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Benjamin David Goodman (May 30, 1909 - June 13, 1986), best known as Benny Goodman, was an American jazz clarinetist and bandleader known as the "King of Swing".
In the mid-1930s, Goodman led one of the most popular musical groups in the United States. His concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City on January 16, 1938 is described by critic Bruce Eder as "the single most important jazz or popular music concert in history: jazz's 'coming out' party to the world of 'respectable' music."
Goodman's bands launched the careers of many major jazz artists. During an era of racial segregation, he led one of the first well-known integrated jazz groups. Goodman performed nearly to the end of his life while exploring an interest in classical music.
Goodman was born in Chicago, the ninth of twelve children of poor Jewish emigrants from the Russian Empire. His father, David Goodman (1873-1926), came to America in 1892 from Warsaw in partitioned Poland, and became a tailor. His mother, Dora (ne;e Grisinsky, 1873-1964), came from Kovno, partitioned Poland. His parents met in Baltimore, Maryland, and moved to Chicago before Goodman's birth. With little income and a large family, they moved to the low-rent Maxwell Street neighborhood, an overcrowded slum near the railroad yards and surrounding factories, populated mostly by Irish, German, Scandinavian, Italian, Polish, and Jewish immigrants. Chicago social activist Jane Addams described the surroundings:
The streets are inexpressibly dirty, the number of schools inadequate, sanitary legislation unenforced, the street lighting bad, the paving miserable and altogether lacking in the alleys and smaller streets, and the stables foul beyond description. Hundreds of houses are unconnected with the street sewer."
Money was a constant problem in the family. Goodman's father earned at most $20 per week. On Sundays, his father took the children to free band concerts in Douglas Park, which was the first time Goodman experienced live professional performances. To give his children some skills and an appreciation for music, his father enrolled ten-year-old Goodman and two of his brothers in music lessons at the Kehelah Jacob Synagogue, which charged his father only 25 per lesson, including the use of the synagogue's instruments.
Goodman, in a 1975 interview
The following year Goodman joined the boys club band at Jane Addams's Hull House, where he received lessons from the director James Sylvester for a small cost. By joining the band, he was entitled to spend two weeks at a summer camp about 50 miles (80 km) from Chicago. It was the only time he was able to get away from the bleak environment of his urban neighborhood.
He also received two years of instruction from the classically trained clarinetist Franz Schoepp. His early influences were New Orleans jazz clarinetists working in Chicago, notably Johnny Dodds, Leon Roppolo and Jimmie Noone. Goodman learned quickly, becoming a strong player at an early age and soon playing professionally in various bands.
Goodman made his professional debut in 1921 at the Central Park Theater on Chicago's West Side. He entered Harrison Technical High School in Chicago in 1922. He joined the musicians' union in 1923 and by the age of 14 was in a band featuring Bix Beiderbecke. Goodman attended Lewis Institute (now Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1924 as a high-school sophomore, while also playing the clarinet in a dance hall band. (He was awarded an honorary LL.D. from IIT in 1968.)
When Goodman was 16, he joined one of Chicago's top bands, the Ben Pollack Orchestra, with which he made his first recordings in 1926. When he was 17, his father was killed by a passing car after stepping off a streetcar. His father's death was "the saddest thing that ever happened in our family," Goodman said.
Goodman made his first record under his own name for Vocalion two years later. He recorded with the regular Pollack band and smaller groups drawn from the orchestra through 1929. The side sessions produced scores of sides recorded for the various dimestore record labels under an array of group names, including Mills' Musical Clowns, Goody's Good Timers, the Hotsy Totsy Gang, Jimmy Backen's Toe Ticklers, Dixie Daisies, and Kentucky Grasshoppers.
Goodman moved to New York City and became a successful session musician in the late 1920s and early 1930s, mostly with Ben Pollack's band between 1926 and 1929. In a notable Victor recording session on March 21, 1928, Goodman played alongside Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Joe Venuti in the All-Star Orchestra, directed by Nathaniel Shilkret. He played with the nationally known studio and performing bands of Ben Selvin, Red Nichols, Ted Lewis and Isham Jones, although he is not on any of Jones's records. He recorded sides for Brunswick under the name Benny Goodman's Boys, a band that featured Glenn Miller. In 1928, Goodman and Miller wrote the instrumental tune "Room 1411", which was released as a Brunswick 78. He also recorded musical soundtracks for movie shorts; fans believe that his clarinet can be heard on the soundtrack of One A.M., a Charlie Chaplin comedy re-released to theaters in 1934.
While Goodman was a successful session musician, the record producer John H. Hammond arranged for a series of recordings of jazz sides for Columbia Records from 1933 to 1935, when Goodman signed a recording contract with RCA Victor, during his success on radio. The all-star Columbia sides featured Jack Teagarden, Joe Sullivan, Dick McDonough, Arthur Schutt, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, Coleman Hawkins (for one session), the vocalists Teagarden and Mildred Bailey, and the first two recorded vocals by a young Billie Holiday. A number of commercial studio sides were also recorded under Goodman's name for Melotone Records between late 1930 and mid-1931.
In 1934 Goodman auditioned for the NBC radio program Let's Dance, a well-regarded three-hour weekly program featuring various styles of dance music. His familiar theme song by that title was based on Invitation to the Dance, by Carl Maria von Weber. Since he needed new arrangements every week for the show, Hammond suggested that he purchase "hot" (swing) arrangements from Fletcher Henderson, a black musician from Atlanta who had New York's most popular African-American band in the 1920s and early 1930s.
An experienced businessman, Goodman helped Henderson in 1934 when the Henderson orchestra disbanded. He let Henderson write arrangements, which Fletcher, his brother Horace and wife, Leora, usually copied from his own records, as Fletcher had almost no scores left. The Henderson method had usually been head arrangements. Goodman hired Henderson's band members to teach his musicians how to play the music. In 1932, his career began with Fletcher Henderson. Although Henderson's orchestra was at its height of creativity, it had not reached any peaks of popularity. During the Depression, Fletcher disbanded his orchestra because he was in debt.
In early 1935, Goodman's band was one of three featured on Let's Dance (the others were led by Xavier Cugat and by "Kel Murray" [Murray Kellner]), playing arrangements by Henderson along with hits such as "Get Happy" and "Limehouse Blues", by the composer and arranger Spud Murphy. Goodman's portion of the program from New York, at 12:30 a.m. Eastern Time, aired too late to attract a large East Coast audience. However, unknown to him, the time slot gave him an avid following on the West Coast (they heard him at 9:30 p.m. Pacific Time). He and his band remained on Let's Dance until May of that year when a strike by employees of the series' sponsor, Nabisco, forced the cancellation of the radio show. An engagement was booked at Manhattan's Roosevelt Grill (filling in for Guy Lombardo), but the crowd there expected "sweet" music and Goodman's band was unsuccessful. The band set out on a tour of the United States in May 1935, but was still poorly received. By August 1935, Goodman found himself with a band that was nearly broke, disillusioned and ready to quit.
On July 31, 1935, a record of the Goodman band playing "King Porter Stomp" was released as Victor 25090. The B-side was "Sometimes I'm Happy", and both were Henderson arrangements, recorded July 1. Reportedly in Pittsburgh at the Stanley Theater some of the young members of the audience danced in the aisles, but in general these arrangements had little impact on the band's tour until August 19, when they arrived in Oakland, California, to play at McFadden's Ballroom. There, Goodman and his band, including Krupa, Bunny Berigan, and the singer Helen Ward, found a large crowd of young dancers, raving and cheering the hot music they had heard on the Let's Dance radio show.Herb Caen wrote that "from the first note, the place was in an uproar." One night later, at Pismo Beach, the show was another flop, and the band thought the overwhelming reception in Oakland had been a fluke.[a]
The next night, August 21, 1935, at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, Goodman and his band began a three-week engagement. On top of the Let's Dance airplay, Al Jarvis had been playing Goodman records on KFWB radio, and Los Angeles fans were primed to hear him in person. Goodman started the evening with stock arrangements, but after an indifferent response, he began the second set with the arrangements by Fletcher Henderson and Spud Murphy. According to Willard Alexander, the band's booking agent, Krupa said, "If we're gonna die, Benny, let's die playing our own thing." The crowd broke into cheers and applause. News reports spread word of the exciting new music and the enthusiastic dancing to it.
The Palomar engagement was such a marked success that it is often described as the beginning of the swing era. According to Donald Clarke, "It is clear in retrospect that the Swing Era had been waiting to happen, but it was Goodman and his band that touched it off."
The reception of American swing was less positive in Europe, however. Some, like the British author J. C. Squire, filed a complaint with the UK's BBC radio and demanded it stop playing Goodman's music, which he called "an awful series of jungle noises which can hearten no man." In 1935 Germany's Nazi party barred all jazz from being played over German radio, claiming it was part of a Jewish conspiracy to destroy Germany's culture. Similarly, Italy's fascist government banned the broadcast of any music composed or played by Jewish artists, which they said threatened "the flower of our race, the youth."
In November 1935 Goodman accepted an invitation to play in Chicago at the Joseph Urban Room at the Congress Hotel. His stay there extended to six months, and his popularity was cemented by nationwide radio broadcasts over NBC affiliate stations. While in Chicago, the band recorded If I Could Be with You, Stompin' at the Savoy, and Goody, Goody. Goodman also played three special concerts produced by the Chicago socialite and jazz aficionado Helen Oakley. These "Rhythm Club" concerts at the Congress Hotel included sets in which Goodman and Krupa sat in with Fletcher Henderson's band, perhaps the first racially integrated big band appearing before a paying audience in the United States. Goodman and Krupa played in a trio with Teddy Wilson on piano. Both combinations were well received, and Wilson stayed on.
In his 1935-1936 radio broadcasts from Chicago, Goodman was introduced as the "Rajah of Rhythm."Slingerland Drum Company had been calling Krupa the "King of Swing" as part of a sales campaign, but shortly after Goodman and his crew left Chicago in May 1936 to spend the summer filming The Big Broadcast of 1937 in Hollywood, the title "King of Swing" was applied to Goodman by the media.
At the end of June 1936, Goodman went to Hollywood, where, on June 30, 1936, his band began CBS's Camel Caravan, its third and (according to Connor and Hicks) its greatest sponsored radio show, co-starring Goodman and his old boss Nathaniel Shilkret. By spring 1936, Fletcher Henderson was writing arrangements for Goodman's band.
In late 1937, Goodman's publicist, Wynn Nathanson, suggested that Goodman and his band should play Carnegie Hall in New York City. The sold-out concert was held on the evening of January 16, 1938. It is regarded as one of the most significant in jazz history. After years of work by musicians from all over the country, jazz had finally been accepted by mainstream audiences. Recordings of the concert were made, but even by the technology of the day the equipment used was not of the finest quality. Acetate recordings of the concert were made, and aluminum studio masters were also cut.
The recording was produced by Albert Marx as a special gift for his wife, Helen Ward, and a second set for Benny. He contracted Artists Recording Studio to make 2 sets. Artists Recording only had 2 turntables so they farmed out the second set to Raymond Scott's recording studio.
It was Benny's sister-in-law who found the recordings in Benny's apartment [in 1950] and brought them to Benny's attention.
Goodman took the newly discovered recording to Columbia, and a selection was issued on LP as The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert. These recordings have not been out of print since they were first issued. In early 1998, the aluminum masters were rediscovered, and a new CD set of the concert was released based on these masters. The album released based on those masters, The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert, went on to be one of the best-selling live jazz albums of all time.
Charlie Christian was playing at the Ritz in Oklahoma City where ... John Hammond heard him in 1939. Hammond recommended him to Benny Goodman, but the band leader wasn't interested. The idea of an electrified guitar didn't appeal, and Goodman didn't care for Christian's flashy style of dressing. Reportedly, Hammond personally installed Christian onstage during a break in a Goodman concert in Beverly Hills. Irritated to see Christian among the band, Goodman struck up "Rose Room", not expecting the guitarist to know the tune. What followed amazed everyone who heard the 45-minute performance.
Charlie was a hit on the electric guitar and remained in the Benny Goodman Sextet for two years (1939-1941). He wrote many of the group's head arrangements (some of which Goodman took credit for) and was an inspiration to all. The sextet made him famous and provided him with a steady income while Charlie worked on legitimizing, popularizing, revolutionizing, and standardizing the electric guitar as a jazz instrument.
Christian's recordings and rehearsal dubs made with Goodman in the early 1940s are widely known and were released by Columbia.
Goodman continued his success throughout the late 1930s with his big band, his trio and quartet, and the sextet formed in August 1939, the same month Goodman returned to Columbia Records after four years with RCA Victor. At Columbia, John Hammond, his future brother-in-law, produced most of his sessions. By the mid-1940s, however, big bands had lost much of their popularity. In 1941, ASCAP had a licensing war with music publishers. From 1942 to 1944 and again in 1948, the musicians' union went on strike against the major record labels in the United States, and singers acquired the popularity that the big bands had once enjoyed. During the 1942-44 strike, the War Department approached the union and requested the production of V-Discs, a set of records containing new recordings for soldiers to listen to, thereby boosting the rise of new artists Also, by the late 1940s, swing was no longer the dominant style of jazz musicians.
By the 1940s, some jazz musicians were borrowing advanced ideas from classical music, while others, such as Charlie Parker, were broadening the rhythmic, harmonic and melodic vocabulary of swing, creating bebop (bop). The recordings Goodman made in bop style for Capitol Records were highly praised by jazz critics. When Goodman was starting a bebop band, he hired Buddy Greco, Zoot Sims, Wardell Gray and a few other modern players.
Pianist/arranger Mary Lou Williams had been a favorite of Benny's since she first appeared on the national scene in 1936 .... [A]s Goodman warily approached the music of [Charlie] Parker and [Dizzy] Gillespie, he turned to Williams for musical guidance. ... Pianist Mel Powell was the first to introduce the new music to Benny in 1945, and kept him abreast to what was happening around 52nd Street.--%u2009Schoenberg
Goodman enjoyed the bebop and cool jazz that was beginning to arrive in the 1940s. When he heard Thelonious Monk, a celebrated pianist and accompanist to bop players Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Kenny Clarke, he remarked, "I like it, I like that very much. I like the piece and I like the way he played it. ... I think he's got a sense of humor and he's got some good things there."
Benny had heard this Swedish clarinet player named Stan Hasselgard playing bebop, and he loved it ... So he started a bebop band. But after a year and a half, he became frustrated. He eventually reformed his band and went back to playing Fletcher Henderson arrangements. Benny was a swing player and decided to concentrate on what he does best.--%u2009Nate Guidry
By 1953, Goodman had completely changed his mind about bebop. "Maybe bop has done more to set music back for years than anything. ... Basically it's all wrong. It's not even knowing the scales. ... Bop was mostly publicity and people figuring angles."
Goodman's first classical recording was made on April 25, 1938, when he recorded Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581, with the Budapest Quartet. After his bop period, Goodman furthered his interest in classical music written for the clarinet, and frequently met with top classical clarinetists of the day. In 1946, he met Ingolf Dahl, an emigre classical composer on the faculty of the University of Southern California, who was then the musical director of the Victor Borge show. They played chamber music together (Brahms, Milhaud, Hindemith, Debussy) and in 1948 Goodman played in the world premiere performance of Dahl's Concerto a Tre.
In 1949, when he was 40, Goodman decided to study with Reginald Kell, one of the world's leading classical clarinetists. To do so, he had to change his entire technique: instead of holding the mouthpiece between his front teeth and lower lip, as he had done since he first took a clarinet in hand 30 years earlier, Goodman learned to adjust his embouchure to the use of both lips and even to use new fingering techniques. He had his old finger calluses removed and started to learn how to play his clarinet again--almost from scratch.
Goodman commissioned many compositions for clarinet and chamber ensembles or orchestra that have become standard pieces of classical repertoire. He also premiered other works by leading composers, namely Contrasts, by Be;la Bartk; Clarinet Concerto No. 2, Op. 115, by Malcolm Arnold; Derivations for Clarinet and Band, by Morton Gould; Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, by Francis Poulenc; and Clarinet Concerto, by Aaron Copland. Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs, by Leonard Bernstein, was commissioned for Woody Herman's big band, but it was premiered by Goodman. Herman was the dedicatee (1945) and first performer (1946) of Igor Stravinsky's Ebony Concerto, but many years later Stravinsky made another recording, this time with Goodman as the soloist. Goodman notably also premiered Francis Poulenc's Clarinet Sonata, notorious for its difficulty, on April 10, 1963.
He made a further recording of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in July 1956 with the Boston Symphony String Quartet, at the Berkshire Festival; on the same occasion he also recorded Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Munch. He also recorded the clarinet concertos of Weber and Carl Nielsen.
Other recordings by Goodman of classical compositions are:
After forays outside swing, Goodman started a new band in 1953. According to Donald Clarke, this was not a happy time for Goodman.
In 1953 Goodman re-formed his classic band for an expensive tour with Louis Armstrong's All Stars that turned into a famous disaster. He managed to insult Armstrong at the beginning; then he was appalled at the vaudeville aspects of Louis's act ... a contradiction of everything Goodman stood for.--%u2009Donald Clarke
This led to a feud with Armstrong, which spilled into the public arena when Armstrong left Goodman hanging during a joint performance where Goodman called Armstrong back onstage to wrap up the show. Armstrong refused to perform alongside Goodman, which led essentially to the end of their friendship, cordial or otherwise.
Goodman's band appeared as a specialty act in major musical features, including The Big Broadcast of 1937; Hollywood Hotel (1938); Syncopation (1942); The Powers Girl (1942); Stage Door Canteen (1943); The Gang's All Here (1943); Sweet and Low-Down (1944), Goodman's only starring feature; Make Mine Music (1946) and A Song Is Born (1948).
Goodman's success story was told in the 1955 motion picture The Benny Goodman Story, starring Steve Allen and Donna Reed and produced by Universal-International as a follow-up to the successful The Glenn Miller Story, produced the year before. The screenplay was heavily fictionalized, but the music was the real draw. Many of Goodman's professional colleagues appear in the film, including Ben Pollack, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton and Harry James. A special appearance was made by the New Orleans jazz legend Kid Ory, who was pleased that Goodman remembered him.
Goodman was regarded by some as a demanding taskmaster, by others as an arrogant and eccentric martinet. Many musicians spoke of "The Ray", Goodman's trademark glare that he directed at a musician who failed to perform to his demanding standards. The guitarist Allan Reuss incurred Goodman's displeasure on one occasion, and Goodman relegated him to the rear of the bandstand, where his contribution would be drowned out by the other musicians. The vocalists Anita O'Day and Helen Forrest spoke bitterly of their experiences singing with Goodman. "The twenty or so months I spent with Benny felt like twenty years," said Forrest. "When I look back, they seem like a life sentence." At the same time, there are reports that he privately funded several college educations and was sometimes very generous, though always secretly. When a friend once asked him why, he reportedly said, "Well, if they knew about it, everyone would come to me with their hand out."
--Lionel Hampton on Benny Goodman
Goodman was also responsible for a significant step in racial integration in America. In the early 1930s, black and white musicians could not play together in most clubs and concerts. In the Southern states, racial segregation was enforced by the Jim Crow laws. Goodman broke with tradition by hiring Teddy Wilson to play with him and the drummer Gene Krupa in the Benny Goodman Trio. In 1936, he added the vibraphonist Lionel Hampton to form the Benny Goodman Quartet. In 1939 Goodman added the pioneering jazz guitarist Charlie Christian to his band and small ensembles; Christian played with him until his death from tuberculosis less than three years later. This integration in music happened ten years before Jackie Robinson became the first black American to enter Major League Baseball. "[Goodman's] popularity was such that he could remain financially viable without touring the South, where he would have been subject to arrest for violating Jim Crow laws." According to Jazz by Ken Burns, when someone asked him why he "played with that nigger" (referring to Teddy Wilson), Goodman replied, "I'll knock you out if you use that word around me again".
In 1962, the Benny Goodman Orchestra toured the Soviet Union as part of a cultural exchange program between the two nations after the Cuban missile crisis and the end of that phase of the Cold War; both visits were part of then-current efforts to normalize relations between the United States and the USSR. The Bolshoi Ballet came to the United States, and the Benny Goodman Orchestra toured the USSR. Some members of this band were the jazz trombonist Jimmy Knepper, the saxophonist Jerry Dodgion, and the guitarist Turk Van Lake (Vanig Hovsepian).
Goodman married Hammond's sister Alice Frances Hammond (1913-1978) on March 20, 1942. They had two daughters, Benjie and Rachel; they also raised Alice's three daughters from her first marriage, to the British politician Arthur Duckworth, from whom she had obtained a divorce. Goodman's daughter Rachel became a classically trained pianist; she sometimes performed in concert with him, beginning when she was sixteen.
Hammond had encouraged Goodman to integrate his band, persuading him to employ the pianist Teddy Wilson. But Hammond's tendency to interfere in the musical affairs of Goodman's bands and others led Goodman to pull away from him. In 1953 they had another falling-out during Goodman's ill-fated tour with Louis Armstrong, which was produced by Hammond.
Goodman appeared on a 1975 PBS salute to Hammond but remained at a distance. In the 1980s, following the death of Alice Goodman, Hammond and Goodman, both by then elderly, reconciled. On June 25, 1985, Goodman appeared at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City for "A Tribute to John Hammond".
After winning numerous polls over the years as best jazz clarinetist, Goodman was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1957.
He continued to play on records and in small groups. In the early 1970s he collaborated with George Benson after the two met taping a PBS salute to John Hammond, recreating some of Goodman's famous duets with Charlie Christian.
Benson later appeared on several tracks of a Goodman album released as Seven Come Eleven. In general Goodman continued to play in the swing style he was best known for. He did, however, practice and perform classical clarinet pieces and commissioned compositions for clarinet. In 1960, for example, he continued to enchant an audience of thousands in a performance of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto while collaborating with the conductor Alfredo Antonini at the Lewisohn Stadium open air concert venue in New York City. Occasionally he organized a new band to play at a jazz festival or go on an international tour.
Despite increasing health problems, he continued to play until his death from a heart attack in New York City in 1986, at the age of 77, in his home at Manhattan House, 200 East 66th Street. A small private funeral for his family only was held in Stamford, Connecticut, where he had been a long-time resident; in accordance with Goodman's wishes, no clergy officiated, and family members conducted the ceremony. He was buried next to his wife in the Long Ridge Cemetery there. The same year, Goodman was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Goodman's musical papers were donated to Yale University after his death.
He received honorary doctorates from Union College, the University of Illinois, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville,Bard College, Columbia University, Yale University, Brandeis University and Harvard University.
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This discography combines LP and CD reissues of Goodman recordings under the dates of the original 78-rpm recordings through about 1950.
Originally a dance studio built in 1923, the ballroom was managed by Bill Sweet and turned into one of Oakland's best ballrooms. It was known as McFadden's in the 1930s and as Sands Ballroom in the 1970s.