BENNY RIDES AGAIN, PERHAPS

2009 is a great year for jazz centennials — Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Stuff Smith, Chick Webb, and Benny Goodman.  bg-portraitLast year, I began to write an article on the subject –or should I say the subjects — of BG, but eventually gave it up because balancing his many selves got to be overwhelming.  I felt like a novice waiter who takes too many dishes from the table . . . with the inevitable crash.  Goodman was so many people, depending on which angle he was observed from: the cruel skinflint; the star who didn’t want to share the applause; the artist so engrossed in perfection of the art — his clarinet, his band — that his awareness of his fellow musicians diminished and almost disappeared.  But he was also the jazzman who loved to swing, before there was Swing; the supreme melodic improviser; the man who gave Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Christian, Cootie Williams and many others the kind of recognition they would not have had otherwise.  (I even have forgiven him for having made Sidney Catlett cry.)  John Hammond, the great mythologizer, would have had it that Goodman was timid, someone who would have stayed in the studios, playing lucrative pop music, if Hammond hadn’t rescued him — perhaps that was true in 1931, but I don’t think it stayed true for long.  Hear how Goodman inspired and was inspired by Jack Teagarden, by Basie, by Jo Jones, and you hear a truly creative improviser.  How many years will have to pass before we can listen to his playing on, for instance, WHO? (by the Trio) and recognize its immense art?

But Goodman may not need my defense as long as the recordings exist.  This post, however, is about public celebrations of his centennial at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.  Both programs take place at the Bruno Walter Auditorium, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza.

On Monday, June 1, at 3 PM, the discussion is titled, appropriately, “Memories of You.” Martin E. Segal and Phoebe Jacobs will remember Benny — their conversation moderated by George Boziwick.  Phoebe, in case you’ve never met her or heard her speak, is a Genuine Treasure.  She was there; she tells the truth, lovingly and hilariously.

On Monday, June 8, at 6 PM, the emphasis shifts to “The Music of Benny Goodman,” as played by this small jazz ensemble: Miles Brown, bass; Paul Merrill, trumpet; Bobby Weinschenk, alto saxophone; Joshua Abraham, tenor saxophone; Robert Cowie, piano; Kevin Lowe, drums.  These musicians are new to me, but I am sure they know how to swing.  I do find it odd that no one is listed as playing the clarinet, but perhaps the two saxophonists will switch off.  It should be most intriguing to learn who’s written the charts for a group that obviously isn’t imitating any of the Goodman small groups, and what repertoire they choose.

I hope to be at both events.  Admission to both programs is free; first come, first served.  Call 212-641-0142 or visit www.nypl.org/lpaprograms.

And the best part of these centennial celebrations is that no one, I am sure, will even think to say, “Benny, don’t BE that way.”

6 responses to “BENNY RIDES AGAIN, PERHAPS

  1. Chris Albertson

    In an interview for Stereo Review, I reminded Benny that I had once been on his payroll as an autograph signer. “Is that so?,” he said, “Were you good at it?.” His matter-of-fact response made me wonder how many others might have held this position.

    There are a couple of albums and hundreds of 8 x 10 glossies out there with my handiwork.

  2. Well after the fact, I am taking the luxurious opportunity of commenting on my own blogpost. Exhaustion and busy-ness set in, and we never got to the second BG tribute at Lincoln Center. I wonder if any of my readers did, and what happened . . . who played what, and whether the rafters rang. I sincerely hope they did, in Benny’s honor.

  3. Chris Albertson

    I missed it, but Bob Wilber told me that the rafters did ring and that Wynton handed the band to Bob while himself playing a sideman’s role. If you want details, I’ll gladly get the from Bob.

  4. Always a pleasure to hear from you, Chris, and that’s no stage joke . . . but we are talking about two different concerts. The one I’m curious about had six musicians playing BG’s music — for free — in the NYPL auditorium named for Bruno Walter . . . . Cheers! Michael

  5. In mentioning the great ones and their centenials you missed one. Gene Krupa

  6. You’re right — but read my post, “YOU ARE GENE KRUPA,” to see that I haven’t forgotten the great man.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s