parade. Free concert! Bring your lawn chairs and snacks. (Be ready to share some with me).
Sunday, July 29, 1 p.m. – The Sun City Swing Band, “Let’s Dance,” will perform on stage at Algonquin Commons as part of the summer music program offered by the mall. Free concert! Bring your lawn chairs and snacks or purchase food, etc., at one of the many eateries on site.