A good name? You bet! One of its bearers got really famous, and we, at Moscow GOODMAN are proud to share it with him. What's more, we must be related, you can both see and hear it, we share the same style and passion for music.
BENNY GOODMAN AND HIS BLACK&WHITE MUSIC
Benjamin David Goodman, or simply Benny (why bother, he's one of our family!) was born on May 30, 1909, in Chicago. His parents were Russian immigrants – and we are sure they did it right to move to the Country of Great Opportunities, because if one's destined to become a great jazz player, his parents just have to oblige.
Benny was a real proletarian – his father was a worker on a clothing factory. Nobody knows if Benny was OK with it or would have preferred his father to be a co-owner of «General Motors», but the fate doesn't make mistakes – and 53 years after his birth it was his proletarian roots that decided him being selected as the jazz king to visit the USSR. Louis Armstrong apparently wasn't enough "working class" to Khrushchev, and the Soviet leader, never one to forgo his Communist principles, invited Benny.
Some people say that Goodman learned to play classic clarinet thanks to Franz Shoepp, a musician at Chicago Symphony, others say it was his attending a synagogue. It's not easy to decide which is true, but whoever was Benny's teacher, he did a wonderful job. Benny made his first stage appearance at 12, and at 14 he was so successful that he abandoned school – dabbling in geometry and physics merely deprived him of the time necessary for the "serious business". And at that time jazz was the serious business in US. Benny and his clarinet were definitely serious, and they went for what was call New Orleans style. At 16, Ben Pollack didn't care either for checking Benny's high school certificate or for his parents' permission – he just hired him. At 19 Benny got his first solo recorded on the radio, at 20 le left Pollack and moved to New York. He worked everywhere – on Broadway, on the radio, at various studios. Benny was a god of clarinet, his performance was instantly recognized. He used to become a visiting card of every orchestra he played with. «Yeah, yeah, that's the one Benny Goodman's in!» – said every jazz fan and turned up the radio louder. 1932 saw Goodman hitting the charts for the first time – he made it thanks to the recording called He's Not Worth Your Tears. In 1934, he signed a contract with Columbia Records, and that was Benny's ticket to the Top 10 for many years, he was practically resident there. People in the Big Apple were mad about «Ain't Cha Glad», then about «Riffin' the Scotch», then about «О Рарру», then about «I Ain't Lazy, I'm Just Dreamin»; no wonder his records sold like hot cakes and ratings of radio stations he played at were sky-high.
The business was so good that Goodman decided to start his own band of 12, to play what was called «expressionistic improvisational black jazz coupled with army discipline of a string quartet». The band was an immediate success, and in July 1934 Goodman and Co hit the first line of the charts with their instrumental «Moon Glow». And that was only the beginning... A contract with NBC's weekly dance radio program «Saturday Night Let's Dance», another eight Тор 10 hits with Columbia Records, then change to RCA Victor (in pursuit of more dough), another five hits, a national tour, a contract for six months of concerts at Chicago Congress hall, antoher 15 hits in Тор 10, among them «It's Been So Long», «Goody-Goody», «The Glory of Love», «These Foolish Things Remind Me of You" and »You Turned the Tables on Me» (all with Helen Ward vocals). Benny Goodman Orchestra became a permanent guest at «The Camel Caravan» radio series and was soon to land their first shooting. But all these are just facts – the important thing is that, on August 21, 1935 the swing era began. And it began with Benny Goodman, at his famous, historic concert at Palomar Ballroom in LA. It looked like people were waiting for swing to happen, while swing needed Benny to conquer America. The funniest thing of all was that black swing chose white Benny to do that.
So it was that by middle 30-ies swing became king in the US, and Benny became King of Swing. Some of his work was already classic at the time («Stompin' At The Savoy», «Let's Dance», «Don't Be That Way» and «Sing, Sing, Sing» super-hit). He played in «Swing Kids» movie and the public was now aware of both how he played and what he looked like. And yet there was a catch – Benny wanted the best players to play swing with him, but those "best" were not quite as white in face as he. There was a lot of black jazzmen, yet they used to play separately and weren't too willing to join some white upstart. White jazzmen had too many problems of their own to care much about the right policy in the segregation world of US. But Benny was as stubborn as it gets.
In August 1936 he attended a concert by Lionel Hampton at «Paradise» club in San-Pedro. Hampton was already famous as the allegedly "fastest drummer" in the world. When Hampton's solo was over, he was joined by Goodman, black pianist Teddy Wilson and white drummer Gene Krupa in a two hour jam session; next morning, they recorded their first track together. These four made jazz history as "Benny Goodman Quartet». Their recordings are just classic or "combo" swing. Then there was Ella Fitzgerald, who helped another piece of Benny's to the first line in charts, and Fletcher Henderson, conductor and arrangement guy – they both aided Benny to encompass the very soul of swing and to embrace this music's black roots fully. The measure of success was such that all talk about whether such methods were appropriate was immediately over. These people did nothing less than shatter a seemingly insuperable racial barrier – if only in the world of swing first. That was the start of the «four gorgeous years with Benny», as Hampton called them when he was old, already a jazz patriarch and acclaimed genius.
And gorgeous they were! Sold-out tour at Paramount Theater and later Carnegie Hall in New York, parts in «Hollywood Hotel» movie, six hits in 1937 and 14 in 1938, one of them «Sing, Sing, Sing» (With a Swing) later to be acclaimed in Grammy Hall of Fame. The same period saw Benny beginning to play classical music – he recorded Mozart's «Quintet for clarinet» with Budapest string quartet and new works of Bartok («Contrasts», 1938), Copland, Hindemith etc.
Yet sometimes success separates the people who achieved it. So it was that in 1939 Gene Krupa and Harry James the trumpeter leave Goodman – for the obvious purpose of starting their own bands. There were competitors also – the fast-rising stars of Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller. Lastly, in 1940 Benny was hit by a serious disease that forced him to disband his orchestra. Still he managed to produce no less than 8 hits, among them "And the Angels Sing", another Grammy Hall of Fame track.
Then Benny was back at Columbia Records and made the Broadway musical «Swingin' the Dream» in November 1940, with a new band, now a sextet. The show wasn't long-lived but bore another hit, a March 1940 leader «Darn That Dream».
In the 40-ies guns really overwhelmed the Muses even in the US. Benny launched and disbanded band after band, recorded music, made several movies, produced several hits, played in Broadway feature Seven Lively Arts. His 1945 «Hot Jazz» album was a newly-reinstated Тор 10 hit. Moreover, one of his three hits nearly made it to the top – it was «Gotta Be This or That» where Benny was ... doing vocals! But anyway during the decade Benny was never a member of any band for long – either the time was not ripe, or his legendary temper and stubbornness were to blame. He just put up with makeshift bands for tours and recordings.
In November 1950 Columbia Records launched «Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert» album. Its core was a live recording of 1938 from the period of Benny's greatest fame. This album remains the all-time jazz bestseller.
In 1952 another Benny feature became hit number 1 at the Top 10, that was «Jazz Concert No. 2». But it was another "ghost from the past" – it was principally a collection of radio transmissions of '37 and '38.
Swing was on the ebb in the US. Goodman dabbled with new music styles but wasn't as successful there as he was with swing. The glorious past was, from time to time, giving Benny a boost – e.g., in 1956 another reissue hit Тор 10 (it was a soundtrack for «The Benny Goodman Story» movie; Benny was played by Steve Allen, yet the soundtrack was real Benny). But Benny wasn't going to become a living legend, to lead a live after death. He decided to organize a tour of several small groups to show the people around the world what swing is – and his target were countries where there were practically no live swing concerts before. The hit of the tour was to be a concert in Moscow, sponsored by the US government – evidently in hope that Goodman will heat the "thaw" initiated by Khrushchev a couple of degrees up.
Benny Goodman's Moscow concert took place in 1962, at the CSKA sporting venue. Our capital couldn't believe its luck. Thousands of people were to see Benny himself – the famous, the great, the genius, the best clarinet player of all time, finally, a son of a factory worker! They hoped to see him live, to listen to some real swing! But that was not to happen.
The KGB was really worried by all the enthusiasm generated by the news of oncoming concert, and was ready. Really, something terrible may happen – the people would clap, yell, enjoy themselves. God forbid, they would present the musician with flowers. If he were a Bulgarian, a Czech... at least a Mongolian, it would be OK! But he was an American! Definitely a CIA agent! A real enemy, a compatriot of those who strangle Cuba, who bombed Hiroshima... And would we now suffer an American to teach us how to play music?! Would we bow low before capitalism?! No, we have our own Moscow Conservatory full of politically clean music! But we cannot now forbid that – our Communist Party, bless it, is all for openness and cooperation! Alas for father Stalin! He would have shown them all this jazz – in Siberia!
So the KGB intellectuals found a way for Russians to resist the enemy provocation. The city box office hardly sold any tickets to Benny Goodman's concert – nearly all tickets were distributed via institutes and factories, and only for die-hard staunch Communist people that surely could not be tempted by this non-communist music, and were ready to defend their proletarian virginity with vigor. The American spy aka Benny Goodman tried as he might to raise his audience, he even played "Polyushko-pole", expecting, it seemed, to get his round of applause. But the stone-cold audience was not to be moved, it knew how to keep its calm superiority in the face of a devil. Khrushchev left the venue after the first half, the others stayed, but Benny still got no response. The CIA provocation failed, and Benny and his orchestra went home having produced no effect at all.
At home, in 1963 Benny was offered a present – RCA Victor decided to start the «Benny Goodman Quartet» again, with the original musicians – Benny, Gene, Teddy and Lionel. The new album «Together Again!» did make it to the Top 10 and was well-received – it was, if a bit nostalgic, a sincere and lively work.
Benny's last album to be released while he was alive was the 1977 «Let's Dance», a TV soundtrack that was to get a jazz Grammy.
Benny lived for 77 years. He tasted worldwide fame, lived through several periods when nobody seemed to think he was still alive, he fell many times, yet he always stood up again and played another hit that moved people to tears. He was never eclipsed as a clarinet player, he is still the best. He lived a good life, didn't he? But why was that? Maybe, it's just his name?