Swing that music

October 12, 2016

Fans of Swing Era music believe it to be as alive today as it was when it first burst upon the popular music scene, and there are many musicians around who are happy to prove them right. That this style is still so popular is quite remarkable when set against the thought that 21 August 2016 was the 81st anniversary of Benny Goodman’s breakthrough dance date at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles. However you look at it, eight decades is a long time.Benny Goodman - Copy Benny’s band that night was cheered by an unexpected and eager audience that had been growing in the Pacific time zone for months and in the course of the next couple of years their numbers doubled and redoubled first all across the country and eventually around the world.

Although only newly in the public’s consciousness, this new development in jazz that was labeled ‘swing’ had been heard before that night in 1935 because the style had been evolving since the late years of the previous decade. Bands leading the way included those of Jelly Roll Morton, Luis Russell, Fess Williams, Erskine Tate, and Chick Webb, with arrangers Don Redman, Edgar Sampson, and Fletcher Henderson among those importantly involved. From the late 1930s onward, Goodman’s benchmark style was built upon the work of arrangers such as Henderson and Jimmy Mundy. Playing their charts were skilled sidemen, among them trombonist Red Ballard, saxophonists Hymie Schertzer and Art Rollini, pianist Jess Stacy, bassist Harry Goodman (Benny’s brother), and guitarist Allan Reuss. Soloists appeared who were important in building the band’s fan base, although Goodman himself was always firmly in the spotlight. close up detail of a woodwind clarinetAt the time of the Palomar date the band’s most exciting soloist was trumpeter Bunny Berigan, although he left the band a few weeks later. Changes brought in trumpeters Ziggy Elman and Harry James, tenor saxophonist Vido Musso, and, of significant importance to the band’s style and popular appeal, drummer Gene Krupa. His predecessors, Stan King and Sammy Weiss, were skilful dance band drummers and on earlier recordings do everything right. But on later dates Krupa adds that indefinable something that inspired the rest of the band, which in turn electrified audiences and helped make the band the popular powerhouse it was to become.

On 16 January 1938 the band appeared at Carnegie Hall, an occasion recorded (on a single overhead microphone) but not released until the early 1950s, by which time LPs had arrived.bg-ch This album has never been out of circulation and as the years have passed reissues have benefited enormously from improvements to the sound quality. Not at all surprising is the fact that music from the Swing Era turns up often in films and on television, in dramas and documentaries. Of the music played on these occasions Benny Goodman’s is one of the most common; notably Sing, Sing, Sing the Louis Prima piece that became synonymous with Goodman and Krupa, thanks in large part to the climactic moments of the Carnegie Hall concert.bg-ch-jasmine Unfortunately, Benny did not care to share the spotlight with anyone else and Krupa’s personal popularity, which had grown steadily since the Palomar dance date, brought about his departure from the band a little over a year after the Carnegie Hall concert.

So has this music of a bygone age been forgotten? Not at all. Indeed, in some quarters it is just as alive now as it was then. The long ago departure of jazz from the dance floor and in to the concert hall has meant that one of the key qualities of swing style has been sometimes overlooked. This is the fact that most of the music was composed, arranged and played for dancing. It should not be at all surprising therefore that Goodman’s music has had a lasting appeal among dancers, an appeal that is still going strong today. Among the gatherings for fans of dance of this kind is Lindy Focus in Asheville, North Carolina, where musicians and dancers and teachers assemble for a lively festival. The musicians who have played at this venue include local resident and bandleader Michael Gamble, who leads The Rhythmic Serenaders, and Jonathan Stout, leader of the Lindy Focus All Star Orchestra.

Michael Gamble The Rhythmic Serenaders (Organic OR 16552)

On this highly entertaining album, Michael Gamble draws upon music linked to several key names from the Swing Era. For example, he presents Billie Holiday’s composition Fine And Mellow as well as other songs with which she is associated, including What A Night, What A Moon, What A Boy and Back In Your Own Back Yard. Then there are A Mellow Bit Of Rhythm, written by Mary Lou Williams for Andy Kirk’s Clouds Of Joy, Sweets, by Harry Edison for Count Basie’s band, a couple of songs played by Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five, Scottie and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, while Goodman is represented by way of songs recorded by his sextet and big band: I Never Knew, Seven Come Eleven and Pick-a-Rib.gamble The Rhythm Serenaders assembled by bass player Michael are clarinetists and saxophonists Keenan McKenzie and Paul Consentino, trumpeters Gordon Au and Noah Hocker, trombonists Lucian Cobb and David Wilken, pianists Craig Gildner and James Posedel, guitarists Jonathan Stout and Brooks Prumo, and drummers Josh Collazo and Russ Wilson (who sings on two tracks), while vocalist Laura Windley appears on four tracks.

Throughout, there are fine solos from both Keenan and Paul and also by other members of the collective. These other soloists include James, Jonathan and Noah on Slidin’ And Glidin’, Seven Come Eleven (a theme originating with Charlie Christian) and Sweets, while Craig and Gordon are heard on I Never Knew. Gordon also solos on Fine And Mellow, providing an effective bluesy accompaniment to Laura’s introspective vocal. Everyone with a liking for the swinging music that captivated audiences way back when – and especially those who like to dance – will enjoy this album. And neatly completing the circle that embraces these eight-decades of swing, this recording session took place in Asheville’s Isis Music Hall, which first opened in 1937.

For more on Michael Gamble, contact Holly Cooper at Mouthpiece Music.

This album is available at the usual outlets, including Amazon.

Elsewhere on this site there is more on Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa – just follow the links.

Over the years there have been several books on Benny Goodman, notably D. Russell Connor’s bio-discography, BG On The Record, and his sequel, Benny Goodman: Wrappin’ It Up, as well as Benny Goodman and the Swing Era by James Lincoln Collier and Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman by Ross Firestone. There is also one in the Oxford Studies in Recorded Jazz series, Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert by Catherine Tackley. My own book on Goodman is very brief – it was part of a series of monographs on key jazz figures – and it is long out of print (although still around on the Internet for pennies). I mention it only because it is especially dear to me as it is the only book of mine to be translated into Japanese. (I confess I skipped the proofreading stage.)bg-japan

Benny in Brussels

December 30, 2015

Benny Goodman The Complete Benny In Brussels (Solar 4569965)

During the years after swing was edged aside by bop, the era’s king played on. Always eager to play, Benny Goodman played often with small groups, especially assembled big bands, and also played classical music. Benny Goodman - CopyHe also sometimes dropped by at clubs, sitting in with and without invitation, his manner sometimes underlining his reputation for eccentricity if not outright ill manners. One evening in 1962 Gene Krupa’s quartet was playing at the Metropole in New York City. Dave Frishberg was the pianist in the group and he talked to me about this occasion when I was preparing my biography of Gene Krupa. “We were on the bandstand, just having finished an hour and fifteen minute set, when Benny walked in and the place went crazy. I looked at Gene and his face was white. He says, ‛It’s the King of Swing, and he’s got his horn. I don’t believe this. Here he comes.’ So Benny walked up on the stand and began to try out reeds.” After several minutes of confusion during which the club manager, Jack Waldorf, was practically dragging people in off the street and the camera girl was snapping off pictures as fast as she could, Dave takes up the story: “Benny was finally ready. He said, ‛Brushes, Gene.’ Gene obediently picked up the brushes and flashed a big smile, but I could see he was in a cold fury. Then Benny turned to me and said, ‛Sweet Lorraine in G. Give me a little introduction.’ I complied, and Benny entered in F. He waved me out and continued without piano accompaniment.” An hour later, Benny packed up his instrument and was gone, ignoring those fans who were clamoring for his autograph. Gene KrupaGene, however, obliged, despite being exhausted after playing for more than two hours and as Dave recalls, “he sat patiently on the steps of the bandstand and signed dozens of pictures, writing personal notes on each one, asking each customer, ‛Who shall I inscribe this to?’”

Not only was Goodman’s attitude to the public very different from Krupa’s, there are many tales of how he also frequently alienated fellow musicians, often it seems through thoughtlessness and the long-standing expectation that others served at his whim. I recall Nat Pierce telling me that Benny would often call him suggesting he drop round to the house so they could spend an hour or two playing. Nat eventually discovered the way to get out of these impromptu sessions. He would tell Benny that he would love to do it, but he had a gig – a paying gig. Benny always understood that being paid to play rated higher than playing for fun. Whatever Benny’s peccadilloes, fans continued to flock to his advertised appearances and there was never any shortage of advertising when he occasionally returned to the stage fronting a big band. One of these was assembled for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels.goodman The band included several leading players and it is worth listing the full personnel: Taft Jordan, John Frosk; Emmett Berry; Billy Hodges (t); Rex Peer, Vernon Brown, Willie Dennis (tb); Ernie Mauro, Al Block (as); Zoot Sims, Seldon Powell (ts); Gene Allen (bar); Roland Hanna (p); Billy Bauer (g); Arvell Shaw (b); Roy Burnes (d). Playing a number of concerts between 25 and 31 May, the band was recorded with the results being released several times over the years since then. Most recent of the reissues is this 3-CD set released by Solar Records. While this band does not have the same earthy excitement that the 1936-8 band displayed on some of the live performances that have become available, this is a well-rehearsed line-up. (I’m not sure but I think that Taft Jordan was straw boss.) The brass section is strong and so too is the reed section, while the rhythm section punches along the ensemble so that it turns in some fiery moments. Of course, Benny is the key soloist, and it is good to hear his enthusiastic playing. Zoot Sims, Seldon Powell and Gene Allen have some solos as do Taft Jordan and Vernon Brown. Goodman aside, the most featured instrumentalist is Roland Hanna who plays with an elegance that brings to mind his predecessor Teddy Wilson. There are a dozen tracks by Goodman with the rhythm section and here again Hanna is strongly featured.

Two singers were brought along on this trip to Belgium, Jimmy Rushing and Ethel Ennis. On earlier releases of material from this engagement only one or two songs by Rushing were included and sometimes Ennis was missed off altogether (even though she was sometimes named on the sleeve). Here, Rushing sings two songs on the first CD and six on the second, while on the second CD Ennis sings four songs. The third CD is a real delight for those who enjoy good jazz and blues singing with Rushing singing six songs, Ennis seven, and the pair joining forces in a duet. Regular visitors to this site will know by now that I am very much a fan of Rushing and he is in typically robust form here. Ennis is much less well known, indeed she has always been somewhat overlooked by fans (and promoters and record producers). This particular date was very early in her career but she readily displays confidence and maturity.

Overall, the repertoire on this boxed set meets the likely expectations of fans attending these concerts, few of whom will ever have had the opportunity to see and hear a Goodman band live. Hence there are several warhorses pulled from the old Goodman book, but they are played with verve and enthusiasm; among these are Roll ’Em, One O’Clock Jump, Bugle Call Rag, King Porter Stomp and Sing, Sing, Sing, the last named allowing Roy Burnes his moment in the spotlight as he recreates the number that first brought Gene Krupa to international attention.

Because more than one concert was recorded a few titles are duplicated but that should not put off anyone. This is three and three-quarter hours of music from a bygone age and it is all well worth hearing today.

If big band music is for you, then there is much to entertain and inform on Vintage Bandstand, a site on which Anton Garcia Fernandez delves deeply into the subject. And don’t miss Anton’s other site, Jazz Flashes, where he writes on jazz instrumentalists and singers, sharing his enthusiasm for all that is good in music.

That reminds me of Duke Ellington’s comment that there are only two kinds of music: Good and Bad.

As always, you can find all kinds of music at Amazon.

Looking For Something Specific?

Interested in a Specific Category?