AVALON, “composed” in 1920 by Al Jolson and Vincent Rose, owed so much to a Puccini melody that Puccini’s publishers sued and won. Thanks to Chris Tyle for the facts here.
Between 1920 and 1937, AVALON was a popular composition recorded by Red Nichols, Isham Jones, Coleman Hawkins, the Quintette of the Hot Club of France, Jimmie Lunceford, and others. In 1937, Benny Goodman featured it as a quartet number (with Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and Gene Krupa) in the film HOLLYWOOD HOTEL — also recording it for Victor, performing it in 1938 at his Carnegie Hall Concert. Benny performed it hundreds of times in the next half-century, and a performance of that song has been a way for contemporary clarinetists both to salute him and to dramatize their aesthetic kinship with him.
As a delightful point of reference, here is the 1937 Victor, a lovely performance by four men clearly enjoying themselves expertly:
That recording is, in its own way, a joyous summit of swing improvisation.
On November 29, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, Tim Laughlin (leading his own New Orleans All-Stars with Connie Jones) had already invited clarinetist Jim Buchmann to join him for a few songs. Then, Tim spotted clarinetist Dave Bennett and urged him to join in. I thought that AVALON might be on the menu for three clarinets. Not that Tim is in any way predictable, but AVALON is familiar music — with known conventions — in the same way that a group of saxophonists might call WOODSIDE or FOUR BROTHERS — music that would please the crowd and the route signs are all well-marked.
Connie Jones and Doug Finke sat this one out, but Connie’s delighted reactions mirror every nuance of the music.
The other members of this band: Chris Dawson, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums, are deeply immersed in both the tradition of Goodman AVALON’s and how to make it alive at the moment — Chris and Hal create their own variations on Wilson and Krupa most beautifully.
This one’s for my friend Janie McCue Lynch, and for students of the Swing School everywhere.
(For those correspondents who say “This is TOO Swingy!” in the tone of voice one would discuss a contagious disease, you are exempt from watching this. But you’ll miss deep joy.)
See you all at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest: we’ll all gather.
May your happiness increase!