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View Full Version : Jan. 16, 1938 -- Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall



duaneiac
January 16th, 2008, 03:38 AM
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear . . .

Seventy years ago today a milestone in the history of jazz occurred. It may not seem like much now, but the Carnegie Hall debut of pure, unadulterated jazz was an event!

Benny Goodman (just 28 at the time) was the headliner of the evening. If you listen to the recordings of this concert (which weren't discovered and commercially released until 1950) you will understand why. The man was a phenomenal musician and he surrounded himself, both in his small groups and his big band, with some of the most talented musicians in the country. At that time, Goodman's band was unsurpassed, easily the equal of Basie, Ellington, Calloway, Lunceford, Hines, the Dorseys, any one you could name. Goodman's band in 1938 would be the equivalent of say, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in 1978, in terms of popularity, impact, musical bravado, and their ability to blow the roof off. Just as Bruce and his boys were the epitome of what an American rock band should be in 1978, so were Benny and his boys the epitome of what an American swing band should be in 1938.

But this show wasn't just about Benny. He had invited several notable special guests to make the concert a truly memorable event. Count Basie. Lester Young. Buck Clayton. Johnny Hodges. Cootie Williams. Harry Carrney. Bobby Hackett. If you knew swing music, as I'm sure the members of the sold out house did, you knew this concert would be something special.

And special it was, although it started out in an underwhelming fashion. BG and his band opened with their theme, Don't Be That Way. Maybe they were feeling some trepidation about being in Carnegie Hall, maybe they weren't sure how their music would be received there, maybe they felt they didn't belong there. Whatever the reason the band seemed a little reserved until Gene Krupa let loose with a brief but rousing drum break that got the crowd going and seemed to jump start the rest of the band. Throughout the night, Krupa drove that band with the skill of a jockey and the intensity of a drill sergeant.

Not all of the concert worked. There's a "Twenty Years of Jazz" section that goes nowhere and seems to have been included as a sort of artistic justification as to why the band is playing in Carnegie Hall instead of the Paramount Theater. The jam session on "Honeysuckle Rose" is, well, a jam session. It has its moments -- of which, one of the most unforgettable is hearing guitarist Freddie Green having to solo for two choruses because Goodman obviously didn't know he was Basie's rhythm guitarist, not ordinarily a soloist.

But when Goodman was in front of his band, or with his trio/quartet, playing his music, this concert came vividly alive. The Goodman trio/quartet still stands today as one of the finest small groups of any musical genre ever! Listen to the quartet's version of I Got Rhythm. Listen to their version of Dizzy Spells. Is what Lionel Hampton played on that number even humanly possible? These 4 guys were totally bad ass musicians! Underestimate them at your own peril.

The big band was in top form that night too. They kick some serious butt on band staples like "Life Goes to a Party", "Swingtime In the Rockies", "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" (featuring Ziggy Elman's famous "frahlich" style trumpet break) and the evening's killer, the number which has become almost the theme song for the swing era, "Sing, Sing, Sing". Every one nails it on this performance -- Goodman, Krupa, Harry James, and that chilling Jess Stacy piano solo.

The Goodman band, indeed the whole swing era, probably reached it's peak that night. Within a year or two, all of Goodman's stars -- Krupa, James, Hampton, Wilson, Elman -- would have moved on and started their own big bands (some more successful than others). Goodman carried on with a big band, but never had one that surpassed this 1938 band. In less than ten years, the swing era itself would be history and big bands would seem as archaic as button shoes and celluloid collars. But on this night, Jan. 16, 1938, swing, as personified by Benny Goodman and associates, was definitely the undisputed king.

Jazz has come a long way in the past 70 years. I know there are many of you here who don't give a hoot about anything that happened pre-Miles Davis. But if you have open ears, climb into the nearest way-back machine and give a listen to the concert recorded 70 years ago today. You may find yourself applauding just as wildly as the audience did back then.

stuartjewkes
January 16th, 2008, 07:10 AM
Cheers for that, I'll break it out when I get home. I do enjoy this performance and I think you've convinced me to spend some more time with it.

engelbach
January 16th, 2008, 02:46 PM
Thanks, duaneiac, for so eloquently alerting us to this important anniversary.

I've heard the great Sing, Sing, Sing performance many times on the radio, but never listened to the rest of the concert. You've piqued my curiosity.

Pie-eyed blue
January 16th, 2008, 03:25 PM
I'm surprised no one has so far chimed in that the Phil S produced Columbia realease sucks and the Avid is the best!

(I've never heard the Avid, I'm quite happy with the Columbia).

robbo
January 16th, 2008, 04:55 PM
How time flies....

30 years ago, when I still lived in the USA, I did a feature piece for NPR about the concert's 40th anniversary. I focused on Stacy, since I had taped a long and very enlightening interview with him about that night and his superb career.

The Stacy solo, in my view, is a sublime moment in jazz history; it was 30 years ahead of its time, something you could easily imagine Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett creating spontaneously at the height of their creative powers. I asked Jess about it:

He said all that (Sunday) afternoon he had been listening to records of Ravel, Debussy and Edward MacDowell piano works. "That stuff was all floating around in my head when Benny nodded to me to take the solo."

It was an unexpected opporunity for Jess, who had rarely been granted a solo on that number. Jess said Benny liked the rich and complex chords that Jess was feeding him behind Benny's excellent solo that precedes Jess'.

Jess was in superb form all night. Listen to his playing behind Hodges and Carney on Blue Reverie early on. Just perfect. Years ago, Al Casey told me that Johnny Hodges regarded Jess as the best pianist you could have playing behind a soloist, and always regretted he'd not been able to work with Jess more often.

Jess said he thought the solo was the best thing he had ever done. With a grin, Jess offered up one more reason why the "Sing" solo is so good:

"A double scotch at the intermission."

JK Juo
January 16th, 2008, 06:00 PM
I have a CD of this concert. It's great stuff. I happen to prefer this live version of Sing Sing Sing to others I've heard ;). And all the other pieces are great :D

dyrupita
January 17th, 2008, 10:01 AM
I have the columbia rerelease and is great, fantastic liner notes by the way. Did you know that apparently that night Freddie Green played a solo and hardly anybody could hear it?

papsrus
January 17th, 2008, 11:34 AM
Thank you for posting this duaneiac. I'm inspired to get this one now. At the risk of splitting hairs, I notice there are several issues of this one. I gather by the posts below that the Columbia is the way to go?



I'm surprised no one has so far chimed in that the Phil S produced Columbia realease sucks and the Avid is the best!

(I've never heard the Avid, I'm quite happy with the Columbia).


I have the columbia rerelease and is great, fantastic liner notes by the way. Did you know that apparently that night Freddie Green played a solo and hardly anybody could hear it?

An amazon reviewer had this to say about this one (http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Benny-Goodman-Carnegie-Concert/dp/B000HWXGDO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1200588850&sr=1-2):

"... this new Jasmine release has succeeded in both cleanly removing annoying defects and managing to furnish an overall warmer sound without compromising the music, the excitement and ambiance of the occasion and venue."

EDIT: I now have stubled across the Avid controversy. Confusing.



.

duaneiac
January 17th, 2008, 03:59 PM
Thank you for posting this duaneiac. I'm inspired to get this one now. At the risk of splitting hairs, I notice there are several issues of this one. I gather by the posts below that the Columbia is the way to go?


I have the original Columbia release on LP, but don't have a working record player at the moment. I got the Phil Schaap reissued CD version when it came out. It does have a previously unissued performance of "Sometimes I'm Happy", additional applause tracks to give a sense of the evening, and it restores Freddie Green's solo to the jam session (which since Green wasn't a soloist, wasn't really missed on the original Columbia LP). It also has some spoken intro tracks that Goodman recorded as promotional pieces when the original album came out in 1950.

I don't know that I buy Schaap's argument that the surface noise present on his version had to be left in in order not to diminish the overall all ambient room sound of Carnegie Hall itself. The clicks and pops might be aggravating to diehard audiophiles, but the music is usually so full of life, it's easy for me to overlook the extraneous noises.

I don't know about the other issued versions.

Tenorman
January 17th, 2008, 04:21 PM
I've got the UK CBS version in a double LP. The date would be mid to late 60s. I had been given the two soundtrack LPs by a couple of relatives -- (the era of co-ordinated Christmas presents, this was after they stopped buying rolling stock for my Hornby Dublo 3 rail train set) -- and got really interested in Sing Sing Sing. Compared to the live double the soundtrack is very contrived (as was the film)

I saw the Beatles live when I was 13, and I suppose it was an "equivalent" event -- a milestone in music

Tom K
January 18th, 2008, 04:40 AM
Duaneiac's post made me download the concert from iTunes yesterday. I have just started listening to it. Looking forward to hearing more.

duaneiac
January 18th, 2008, 01:52 PM
How time flies....

30 years ago, when I still lived in the USA, I did a feature piece for NPR about the concert's 40th anniversary. I focused on Stacy, since I had taped a long and very enlightening interview with him about that night and his superb career.

The Stacy solo, in my view, is a sublime moment in jazz history; it was 30 years ahead of its time, something you could easily imagine Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett creating spontaneously at the height of their creative powers. I asked Jess about it:

He said all that (Sunday) afternoon he had been listening to records of Ravel, Debussy and Edward MacDowell piano works. "That stuff was all floating around in my head when Benny nodded to me to take the solo."

It was an unexpected opporunity for Jess, who had rarely been granted a solo on that number. Jess said Benny liked the rich and complex chords that Jess was feeding him behind Benny's excellent solo that precedes Jess'.

Jess was in superb form all night. Listen to his playing behind Hodges and Carney on Blue Reverie early on. Just perfect. Years ago, Al Casey told me that Johnny Hodges regarded Jess as the best pianist you could have playing behind a soloist, and always regretted he'd not been able to work with Jess more often.

Jess said he thought the solo was the best thing he had ever done. With a grin, Jess offered up one more reason why the "Sing" solo is so good:

"A double scotch at the intermission."

Thanks, for posting that, robbo. Stacy is an often overlooked pianist. I only have a couple of CDs that spotlight him: "Ec-Stacy", a compilation disc that has tracks from 1935-45, and finds him with Goodman, Bob Crosby, Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell as well as leading his own band, and "Stacy Still Swings", a 1977 solo session on Chiaroscuoro. Think I'll give that last one a listen today.

Interesting to think that Stacy considered that "Sing, Sing, Sing" solo to be his best work. Imagine if that concert had not been recorded and his incredible solo was just played and then gone forever.

I have the recording of that 40th Anniversary Concert that Goodman did at Carnegie Hall. Needless to say, lightning did not strike twice. The main difference is that the band was just put together for that occassion, it was not a working band. Even though it featured some outstanding musicians -- Frank Wess, Buddy Tate, Jack Sheldon, Warren Vache, George Masso, Jimmy Rowles, Connie Kay -- the music just didn't have the spark and polish that a band that played together night after night would bring to it.

I wonder if Goodman even tried to get members of that 1938 band to appear at the 1978 concert? Lionel Hampton is the only one who did, but Harry James, Teddy Wilson, Jess Stacy were all still alive (as were Count Basie and Freddie Green for that matter, although Green may not have been too anxious to play with Goodman again, even 40 years later).

In the liner notes to the 40th Anniversary concert is this anecdote: Goodman was wondering to his wife whether a 40th anniversary concert was a bit of an odd duck and wouldn't a show marking 50 years be more appropriate. The wise Mrs. Goodman responded, "Benny, dear, 50 years would be more . . . unrealistic."

robbo
January 18th, 2008, 09:54 PM
Thanks for the comment. Jess didn't go to the reunion in '78 mainly because he felt his playing skills had diminished rather a lot during the late '70s and his health wasn't the best. I heard him several times at the Sacramento Festival in '75 and again in '76 and he sounded pretty good to me. By NO means the razor-sharp pianist of his heyday, but fine, nevertheless, with his trademark strong left hand (big, too - he could reach an octave and five; the only man I have ever met with bigger hands was the SF Giants pitcher Gaylord Perry). He still had that famous right hand 'trill' he showed me once on his piano, a technique made possible by his hand size.

By the way, his chief piano influence (after his childhood teacher) was Bix. He emphatically insisted his style was fully formed by the time he first heard Earl Hines, and Earl agreed. Both adored the other's playing, and Jess' ears were big enough for him to lavishly praise Keith Jarrett after I played the Kyoto Concert for Jess one rainy afternoon in the Hollywood Hills.

He did take a break from his day job at the Max Factor factory in LA in '68 to go the the 30th anniversary concert. Whitney Balliett writes with characteristic warmth and eloquence about that gig in one of his marvellous books of New Yorker columns. Jess had an extremely ambivalent relationship with Benny. He never forgave the oversights and outright insults he had to put up with while with BG. But, knowing what he did about the man, he still signed up with BG three times over the years. Check out the small band '47 sessions with BG, Jess and Ernie Felice. I think Jess said that when he quit BG the last time, Jimmy Rowles took his place (!). But he did respect BG's skill as a player. Interesting, he always regarded Pee Wee as the superior clarinet jazz artist, not so much for technique but for advanced ideas. True, since Pee Wee was avant garde before anyone knew what the phrase meant.

You are exactly right about the disappointing '78 reunion LP. Good musos, yes, but they never jell. There is one very good BG LP from near the end of his life, with a small band. He is pushed a bit by the other soloists and the result is better than you might expect. This was nearly his final working band, I recall. Wasn't Jack Shelton in it?

Stacy Still Swings is a nice LP that Hank O'Neal of Chiaroscuro invited Jess to record and it was a thrill, he told me. "You know, that man let me play Lover Man for ten minutes!" Jess was very excited to finally be free of the 3:34 barrier of the old ten inch 78s. That reminds me of a comment he made about the Carnegie solo. I asked him if his career would have been different (from '59 to the late '60s, he was almost forgotten, playing solo piano in seedy LA nightclubs) if the Carnegie performance had been released in the late 30s, not 1950 when it was re-discovered. "No," he said matter of factly, "who would have listened to it, given the length? The radio stations would not have played it."

I'm glad you're putting those Stacy albums on the stereo again. I'd invite everyone who appreciates wonderful swing, marvellous accompaniment and melodic richness to discover (or re-discover) his work. He was lionized by everyone who worked with him. In '51, when he was playing solo at the Garden of Allah in LA, no less than Billie Holiday would hop in a cab during a break in her own gig, race over to the Garden and sing with Jess until she had to get back to her real work. That's how much singers (and instrumentalists like Hodges, Hackett and Carney) enjoyed hearing those wonderful fat chords behind them.

papsrus
January 18th, 2008, 10:19 PM
^ Thank you for posting that. Marvelous!