The King of Swing
Next Thread |
Previous Thread |
Next Message |
Date Posted: Wednesday, June 13, 01:13:49pm
Benny Goodman, the King of Swing whose clarinet led a generation of music fans into the Big Band era in the 1930's, died yesterday afternoon at his Manhattan apartment, apparently of a heart attack. He was 77 years old.
The death of the man who brought jazz to Carnegie Hall and enthralled millions with renditions of ''Sweet Georgia Brown'' and ''Stompin' at the Savoy'' brought expressions of grief and loss from his colleagues.
Lionel Hampton, the vibraphonist, recalled that Mr. Goodman was the first major music figure to put black and white musicians together on stage in the 1930's.
''The most important thing that Benny Goodman did,'' he said, ''was to put Teddy Wilson and me in the quartet. It was instant integration. Black people didn't mix with whites then. Benny introduced us as Mr. Lionel Hampton and Mr. Teddy Wilson. He opened the door for Jackie Robinson. He gave music character and style.''
Apple Cheeks and Horn-Rims
The tall, apple-cheeked bandleader with the horn-rimmed glasses had had a pacemaker implanted in 1984, but he had been active and about town in recent months, and had appeared to be in good health yesterday morning, according to Lloyd Rauch, his personal assistant.
Mr. Goodman apparently died while taking a nap on a guest-room couch in his apartment at 200 East 66th Street. The body was found by a housekeeper, Anna Lekander, Mr. Rauch said.
Mr. Goodman became the King of Swing the night of Aug. 21, 1935, at the Palomar Ballroom in Hollywood. In the following years, he drew throngs to nightclubs and theaters and introduced jazz to Carnegie Hall, toured the world as a representative of a distinctive American culture, was instrumental in breaking the barrier that had kept white and black musical groups separate and developed a band that was a training ground for many other band leaders, including Harry James, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson.
Last month, Mr. Goodman was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree at Columbia University's commencement ceremonies, the latest in a long list of honors that included lifetime achievement awards at the Grammy show in February and from the Kennedy Center in Washington in 1982.
But when he arrived at the Palomar in the summer of 1935 with a 14-piece band that he had formed a year before, there was no aura of success around Mr. Goodman. He was, in fact, so discouraged that he was prepared to give up his band and return to freelancing. His career as a band leader had been discouraging. His orchestra had been dismissed from the only two engagements it had had in New York and, after completing a 26-week contract on a network radio program, it had set out on a cross-country trek from New York to California. The reaction to Mr. Goodman's repertory of jazz-based arrangements ranged from bewilderment to antipathy.
''I thought we'd finish the engagement in California and take the train back to New York and that would be it,'' he recalled many years later. ''I'd just be a clarinetist again.''
He Might Fail, But on His Own Terms
He had tried to adapt to what he had been told the audiences wanted - pop tunes and waltzes. But on this night at the Palomar, starting what he thought would be the band's last engagement, Mr. Goodman decided that if he were going to fail, he would fail on his own terms. He brought out some of his favorite arrangements - by Fletcher Henderson of ''Sugar Foot Stomp,'' ''Blue Skies,'' ''Sometimes I'm Happy'' and ''King Porter Stomp'' - which had been his reason for recruiting a band that included such jazz specialists as the trumpeter Bunny Berrigan, the pianist Jess Stacy and the drummer Gene Krupa.
As he beat out the tempo for ''Sugar Foot Stomp,'' the band dug into the Henderson arrangement. Then Mr. Berrigan rose up in the trumpet section, playing a crackling solo. As the sound of his horn exploded across the ballroom, a responsive roar went up from the listeners and they surged around the bandstand, cheering.
Mr. Goodman looked around in amazement. He was stunned by the sudden change but, he said later, that roar ''was one of the sweetest sounds I ever heard in my life.''
This stunning reversal in audience acceptance in Hollywood has been attributed to two factors. Although the ''Let's Dance'' program was on the air for only three hours, the bands actually played for five hours because, in those pretape days, the program had to be played a second time for the West Coast. By the time young listeners in California heard the Goodman band, it was warmed up and bringing out its best arrangements.
Calfiornia was also developing a new type of radio entertainer, the disk jockey. The first celebrity disk jockey was Al Jarvis in Los Angeles, who had a program of recordings called ''The Make Believe Ballroom'' (a title later used in New York by Martin Block). Mr. Jarvis had been plugging the Goodman band's records and, when the band reached the Palomar, the audience, thanks to Mr. Jarvis, knew and was anxious to hear his choice Henderson arrangements.
The crowd's roar would follow him for years at precedent-setting events not only during the swing era, which lasted into the mid-1940's, but also decades later when, in the 60's, he toured the Soviet Union with his band. He heard that same sound at the ''Paramount riot,'' in March 1937, when he played at the Paramount Theater in New York for the first time.
Teenagers, who had followed the band on radio and had bought its records but could not afford the prices of such places as the Manhattan Room of the Hotel Pennsylvania, where the band usually played, were lined up around the theater at 6 A.M. to get into the morning show for 35 cents. During that day, more than 21,000 people jammed into the theater to bounce deliriously in the seats or shag in the aisles and battle ushers as they made desperate lunges toward the stage.
First Jazz Concert At Carnegie Hall
Mr. Goodman heard it again in January 1938, when, looking stiff and uncomfortable in white tie and tails, he led his orchestra in the first jazz concert ever given in Carnegie Hall to an audience that showed its enthusiasm by beating out the band's rhythm with pounding feet that rocked the old hall's balconies.
There had been big bands that played swinging dance music before Mr. Goodman organized his orchestra. Fletcher Henderson led a groundbreaking black jazz band in the mid-20's, and in his wake came Duke Ellington, Earl Hines and Jimmie Lunceford, all black. There had also been big, jazz-oriented white bands - Jean Goldkette's Orchestra, the Casa Loma Orchestra and the band in which Mr. Goodman began playing when he was 16 years old, Ben Pollack's Orchestra.
But Mr. Goodman's band arrived at a moment when the public's ear had been attuned by these earlier bands. Mr. Goodman provided a blend of jazz and contemporary popular music that filled this demand so successfully that, for a brief period, jazz and popular music were one and the same. His band also represented a blend of the freedom of jazz improvisation and the discipline that Mr. Goodman demanded from his musicians and, even more, from himself. He practiced his clarinet, his trumpeter Harry James once said, ''15 times more than the whole band combined.''
''All the time I was with Goodman, he was never satisfied,'' Jess Stacy, the pianist, once said. ''With him, perfection was just around the corner. I figure Benny will die in bed with that damn clarinet.''
In rehearsal or performance, Mr. Goodman's musicians dreaded ''the ray'' - a long, accusatory, poker-faced glare over the top of his glasses at anyone who had committed a false musical move. ''If you're interested in music,'' Mr. Goodman once said, ''you can't slop around. I expected things and they had to be done.''
This discipline and his feeling for tempo produced performances that audiences that had not been exposed to much jazz found more exciting than the looser, more deeply jazz-flavored playing of Mr. Henderson's band, in which many of Mr. Goodman's most popular arrangements originated.
''Benny was very conscious of tempos,'' Willard Alexander, a booking agent who was one of the band's earliest supporters, once said. ''His music had a kind of lilt, a feel. I remember one time we dropped into the Roosevelt Grill when Guy Lombardo was playing there. Benny said to me, 'You know, this Lombardo's got something.' I thought he was putting me on. But he wasn't. 'You know his secret,' Benny said. 'He never plays a song in the wrong tempo.' ''
'No Glamour, No Sex Appeal'
''Benny was a phenomenon,'' Mr. Alexander went on. ''He was not really the biggest band of the swing era. Glenn Miller was. But Benny was the biggest new thing in this type of presentation. He was even different physically, contrary to what everybody expected in a band leader. No glamour. No sex appeal. But a well-grounded musician. Once he hit, in came the others in the same pattern. Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller. Like Goodman, they were not the typical Hollywood glamour boys. They wore glasses. They had musical experience. They were not young or green. And they had a lot of background.''
Mr. Goodman's background went back to Chicago, where he was born on May 30, 1909, the eighth of 12 children in the family of an immigrant tailor who rarely earned more than $20 a week. He was 10 when he got a clarinet on loan from a local synagogue that also provided music lessons. His brother, Harry, the biggest of the Goodman boys, was given a tuba. Freddy, the next largest, received a trumpet. In later years, Benny Goodman wondered what kind of career he might have had ''if I had been 20 pounds heavier and two inches taller.''
When he was 12, the youth won $5 at a Chicago theater doing an imitation of Ted Lewis, and by the time he was 14 he was making $48 a week playing four nights in the neighborhood band. He also played in the band at Hull House, the celebrated Chicago settlement house, and studied for two years with Franz Shoepp, a clarinetist in the Chicago Symphony, a strict disciplinarian who, Mr. Goodman said, ''did more for me musically than anyone I ever knew.''
Still wearing short pants, he became part of a clique of teenage jazz musicians that included the cornetist Jimmy McPartland, the saxophonist Bud Freedman and the drummer Dave Tough, who were fascinated by the jazz sounds that flowed through Chicago in the 20's. He absorbed in his own playing the beautiful tone and sparkling flow of Jimmie Noone, the clarinetist.
'Kid in Short Pants' Is Summoned
Leon Rappolo, clarinetist in the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, who leaned so far back in his chair when he played that he seemed to be lying down, influenced both Mr. Goodman's style and his posture. When Ben Pollack, the drummer in the Rhythm Kings, formed a band in California, he sent back to Chicago for ''the kid in the short pants, the kid who played lying down, like Rappolo.''
Mr. Goodman was 16 when he joined the Pollack band in Venice, Calif., in 1926. He remained in the band for four years, when Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden, Bud Freeman, Jimmy McPartland and Mr. Goodman's brother, Harry, were in the band. For the last two years, the Pollack band was based in New York, playing at the Little Club and at the Park Central Hotel (now the Omni-Park Hotel) and doubling in the pit of a musical, ''Hello, Daddy.''
In the fall of 1929, after some disagreements with Mr. Pollack, Mr. Goodman left the band and began to freelance on radio and records, making as much as $350 to $400 a week in the early days of the Depression. In 1933, he met a young jazz fan and jazz activist, John Hammond, whose enthusiasm, insight and energy were to have a profound effect on the careers of Mr. Goodman, Billie Holiday, Count Basie and Charlie Christian, the short-lived, precedent-setting electric guitarist who played in Mr. Goodman's band for two years before his death in 1941.
Mr. Hammond, who had a commission to make some jazz records for release in England, asked Mr. Goodman to lead a band for this purpose. Mr. Goodman chose some of his freelance friends, a group that Mr. Hammond augmented by borrowing Gene Krupa and Jack Teagarden from Mal Hallett's orchestra in Boston.
These records, released as by ''Benny Goodman and His Orchestra,'' planted a seed that took root in 1934, when, with his freelance income reduced to $40 a week, Mr. Goodman heard that Billy Rose was auditioning bands for a new club called the Music Hall. With the help of Mr. Hammond, he started putting a band together.
''There were practically no hot bands using white musicians at the time,'' Mr. Goodman later recalled, ''and there was a lot of talent around town, both in jobs and laying off, that hadn't gotten the breaks.''
A Tight Group, Every Man a Soloist
His concept was a jazz band made up of young musicians who read well and played in tune, a group with a tight, small-band quality in which every man could be a soloist. The band he and Mr. Hammond assembled included Claude Thornhill, the pianist, who soon returned to studio work, and three musicians who remained with Mr. Goodman through the band's early days of glory - Red Ballard, trombonist: Arthur Rollini (brother of Adrian), saxophonist, and Hymie Schertzer. Mr. Schertzer's alto saxophone later gave the Goodman saxophone section its sheen, but he was hired because Mr. Goodman had heard he would need a violin in his band to accompany the shows at the Music Hall and Mr. Schertzer could play violin as well as saxophone.
Ironically, Mr. Goodman's band was not able to play the routine accompanying music for the Music Hall's vaudeville acts - tumblers, a fire eater, a dog act - to Billy Rose's satisfaction. They were on the verge of being released when a compromise was reached - a second band would play for the shows and Mr. Goodman's band would play for dancing.
Three months later, when the Music Hall's management changed, the band was let go. But before that happened, the band auditioned for a prospective three-hour weekly radio program to be divided between Latin music, ''sweet'' music and ''hot'' music. Xavier Cugat had already been signed as the Latin band. Murray Kellner (as Kel Murray) led the ''sweet'' band. The sponsor, the National Biscuit Company, lined up several ''hot'' bands and had some of its employes vote on them. Benny Goodman won by one vote.
During the 26 weeks that Mr. Goodman played on this ''Let's Dance'' program, he had a budget with which to buy eight arrangements a week at $37.50 each. Edgar Sampson's $37.50 arrangement of ''Stompin' at the Savoy,'' played on the first ''Let's Dance'' broadcast, became one of Mr. Goodman's classics.
Another arranger, Gordon Jenkins, wrote ''Goodbye,'' which became Mr. Goodman's closing theme. He also got his opening signature, ''Let's Dance,'' from the show - a ''hot'' arrangement of Carl Maria Von Weber's ''Invitation to the Dance'' written by George Bassman, who also provided a Latin version for Mr. Cugat and a ''sweet'' version for Mr. Kellner.
Paying $37.50 For 'Killer-Dillers'
But the most important collection of arrangements that Mr. Goodman got for his $37.50 came from Fletcher Henderson who, in 1934, had given up the big band he had led for 11 years. Some of these arrangements had originally been played by the Henderson band. ''King Porter Stomp'' and ''Big John Special'' were the first two, providing Mr. Goodman with the basis for the library of what became known as ''killer-dillers.'' But, at Mr. Goodman's urging, Mr. Henderson also wrote arrangements of popular songs that established the melodic and swinging style of the Goodman band.
''Fletcher's ideas were far ahead of anybody else's at the time,'' Mr. Goodman said. ''Without Fletcher, I probably would have had a pretty good band, but it would have been something quite different from what it eventually turned out to be.''
Mr. Henderson's insistently swinging scores typify the Goodman band's style. George Simon, in his book ''The Big Bands,'' described them as ''simple, swinging arrangements in which complete sections played with the feeling of a single jazz soloist.''
''In addition,'' Mr. Simon wrote, ''Henderson would set off one section against another, rolling saxes vs. crisp brass, an approach quite different from the less rhythmic, more lethargic-sounding ensembles of most dance bands.''
After the ''Let's Dance'' program went off the air, Mr. Goodman's band was, inexplicably, booked into the Roosevelt Grill as a summer replacement for Guy Lombardo's ''Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven.'' Mr. Goodman's musicians had scarcely let out their first ''hot'' blast on opening night at the Roosevelt when they were given their two weeks' notice. The trail of discouragement continued as the band headed west toward California and the sudden turnaround at the Palomar Ballroom.
First Billing As a 'Swing' Band
So, instead of taking the train back to New York, Mr. Goodman stayed at the Palomar for two months. Then the band went to Chicago, where, booked into the Joseph Urban Room of the Congress Hotel, it stayed for six months. In Chicago it was billed for the first time as a ''swing'' band, with the word in quotes - ''as if,'' Mr. Goodman remarked, ''it was something in a foreign language.''
The word had been used for years by musicians - Duke Ellington wrote ''It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing'' in 1932. But the general public seized on ''swing'' as a trendy catchword. However, references to Mr. Goodman as ''the King of Swing'' made him nervous.
''I didn't know how long it was going to last,'' he explained, ''and I didn't want to be tied down to something people might say was old-fashioned just because they tired of the name in a year or so.''
But swing fever was on the rise, and in December 1935, some of Mr. Goodman's fans organized what may have been the first jazz concert. It was advertised as a ''Tea Dance'' and it was held in the Joseph Urban Room. But it was a sit-down-and-listen affair and a few people who instinctively tried to dance were booed off the floor. The response was so enthusiastic that another concert was organized for Easter Sunday in 1936. This time Mr. Goodman flew Teddy Wilson, the pianist, out to Chicago from New York.
Less than a year before, Mr. Goodman had jammed with Mr. Wilson at the home of Mildred Bailey, the singer, accompanied on drums by Miss Bailey's cousin, Carl Bellinger. This led to some recordings by a trio made up of Mr. Goodman, Mr. Wilson and Gene Krupa, the Goodman band's drummer, made just before Mr. Goodman's fateful trip to the West Coast. This Chicago concert was the first time the trio performed in public. The performance was so successful that Mr. Goodman decided to keep Mr. Wilson and the trio as a regular part of his troupe.
A Breakthrough In the Color Barrier
This created a precedent, quickly copied by other swing bands, of having a small group within the big band. And by making Mr. Wilson, a black, a part of his entourage, Mr. Goodman broke through the color barrier that, until then, had kept white bands white and black bands black. A few months later, while the band was in Hollywood making its first movie, ''The Big Broadcast of 1937,'' Mr. Goodman heard Lionel Hampton leading a band at the Paradise Cafe and, after enjoying an after-hours jam session with him, persuaded Mr. Hampton to add his vibraphone to the trio, making it a quartet that was 50 percent black.
For the next four years the Goodman band rode on the crest of the Swing Era popularity, despite a brief challenge from another clarinet-playing leader, Artie Shaw. The cheers and shouts of approval were seemingly endless. In 1938, when the band's second film, ''Hollywood Hotel,'' opened in New York, The New York Times film critic, Frank Nugent, reported: ''You couldn't hear anything but the audience except when the picture worked its volume to a storm-warning level. It would have taken more than that, though, to override their howling when Mr. Goodman's clarinet came into camera range.''
Not long after appearing in the film, Mr. Goodman performed with other jazz musicians in the Broadway musical ''Swingin' the Dream,'' which opened in 1939.
The eye of the Goodman whirwind was the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York, where the band spent several months each year. When Mr. Goodman's mother came to hear his band for the first time, she looked around in amazement.
''This is the way he makes a living?'' she asked.
In the summer of 1940, despite a steady load of engagements, Mr. Goodman broke up his band to take three months off to undergo surgery for a painful case of sciatica. When he reorganized his band in October of that year, the bulk of the arranging was taken over by Eddie Sauter, a trumpet player who had played and arranged for Red Norvo and who, in the 1950's, would be co-leader of an adventurous band with Bill Finegan. Mr. Finegan was making his reputation as an arranger with Glenn Miller at the very time that Mr. Sauter began arranging for the new Goodman band.
The New Band Of the 1940's
For this 1940's band, Mr. Goodman lured away Duke Ellington's trumpet star, Cootie Williams. He had a brilliant 18-year-old pianist, Mel Powell, and such veterans as Charlie Christian, Dave Tough, Billy Butterfield, Lou McGarity and Georgie Auld. In the opinion of many Goodman fanciers, this band of the early 40's, less publicized than his band of the 30's but with Mr. Sauter's provocative arrangements, was the finest of the Benny Goodman bands.
It was during the 40's also that Mr. Goodman appeared in another Brodway musical, this time with a small group. The show was ''Seven Lively Arts,'' which opened in December 1944.
Mr. Goodman continued to lead a big band until 1950. After World War II, he tried, briefly, to adapt to the new jazz style - be-bop - but soon gave it up, to the relief of proponents of both be-bop and swing.
Meanwhile, Mr. Goodman carried on a dalliance with classical music. In 1935 John Hammond, who, despite his devotion to jazz, expressed himself musically by playing viola in classical string quartets, enticed Mr. Goodman to join his quartet in playing the Mozart Clarinet Quintet. It was an intoxicating whiff for the clarinetist.
He subsequently played, and recorded, with the Budapest Quartet, with Joseph Szigeti and with symphony orchestras. He commissioned works by Bela Bartok, Aaron Copland and Paul Hindemith. During the 1940's, he studied with Reginald Kell, a renowned classical clarinetist, learning a new embouchure that required the use of a new set of facial muscles and a change in fingering for which he had his finger callouses surgically removed.
Goodman Sidemen Played in Film
In 1955, ''The Benny Goodman Story,'' a biographical film, was made in which Steve Allen played Mr. Goodman, and the producer assembled a band studded with former Goodman sidemen to play the sound track. Through the 50's, 60's and 70's, he formed small groups and big bands sporadically for concerts and tours, concentrating on the hits he had established in the Swing Era.
Mr. Goodman took his music around the world, playing duets with the King of Thailand, a fellow clarinetist. At the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels, his band was regarded as one of the best American exhibits. He took a band to the Soviet Union in 1962 as part of a cultural exchange arrangement, producing a mixture of adulation and controversy, including an impromptu debate on jazz with Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev.
In 1941, Mr. Goodman married Alice Duckworth, the sister of his friend John Hammond. She died in 1979.
Mr. Goodman is survived by two daughters, Rachel Edelson and Benjie Lasseau; four brothers, Harry, Freddy, Irving and Gene; two sisters, Ethel Goodman and Ida Winsberg, and three stepdaughters.
The police said Mr. Goodman's body had been taken to the Metropolitan Funeral Home in Manhattan and was to be transferred to the Bouton & Reynolds Funeral Home in Stamford, Conn. Funeral arrangements were incomplete last night.
''Working with Benny Goodman wasn't a job, it was an experience. Benny meant a whole lot to me, not only as a teacher but as a friend. I loved the man.'' - Frank Sinatra.
''You think of clarinet and Benny Goodman simultaneously. He had an innate dignity about him, coupled with his integrity in music. He was a step in the refinement of jazz. He upheld standards that were never less than the Carnegie Hall type of thing. He taught me the value of rehearsing and discipline, and that's a great value in any craft.'' - Peggy Lee.
''The world's greatest artist on the classical clarinet, and his orchestra was one of the best of all time.'' - Steve Allen.
''He proved that good music could reach the general public. He was the most popular figure in the history of jazz to reach a non-jazz public. He was the Beatles of his day. And he did it with pure, uncompromising music. He never compromised.'' - George Wein.
Next Thread |
Previous Thread |
Next Message |