By many accounts, the swing era kicked off on August 21, 1935, when Benny Goodman’s band played the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, California. They say that Goodman’s boys were playing it on the sweet side, with stock arrangements and little swing, and the crowds weren’t much having it. Amongst the yawns, Gene Krupa suggested, “If we’re gonna die, Benny, let’s die playing our own thing,” and so the band got out their hot Fletcher Henderson arrangements and hepped the cats to kingdom come. Thus, the swing era was born.
Swing as a genre had emerged earlier in the decade, as the largely distinct styles of hot jazz and orchestrated dance music of the 1920s began to converge as one: jazz made for dancing. Early exponents of the style included the orchestras of Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman, Cab Calloway, the Casa Loma Orchestra, and others. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but you’ll have to ask a musician about it, ’cause I couldn’t tell you.
In a session supervised by Ed Kirkeby, Victor 25090 was recorded on July 1, 1935 at RCA Victor’s Studio 2 in New York City. It was released on July 31, exactly four weeks prior to his date at the Palomar. In the band are Bunny Berigan, Ralph Muzillo, and Nate Kazebier on trumpets, Sterling Ballard and Jack Lacy on trombones, Benny Goodman on clarinet, Toots Mondello and Hymie Schertzer on alto saxophones, Arthur Rollini and Dick Clark on tenor saxes, Frank Froeba on piano Allan Ruess on guitar, Harry Goodman on string bass, Gene Krupa on drums
Benny Goodman’s famous recording of Fletcher Henderson’s arrangement of Jelly Roll Morton’s “King Porter” (Stomp) received high marks from the music publications of the day, and rightly so, it’s a masterwork. Henderson’s own band recorded variations of the arrangement at least thrice, first in 1928 for Columbia, then for Okeh in 1932 as “New King Porter Stomp”, and finally for Vocalion in 1933. Whether or not Benny’s band played this one at the Palomar Ballroom, I really don’t know, but it seems likely.
King Porter, recorded July 1, 1935 by Benny Goodman and his Orch.
On the reverse, they play a little less hot, but nonetheless excellent on “Sometimes I’m Happy”, from Hit the Deck—another Henderson arrangement.
Sometimes I’m Happy, recorded July 1, 1935 by Benny Goodman and his Orch.
Benny Goodman, as pictured in Esquire’s Jazz Book, 1944.
The first birthday ever celebrated on Old Time Blues was the legendary Benny Goodman’s. Now the time has come around once again to pay tribute to one of the most important musical figures of the twentieth century, and one of my own favorites, the one and only King of Swing.
Benjamin David Goodman was born on May 30, 1909, the ninth of twelve children of David and Dora Goodman, a family of poor Jewish immigrants in Chicago, Illinois, a pivotal location in the development of jazz. Goodman’s father took him to free concerts on the weekends, and enrolled him in twenty-five cent music lessons at the local synagogue. He later took clarinet lessons under a classically trained professional. Benny soon joined the boy’s club band at the Hull House. He first played professionally in 1921, and joined Ben Pollack’s Orchestra at the age of sixteen, with whom he made his first commercial recordings in 1926.
In 1928, Goodman made his first records under his own name for Vocalion and Brunswick as “Bennie Goodman’s Boys”. By that time, he had already recorded quite extensively, and continued to work prolifically as a studio musician until forming his own orchestra. After making a series of dance band recordings for Brunswick’s Melotone label in 1930 and ’31, and one date with Columbia the same year, Goodman, with the help of John Hammond, who arranged for a series of sessions for Columbia, put together the first incarnation of the band that would make him famous in 1933. With Jack Teagarden, Gene Krupa, and others in-and-out, Goodman’s new band played swing. In June of 1934, Goodman and his orchestra opened at Billy Rose’s new Music Hall at 52nd and Broadway, and secured a spot on the NBC radio show Let’s Dance. With need to expand his repertoire as a result of his newfound success, Goodman began purchasing sophisticated arrangements from Fletcher Henderson. In 1935, Goodman’s orchestra switched from the failing Columbia to Victor Records, which soon produced a hit with “King Porter Stomp”.
On August 21, 1935, Benny Goodman’s orchestra kicked off the swing era with a famous engagement at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, California. In 1937, Goodman and his orchestra appeared in The Big Broadcast of 1937 and Hollywood Hotel. As Goodman’s popularity continued to soar, Goodman earned the distinction of leading the first jazz ensemble to play at Carnegie Hall, at his legendary concert on January 16, 1938. In addition to his orchestra, Goodman also led small groups, his famous Trios, Quartets, and Sextets. Goodman refuted segregation, employing the likes of Charlie Christian, Lionel Hampton, and Teddy Wilson, once stating, “If a guy’s got it, let him give it. I’m selling music, not prejudice.” At various points, his band employed the enticing vocals of Helen Ward, Martha Tilton, and Peggy Lee, among many others. In 1939, he left Victor to return to Columbia, which had been purchased and revived by CBS, with his band appearing on first issue of the revived label. His success did not falter through the end of the swing era in the middle of the 1940s. Even after swing had swung, Goodman was still in demand as a revered jazz musician. In 1947, he switched labels once again, to Johnny Mercer’s Capitol Records. He made forays into bebop, cool jazz, and classical music. Benny Goodman continued to play until his death from a heart attack on June 13, 1986.
Columbia 2958-D was recorded on August 16, 1934 in New York City. In the band are Russ Case, Jerry Neary, and Sam Shapiro on trumpets, Red Ballard and Jack Lacey on trombone, Benny Goodman on clarinet, Hymie Schertzer and Ben Kantor on alto sax, Arthur Rollini on tenor sax, Claude Thornhill on piano, George Van Eps on guitar, Hank Wayland on string bass, and Sammy Weiss on drums. As indicated by the “Music Hall” appellation, this record dates to Goodman’s stretch at Billy Rose’s Music Hall.
First up is Benny Goodman’s amazingly energetic first recording of “Bugle Call Rag”, most certainly my favorite recording of the standard. Goodman recorded another notable version for Victor in 1936, and it remained a staple of his repertoire.
Bugle Call Rag, recorded August 16, 1934 by Benny Goodman and his Music Hall Orchestra.
Besides Prohibition, another momentous event that occurred on January 16 was Benny Goodman’s legendary concert at Carnegie Hall, which happened in 1938. It was the first jazz concert ever held at Carnegie Hall, and has been credited as the event that brought swing jazz into the mainstream. Though Goodman was initially hesitant to take the gig, he did following the success of Hollywood Hotel, in which he appeared. At first, the audience’s reception was lukewarm, but soon Benny won them over, and it became one of the greatest landmarks in music history. Particularly popular with the audience were Martha Tilton’s swinging of the Scottish folk song “Loch Lomond” (how’d you like for me to post the record of one sometime?), and the band’s legendary performance of Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing”. The entire concert at Carnegie Hall was recorded and released by Columbia Records on the new LP format in 1950.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t post two records in the same day, but the date of Goodman’s concert came to me long after I had already planned the other one, so all you lucky readers get a two-fer today.
Victor 36205 was recorded July 6, 1937 in New York City by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra. This one was not recorded at the Carnegie Hall concert, but rather a few months earlier, around the time he was filming Hollywood Hotel. According to the label, the band includes Benny Goodman on clarinet, Hymie Schertzer, Arthur Rollini, George Koenig, and Vido Musso on saxophones, Harry James, Chris Griffin, and Ziggy Elman on trumpets, Murray McEachern and Sterling “Red” Ballard on trombones, Harry Goodman on string bass, Jess Stacy on piano, Allan Ruess on guitar, and Gene Krupa (whose birthday was just yesterday, the 15th) on drums.
Here it is, the legendary “Sing, Sing, Sing”, played with a bit of “Christopher Columbus” interpolated within. Both sides of a longer playing twelve inch 78 played end-to-end for your listening pleasure.
Sing Sing Sing (Parts 1 & 2), recorded July 6, 1937 by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra.