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ClassicsOnline Home » GOODMAN, Benny: Sing, Sing, Sing (1937-1940)
In 1935 after his totally unexpected success at Los
Angeles’ Palomar Ballroom, Benny Goodman was
crowned ‘The King Of Swing’. The clarinettist
was not the founder of swing or even leader of the
first swing orchestra (Fletcher Henderson had
preceded him by more than a decade) but it was
his big band that caught on big first and launched
the swing era.
Benny Goodman was an unlikely matinee
idol, being an introvert who wore glasses and
whose main concern was playing clarinet. Born
30 May 1909 in Chicago, he grew up in poverty.
Goodman began playing clarinet when he was
eleven and developed very quickly, winning an
amateur contest with his imitation of the cornball
clarinettist Ted Lewis. He joined the Musicians
Union when he was fourteen and by that time
was working regularly in the Chicago area.
In August 1925, the sixteen-year old
Goodman joined the Ben Pollack Orchestra,
becoming one of its featured stars. He made his
recording debut with Pollack in December 1926
and at that early stage was already a very fluent
and impressive player, most influenced by Jimmie
Noone. He led his first record dates in 1928 and,
after leaving Pollack in 1929, he worked with Red
Nichols’ Five Pennies and became a very busy
studio musician in New York.
By 1934, Goodman had become quite bored
with his musical life despite it being very lucrative
for that era. He longed to play jazz and lead a big
band so he took a major chance. Goodman
organized an orchestra that passed an audition
(by one vote) to become one of the three bands
on the Let’s Dance radio series. The radio
programmes and record dates kept the Benny
Goodman Orchestra busy until the series ended
in May 1935. Faced with the certain breakup of
his band due to lack of work, Goodman agreed to
go on a cross-country tour.
The trip had its hits and misses, with Benny
Goodman often drawing a respectable crowd in
the bigger cities but playing to near-empty houses
elsewhere. By the time his band limped its way to
California, its days seemed numbered. But after
playing a conservative dance set at the Palomar
Ballroom, Goodman decided that there was
nothing to lose and he had his band cut loose.
The place exploded with excitement as dancers
flooded the aisles, and the swing era was on.
From that point on, success followed success.
Benny Goodman became a household name
overnight, his orchestra was the most popular in
jazz for the next couple years and on 12 January
1938 they became the first swing orchestra to
perform a concert at Carnegie Hall.
One of the hits of that concert was first
recorded by Goodman a few months earlier.
Sing, Sing, Sing was a simple Louis Prima song
until it was combined with the riffs of Chu Berry’s
“Christopher Columbus” by arranger Jimmy
Mundy and turned into a feature for the first
superstar drummer, Gene Krupa. The extended
studio version, which also features Goodman and
trumpeter Harry James, is still a sensation.
Four of the next five songs have vocals by
Martha Tilton. Although not as jazz-oriented as
her predecessor Helen Ward, Tilton was a
cheerful presence and her attractive voice kept her
popular in her post-Goodman years. Pop-Corn
Man became one of the rarest of all Benny
Goodman recordings when it was recalled shortly
after its release. The reason for the recall is
obscure for there was nothing wrong with the
lyrics, but possibly less than a dozen copies of the
record escaped being destroyed.
When Helen Ward was in the Benny
Goodman Orchestra, she recorded two titles with
the Goodman Trio. Tilton’s only recording with a
Goodman small group is her extended version of
Bei Mir Bist Du Schon (a recent Andrews Sisters
hit) with the Goodman Quartet plus trumpeter
Ziggy Elman. Elman’s trumpet solo over a Jewish
fralich dance section was a hint of things to come.
Although composed by Duke Ellington,
Benny Goodman had the hit version of I Let A
Song Go Out Of My Heart, thanks in large part
to Tilton’s warm vocal. Since the clarinettist was
always interested in playing classical music and he
would record in that setting fairly extensively later
in his life, it was only natural that he premier the
novelty Bach Goes To Town.
After the success of Bei Mir Bist Du Schon,
Ziggy Elman used a variation of his trumpet solo
and recorded “Fralich In Swing.” In early 1939
Johnny Mercer gave the song lyrics and it resulted
in Martha Tilton’s biggest hit, And The Angels
Sing. Elman plays in a similar fashion on the
obscure Who’ll Buy My Bublitchki.
By the time Benny Goodman recorded
Stealin’ Apples in mid-1939, the swing world had
changed quite a bit. Harry James and Gene
Krupa had long since departed to lead successful
big bands of their own and Goodman, though
still called the ‘King’, was challenged in popularity
by Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie and a
recent upstart named Glenn Miller. Goodman,
while modernizing his orchestra a bit by adding
additional brass and reeds and sometimes
utilizing the arrangements of Eddie Sauter, largely
stayed clear of trends and fads, going his own
way and continuing to play the swing music that
Stealin’ Apples, though composed by Fats
Waller, was used by Fletcher Henderson as the
theme song for his own 1936-39 orchestra.
Henderson contributed the arrangement and
plays piano on this version with Goodman.
The brightest new voice in the Goodman
musical world in 1939 was Charlie Christian, a
major pioneer of the electric guitar whose
swinging ideas formed the basis for virtually all
jazz guitar styles of the next thirty years. Christian
holds his own with Goodman and Lionel
Hampton on sextet versions of Rose Room and
Flying Home, the latter heard in its earliest
recording, two years before Hampton and Illinois
Jacquet made it famous.
Mildred Bailey, after the breakup of her big
band with Red Norvo, was for a short time the
regular vocalist with Goodman’s orchestra. She is
in fine form on a straightforward version of Darn
That Dream, which is the first of several
arrangements on this set by the adventurous
writer Eddie Sauter. The catchy Zaggin’ With
Zig was one of Ziggy Elman’s best features during
his nearly four year period with BG. Busy As A
Bee was the earliest number recorded by Helen
Forrest with Goodman and she quickly proved to
be one of his finest singers.
Two different versions of the Benny
Goodman Sextet are heard on Boy Meets Goy
and Wholly Cats. In the period between, the
clarinettist had reluctantly broken up his big band
in order to deal with contracting sciatica. He
recovered well enough within a few months that
he was able to put together a new orchestra that
included some of his former sidemen including
Charlie Christian and Helen Forrest, while also
featuring former Duke Ellington trumpeter Cootie
Williams and tenor-saxophonist Georgie Auld.
Count Basie guests on Wholly Cats.
The new Goodman Orchestra is in excellent
form on this programme’s final three numbers.
Eddie Sauter’s Benny Rides Again is full of
adventure with a prominent role for drummer
Harry Jaeger. Helen Forrest does a good job on
her version of Ethel Waters’ hit Taking A Chance
On Love, with Fletcher Henderson providing the
arrangement. Sauter’s eccentric Superman is a
showcase for Cootie Williams and is one of the
very few records ever issued under Benny
Goodman’s name where one does not hear the
clarinettist at all.
Still just 31 as 1940 drew to a close, Benny
Goodman would remain a living legend and a
household name during the 46 years he had left,
never having to step down as ‘The King Of Swing’.
Scott Yanow – author of nine jazz books including Jazz
On Film, Swing, Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On
Last Albums Viewed
GOODMAN, Benny: Sing, Sing, Sing (1937-1940)