One of the benefits of “straightening up” is that, occasionally, treasures resurface. Here’s one whose importance I can’t overestimate. But before I write a word more, this airshot of SING SING SING comes to us because of the generosity of Loren Schoenberg, master of so many arts, who played it on a broadcast he did over WKCR-FM perhaps thirty-five years ago. I captured it on cassette, and now share it with you. (Loren generously provided a pitch-corrected version for JAZZ LIVES.) It was not issued on Jerry Valburn’s set (lp and CD) of Goodman-Catlett recordings, should you reach for that set. Your ears will tell you so.
If you needed more evidence of the superhuman power and joy that Sidney Catlett brought to any group in his two-decades-plus playing career, this should do it. It also suggests, words I write with some ruefulness, why Benny Goodman fired him. Listening to this performance, it’s hard not to believe that Sid was leading the band and Benny was doing his best — which was considerable — to keep up. It also reminds us how much music the Swing Era bands created in performance that the 10″ 78 count not capture, because this performance is ten minutes long. Real life — for dancers, a band released from the recording studio. I bless the unidentified recordist, and so should you.
Here are the names of the heroes in that wonderful band, although on this performance, aside from brief ventures by Vido Musso and Mel Powell, by my count, six of the ten minutes are given over to a Catlett-Goodman experimental interlude in duet improvisation:
Billy Butterfield, Cootie Williams, Jimmy Maxwell, Al “Slim” Davis, trumpet; Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Benny Goodman, clarinet; Skip Martin, Clint Neagley, alto saxophone; Vido Musso, George Berg, tenor saxophone; Chuck Gentry, baritone saxophone; Mel Powell, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Marty Blitz, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. Broadcast, “Meadowbrook,” Cedar Grove, New Jersey, September 27, 1941.
This is an extraordinary piece of music, full of courage, energy, and joy. I hope you feel about it as I do, and that, once again, we may extend our gratitude to Sidney, Benny, Loren, and someone sitting in front of the radio with a microphone and a disc cutter.
May your happiness increase!