The King of Swing
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Date Posted: Thursday, June 13, 01:53:13pm
BENNY GOODMAN, KING OF SWING, IS DEAD
By JOHN S. WILSON
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.''
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