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.

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