Thanks to Loren Schoenberg for sharing this gem with us. If, like me, you grew up after the Swing Era had ended, the great creators were still in evidence: Benny, Teddy, Lionel, Gene, Harry, Basie, Duke, Benny Carter, Jo Jones, Milt Hinton, and half a hundred others. But sometimes they seemed more venerable than lively, and that was to be expected: routine, age, and aging audiences had had their effect. But it is lovely to be thrust back into late 1938, with fiercely beautiful evidence of just why they were seen as Masters.
Here, in under three minutes, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and Lionel Hampton — the last on drums — play a fiery but delicate I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW, at top speed, never smudging a note or resorting to cliché.
They were young: Hampton, the eldest of the three (one never thinks of him as such) had turned thirty only six months earlier: Goodman and Wilson were still in the latter half of their twenties. (Gene Krupa had left Goodman and formed his own band earlier in 1938.)
I invite JAZZ LIVES listeners to do the nearly-impossible, that is, to clear their minds and ears of associations with these artists, their reputations, our expectations, and simply listen. And thus admire: the precision, the near-audacity of improvisations at such speed, the intensity and the clarity with which the details are offered to us. The unflagging swing, and the compact art: seven choruses in slightly less than three minutes. The architecture of this performance, balancing solo and ensemble, giving each of the players the spotlight in turn. And the fact that it was live — no second takes or studio magic. One can admire this as a chamber-music performance thoroughly animated by the impulses that made “hot jazz” hot:
It’s easy to hear this in historical context: ten years earlier, Jimmie Noone and his Apex Club Orchestra had fashioned their own variations (Cliff Edwards, a dozen years earlier, had sung it with his Hot Combination) and Goodman had played it as an orchestral piece from 1935 on — with special mention to the Martin Block jam session of early 1938 where Benny, Teddy, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Jo Jones, Benny Heller, and Sid Weiss had jammed on the Vincent Youmans song. And it comes out of a larger musical world: I hear late-Twenties and early-Thirties Louis and Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Art Tatum, and Zutty Singleton standing behind this trio.
But I can also imagine the radio audience of 1938 — not only the children and adolescents who nagged their parents for drum sets, clarinets, pianos and piano lessons (some signing up for the Teddy Wilson School for Pianists) but also the youthful Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach hearing and studying, thinking of ways to emulate and then outdo. It would have been considered “popular music” or “entertainment,” but now we can value it as it deserves.
It’s a magnificent performance, with details that glisten all the more on subsequent listenings. Thanks to Benny, Teddy, Lionel, Loren, and the noble Sammut of Malta for art and insights into the art.
May your happiness increase!