Sunday Night Jazz Showcase
Program #194 (January 21 at 8:00 p.m.)
Benny Goodman was the first celebrated bandleader of the Swing Era, dubbed "The King of Swing," his popular emergence marking the beginning of the era.
He was an accomplished clarinetist whose distinctive playing gave an identity both to his big band and to the smaller units he led simultaneously. The most popular figure of the first few years of the Swing Era, he continued to perform until his death 50 years later.
Goodman was the son of Russian immigrants David Goodman, a tailor, and Dora Rezinsky Goodman. He first began taking clarinet lessons at ten at a synagogue, after which he joined the band at Hull House, a settlement home. He made his professional debut at 12 and dropped out of high school at 14 to become a musician.
At 16, in August 1925, he joined the Ben Pollack band, with which he made his first released band recordings in December 1926. His first recordings under his own name were made in January 1928. At 20, in September 1929, he left Pollack to settle in New York and work as a freelance musician, working at recording sessions, radio dates, and in the pit bands of Broadway musicals. He also made recordings under his own name with pickup bands, first reaching the charts with "He's Not Worth Your Tears" (vocal by Scrappy Lambert) on Melotone Records in January 1931.
He signed to Columbia Records in the fall of 1934 and reached the Top Ten in early 1934 with "Ain't Cha Glad?" (vocal by Jack Teagarden), "Riffin' the Scotch" (vocal by Billie Holiday), and "Ol' Pappy" (vocal by Mildred Bailey), and in the spring with "I Ain't Lazy, I'm Just Dreamin'" (vocal by Jack Teagarden).
These record successes and an offer to perform at Billy Rose's Music Hall inspired Goodman to organize a permanent performing orchestra, which gave its first performance on June 1, 1934. His instrumental recording of "Moon Glow" hit number one in July, and he scored two more Top Ten hits in the fall with the instrumentals "Take My Word" and "Bugle Call Rag."
After a four-and-a-half-month stay at the Music Hall, he was signed for the Saturday night Let's Dance program on NBC radio, playing the last hour of the three-hour show. During the six months he spent on the show, he scored another six Top Ten hits on Columbia, then switched to RCA Victor, for which he recorded five more Top Ten hits by the end of the year.
After leaving Let's Dance, Goodman undertook a national tour in the summer of 1935. It was not particularly successful until he reached the West Coast, where his segment of Let's Dance had been heard three hours earlier than on the East Coast. His performance at the Palomar Ballroom near Los Angeles on August 21, 1935, was a spectacular success, remembered as the date on which the Swing Era began.
He moved on to a six-month residency at the Congress Hotel in Chicago, beginning in November. He scored 15 Top Ten hits in 1936, including the chart-toppers "It's Been So Long," "Goody-Goody," "The Glory of Love," "These Foolish Things Remind Me of You," and "You Turned the Tables on Me" (all vocals by Helen Ward). He became the host of the radio series The Camel Caravan, which ran until the end of 1939, and in October 1936, the orchestra made its film debut in The Big Broadcast of 1937. The same month, Goodman began a residency at the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York.
Goodman's next number one hit, in February 1937, featured Ella Fitzgerald on vocals and was the band's first hit with new trumpeter Harry James. It was also the first of six Top Ten hits during the year, including the chart-topping "This Year's Kisses" (vocal by Margaret McCrae). In December, the band appeared in another film, Hollywood Hotel.
The peak of Goodman's renown in the 1930s came on January 16, 1938, when he performed a concert at Carnegie Hall, but he went on to score 14 Top Ten hits during the year, among them the number ones "Don't Be That Way" (an instrumental) and "I Let a Song Go out of My Heart" (vocal by Martha Tilton), as well as the thrilling instrumental "Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)," which later was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
By 1939, Goodman had lost such major instrumentalists as Gene Krupa and Harry James, who left to found their own bands, and he faced significant competition from newly emerged bandleaders such as Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller. But he still managed to score eight Top Ten hits during the year, including the chart-topper "And the Angels Sing" (vocal by Martha Tilton), another inductee to the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Goodman's lengthy career and his popular success especially in the 1930s and '40s has resulted in an enormous catalog. His major recordings are on Columbia and RCA Victor, but Music Masters has put out a series of archival discs from his personal collection, and many small labels have issued air-checks. The recordings continue to demonstrate Goodman's remarkable talents as an instrumentalist and as a bandleader.
(provided by Allmusic)