Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 30 May 1909, Chicago; d 13 June 1986) Clarinet, bandleader. From a poor family, he studied music at Hull House, imitating Ted Lewis in public at age twelve; a prodigy, he played his first gigs still in short trousers, joining the musicians' union at age thirteen, influenced by Jimmie Noone, Frank Teschemacher and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings' Leon Rappolo. His first recorded solo was with Ben Pollack band '26; he played other reeds, even trumpet on records in the late '20s. John Hammond was an early fan; Goodman later married Hammond's sister. He had a busy freelance career and played on an enormous number of records: the Hotsy Totsy Gang, the Whoopee Makers etc; he was famous among jazz fans long before he became a world-famous bandleader. He formed a band mid-'32 to accompany Russ Colombo; he played on Bessie Smith's last recording session and Billie Holiday's first (both '33, both produced by Hammond). Goodman led the studio band for Holiday and for another session with solos and vocals by Jack Teagarden; both bands included Teagarden, Dick McDonough, guitar (b 1904; d 25 May 1938, NYC); Frankie Froeba, piano (b August 1907, New Orleans; d 18 February 1981, Miami) and Gene Krupa. He recycled these arrangements and at least 20 more on transcription recordings (World Broadcasting Company, for radio broadcast only) under the name of Bill Dodge, using players such as Bunny Berigan, Art Rollini, Krupa and many others who were glad of the work in early '34. (The pianist was Arthur Schutt, who may have written most of the arrangements.) There was also the beautiful 'Blues Of Israel' octet session as Gene Krupa and his Chicagoans in Chicago in September '35 with Israel Crosby on bass (the other tune was 'Three Little Words'), and with Jess Stacy and others by this time playing in Goodman's big band.

The chance to form his own band band came with a gig at Billy Rose's Music Hall '34 (unsuccessful), then the Let's Dance radio show from December '34 to May '35 (opposite the 'sweet' bands of Xavier Cugat and Kel Murray); a nation-wide tour began in May and flopped at first: Stacy said that in Denver everybody was across town listening to Kay Kyser. But in Oakland in August there was a crowd waiting and Goodman thought they must have arrived in the wrong place. There and at the Palomar Ballroom they finally found a college-age audience who'd tuned in to Let's Dance in the evening, looking for dance music on the radio: the big-band jazz style which had already been on the boil for years was a hit, the Swing Era began (see Big Band Era) and Goodman remained at the top of the music business for many years.

His theme was 'Let's Dance', adapted from a waltz by Carl Maria von Weber; he had over 160 hits 1931-53, 75 of them on Victor with the classic band '35-9 before Billboard began printing charts (it was the increase in record sales during the Swing Era that demanded charts). The hits included 'Blue Moon', 'It's Been So Long', 'Goody Goody', 'You Turned The Tables On Me', 'The Glory Of Love' and 'These Foolish Things', all with vocals by Helen Ward (d 21 April 1998 aged 82); 'I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart', 'And The Angels Sing' with Martha Tilton (b 14 November 1915, Corpus Christi TX; d 8 December 2006, Brentwood CA); others with guest vocalists Jimmy Rushing, Mildred Bailey; and the instrumentals: Fletcher Henderson's arrangement of 'Sugar Foot Stomp' (from King Oliver's 'Dipper Mouth Blues'), 'Sometimes I'm Happy' (by Vincent Youmans), 'Blue Skies' (Irving Berlin), 'King Porter Stomp' (Jelly Roll Morton); Henderson's own 'Down South Camp Meeting', 'Stealin' Apples', 'Big John's Special', etc; 'Don't Be That Way' and 'Stomping At The Savoy' (written by Edgar Sampson for Chick Webb); Count Basie's 'Jumpin' At The Woodside' and 'One O'Clock Jump'; 'Swingtime In The Rockies' by Jimmy Mundy (b 28 June 1907, Cincinnati OH; d 24 April 1983; also played trumpet; musical director for French Barclay '60s). 'Sing Sing Sing' was a 'killer diller' (a term applied especially to Mundy's work), interpolating 'Christopher Columbus' (arranged probably by Horace Henderson) with 'Sing Sing Sing' (by Louis Prima), issued in two parts on a 12-inch 78, unusual then. 'Bei Mir Bist Du Schön' came from a Yiddish musical by Sholom Secunda, a hit for the Andrews Sisters; arranged for Goodman by Mundy with a vocal by Martha Tilton and enlivened by trumpeter Ziggy Elman (b 26 May 1914, Philadelphia; d 26 June 1968), who inserted a 'frahlich' passage in 6/8 time, based on a traditional Jewish dance, also used in 'And The Angels Sing' (words by Johnny Mercer). Reedmen in the classic Goodman band included Nuncio 'Toots' Mondello (b c1910, Boston), Vido Musso (b 25 January 1913, Palermo; d 9 January 1982) and Hymie Schertzer. Goodman played tenor sax lead on Bill Miller's arrangement 'Riffin' At The Ritz'. The band sometimes inclluded Goodman's brothers Harry on bass and Irving (d 9 July 1990 aged 75) on trumpet; soloists included Elman, Bunny Berigan and Harry James on trumpets; Irving 'Babe' Russin (b 18 June 1911, Philadelphia; d 4 August 1984) and Arthur Rollini (b 13 February 1912, NYC; brother of Adrian) on tenors. Trumpeter Chris Griffin (b 31 October 1915, Binghampton NY; d 18 January 2005) had a long career out of the limelight; an excellent player, he worked for Charlie Barnet, then Goodman, then many others, and for over 30 years was a staff musician at CBS. Griffin was the last surviving member of the classic Goodman band.

Like many bands, Goodman's was often more exciting live than in the studio; it always played well, but the pretty and precise reed sound had less character than it should have had, often mooing away monotonously behind vocalists. Baritone saxist Danny Bank (b 17 July 1922, Brooklyn NY; d 5 June 2010) was a session player who played on thousands of records; he told Cadence that Goodman didn't like the baritone: 'He was fearful of it, that it would cover up his clarinet. So for Benny I played very quiet, like falsetto.' This would partly explain why the reed section did not have the weight and colour it might have had. The band didn't swing like black ones (especially without the stimulus of dancers): Krupa was a star, but far from the best drummer of his generation; and white musicians in general were still learning to play the big-band style that black bands had been playing for years. Fletcher Henderson has always received too much credit for the Goodman style because of an accident of history: Goodman bought Henderson's arrangements and had hits with them just as the era began, but he also bought over 100 arrangements from Spud Murphy (see his entry).

At any rate, no matter how many times one hears Mundy's arrangement of 'Bugle Call Rag' the string of hot solos works its magic: the spirit of the Swing Era is there. All this was high-class pop music of the day, still loved by millions, reissued complete on CD and in many compilations. Goodman played Carnegie Hall in January 1938 (asked how long an intermission he wanted he replied, 'I dunno. How much does Toscanini get?'); Stacy's unexpected live solo on 'Sing Sing Sing' still astonishes today; acetates of the concert were discovered and issued in the early '50s on Columbia; a two-disc set of the period's air checks issued a couple of years later was one of the first such sets (now on CD as On The Air 1937-1938). Excitement at the Paramount Theatre gig NYC March '37 presaged the later frenzy over Frank Sinatra, Johnnie Ray, Elvis Presley, the Beatles. Meanwhile, Goodman was called 'King of Swing', but was one of the first white bandleaders to hire the inventors of the music: Henderson, Sampson, Mundy to write; later Henderson to play piano. The Benny Goodman Trio recorded mid-'35 with Krupa and Teddy Wilson; the quartet added Lionel Hampton '36 and was the first integrated group to play in public (presented between sets, like a vaudeville act, to avoid complaints about blacks playing with the big band). Stars of the Duke Ellington and Basie bands were guests at Carnegie Hall (including Basie, but Ellington waited for his own Carnegie gig). The first band appeared in films The Big Broadcast Of 1937, Hollywood Hotel, Stage Door Canteen, etc. Krupa left '38 to form his own band, replaced by Dave Tough; James left late that year; Goodman switched to Columbia '39; the small group became a sextet with Charlie Christian, Cootie Williams (lured from Ellington), Georgie Auld on tenor, Artie Bernstein on bass (b 3 February 1909, Brooklyn; d 4 January 1964, Los Angeles); Nick Fatool or Harry Jaeger, then Tough on drums; sometimes guests Hampton, Basie (on one rehearsal session, Basie and his rhythm section plus Christian and Lester Young: an all-black group except for Goodman). The sextet records '39-41 were probably Goodman's finest achievement: 'Six Appeal', 'Seven Come Eleven', 'Wholly Cats', 'Breakfast Feud', etc had an up-to-date, almost boppish sound and a very high level of quality in solos. Yet the small-group stuff from the earlier RCA period, enough trio, quartet and quintet tracks to fill three CDs with the alternative takes, also comes up sounding timeless.

Goodman was a hard worker (and a demanding boss), a fine musician and always a great soloist: some fans preferred the warmer, woodier tone of Artie Shaw as a clarinettist, but Goodman's invention never flagged. He was at his best (most free) in a small-group context, but he always swung, having the conversational quality essential in jazz: he shaped notes as well as lines. He disbanded '40 to have surgery for back pain, then re-formed for a few more years. The big band fared well on Columbia, with arrangements by Eddie Sauter and others; Mel Powell arranged and played piano '41, Peggy Lee sang: top ten hits '41-8 included 'Jersey Bounce', 'Why Don't You Do Right' (Lee's first big hit), both '42. Goodman himself 'sang' very occasionally ('Oh Babe!'). The Swing Era was almost over: popular music was moving away from jazz, which itself was changing; Goodman recorded for Capitol with a boppish band including Stan Hasselgard (b Ake Hasselgard, 4 October 1922, Sweden; d 23 November 1948 in car crash; the only clarinettist ever featured by Goodman alongside himself). But Goodman disliked bop. (The Complete Capitol Small Group Recordings 1944-55 was compiled by Mosaic '93 on four CDs/six LPs.)

Goodman became an elder statesman and cultural ambassador; he played the London Palladium mid-1949 with pianist Buddy Greco, clubs '54 with Powell; formed bands for tours of the Far East '56-7, Brussels World Fair '58, USSR '62; many tours of Europe included three early '70s with a band using mainly British musicians, then his own band '81-2. He visited Chicago '85 for a Hull House tribute. Compilation Benny Goodman Combos '51 was the first 12-inch Columbia pop LP (CL 500); B.G. In Hi-Fi '55 on Capitol was a no. 7 chart LP; two-disc soundtrack The Benny Goodman Story '56 on Decca was no. 4 (the film is accurate in outline, but detail and script are poor, typical of the genre); Benny Goodman In Moscow '62 and Together Again! '63 (reunion of the 1936 quartet), both on RCA; Benny Goodman Today '71 (two discs, live in Stockholm) and Live At Carnegie Hall '78, both on London; others. He appeared February '85 at Kool Jazz Festival tribute to his brother-in-law Hammond, in October taped a special for PBS called Let's Dance.

Acerbic to the last, in an interview '86 he described Wynton Marsalis as an 'undernourished' trumpet player; on one late occasion, playing at the sort of huge venue where swing bands never played, he insisted on no amplification at all, so that the sound was inadequate. On the Russian trip he was jealous of the ex-Ellington vocalist Joya Sherrill, who was a big hit; neither her work nor the special arrangements commissioned for the tour were allowed on the RCA LP (some of this should be reissued on CD). He was in fact widely disliked, often appallingly rude to sidemen (and women: Helen Forrest described him as 'the rudest man I have ever met'). 'He put together some wonderful bands, but he had a reputation for spoiling the fun,' wrote bassist Bill Crow in a series of hilarious articles in Gene Lees's Jazzletter '86 about the Russian tour; a correspondent wrote, 'The good news is he's dead; the bad news is he didn't suffer.' (Crow's series can be found on this site, starting here.) He was a strange man, haunted by childhood poverty, and not very comfortable with himself. Ross Firestone's first-rate biography Swing, Swing, Swing '93 goes some way to explain the strangeness. His famous 'ray' may have been nothing at all: Bank asked him about it and he said, 'I'm absent-minded. I stare. I don't know what I'm staring at. Sometimes I'm in another city.' But Bank added, 'guys would quit the band in fear'.

On his way home from Russia Goodman stopped in London, a guest at the home of the Marquess of Londonderry, where he sat in with Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated, playing with Charlie Watts and possibly Mick Jagger on harmonica, at the time the Rolling Stones were getting underway. Cristiano Radtke has exhaustively compiled that whole story here.  

Goodman recorded classical music beginning '37 including Mozart and Weber, and commissioned works from Bela Bartók, Aaron Copland and others, but had trouble with his embouchure because the demands of classical and jazz work are said to be different. His place in music is secure; the amount of his jazz work in print is astonishing: about 100 CDs and LPs available '96 still included a great many air checks of early work; the reissues on Bluebird and Columbia CDs of the small groups are good value; his archives were left to Yale and of that series on MusicMasters CDs the second and ninth Live At Basin Street '55 and '54 are particularly fine. The best and most complete transfer of the historic 1938 Carnegie Hall concert is on Jasmine (JASCD656), from Britain; the transfers are by Bjõrn Almstedt, the excellent notes by John McDonough.