Tag Archives: King of Swing

“The REAL and ORIGINAL King of Swing!”

The truth, for once, expressed in print!

Circa 1937, this flyer is on sale on eBay — thanks to mdt141mike, who has other remarkable posters and advertising material.

Right now, I’m setting aside Friday nights, forsaking all others.  You’ll find me in front of my Philco console radio with my Presto disc cutter, recording those Fleischmann’s Yeast shows . . .

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY 2012: ALLAN VACHE AND FRIENDS PLAY BENNY GOODMAN (April 20, 2012)

This wonderful quintet session took place on the first day of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party — April 20 — and it honored the King of Swing.  The living practitioners of the jazz art on the bandstand were swing kings in their own right: Allan Vache, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone; Richard Simon, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums.

Ruby Braff once told an interviewer (I am paraphrasing here) that after the world ended, there would still be two men sitting on an island telling Benny Goodman stories.  And it’s true much of the posthumous attention paid to BG has been for his odd, often unappealing personality traits.  But the music is what remains, and I wonder if it were possible to listen to some of his great melodic improvisations without a heavy layer of preconceptions (not only was he eccentric, but he was famous, Caucasian, Jewish, successful, popular — someone to be viewed with distrust in certain academic circles as being both an exploiter and a thief) would they not rank alongside, say, Benny Carter and Teddy Wilson, among others, for their beauty and clarity?

The music for this set came for the most part from the period in Goodman’s life when Charlie Christian was a transforming force.  It amuses me that the people who decry post-1945 jazz as too ornate, too intellectual, too fast (think of Bird and Dizzy) don’t usually acknowledge that the very fast original lines the Goodman Sextet played in the years 1939-1945 lead directly into the “excesses of bebop.”  (Blame John Kirby, too, while you’re at it.)

But music is more durable than the whims of its creators, the fictions created by ideologues, the dividing lines drawn by academics.  Here is 2012 swing with a fine awareness of the past co-existing with its contemporary enthusiasm.

Variations on SLIPPED DISC, a title saying something about Goodman’s quite painful sciatica:

A SMOOTH ONE, the aptly titled line over LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

STEALIN’ APPLES, which owes its existence to both Fats Waller and Fletcher Henderson:

A feature for jazz master Bucky (a mainstay of later Goodman groups), Richard Simon, and Chuck Redd: Edgar Sampson’s STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY:

And a rousing THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:

May your happiness increase.

RARE ITEMS

Judging by the frequency by which their signatures appear on eBay’s “Entertainment Memorabilia,” some famous musicians spent as much time signing autographs as they did playing.  Others may have been less well-known or more reticent, so when their autographs appear it’s a pleasant surprise.  (And some eBay sellers label items “rare” in inverse proportion to their value.)

Eddie Durham wanted to be paid for his services, and rightly so, considering what marvels he accomplished with his arrangements for Basie, Glenn Miller, Lunceford, and many others.  Fifteen dollars for a band arrangement now seems a pittance; was this piece of paper actually from the Thirties or was Eddie simply notating, “Hey, you owe me fifteen dollars”?  Research, please:

William “Cat” Anderson, for all his blazing high register in the Ellington bands, might have been somewhat insecure: would anyone have mistaken him for an anonymous saxophonist or bassist?

This rare program from Benny Goodman’s 1962 trip to the USSR is something I hadn’t seen (a souvenir of that unhappy experience, according to the bandsmen); this one sports autographs by Mel Lewis and Jimmy Knepper, jazz stalwarts:

And the expected full-page portrait of the King himself:

And what I assume is a program of songs and performers:

And more of Benny, here in caricature:

Not the usual thing (Mindi Abair, Sonny Rollins, Les Paul,  or Don Redman signatures) . . .

SWINGING FOR ARTIE AND BENNY, 2010

I was delighted with the May 2010 concert series that Peter and William Reardon Anderson did in celebration of the music of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw — a series that featured, among others, Jon-Erik Kellso, Ehud Asherie, and Kevin Dorn.  For those who couldn’t make it to East 59th Street in New York City, the boys have released a wonderful CD that contains the music they played on May 23, 2010, which would have been Shaw’s hundredth birthday.  What better way to celebrate?

Here are the details:

Anderson Twins Sextet celebrate Artie Shaw’s Centennial – CD- $15

Celebrating Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman
Recorded Live at 59E59 Theaters, NYC
May 23, 2010 (Artie Shaw’s 100th Birthday!)
All arrangements by Peter and Will Anderson

1. Avalon (A. Jolson)
2. What is This Thing Called Love (C. Porter)
3. Stardust (H. Carmichael)
4. Carioca (V. Youmans)
5. Moonglow (E. De Lange)
6. Stealin Apples (F. Waller)
7. Concerto for Clarinet (A. Shaw)
8. Frenesi (A. Dominguez)
9. China Boy (P. Boutelje)
10. Begine the Beguine (C. Porter)
11. Goodbye (G. Jenkins)
12. Shine (L. Brown)
13. Nightmare (A. Shaw)
14. Oh, Lady Be Good (Gerswhin)

Peter & Will Anderson (clarinets, saxes, flute)
Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet)
Ehud Asherie (piano)
Clovis Nicolas (bass)
Kevin Dorn (drums)

To buy this product please e-mail:

andersontwinsjazz@gmail.com

I’ve been ejoying this disc and can enthusiastically recommend is as a neat mixture of hot improvisation and big-band charts reimagined for a tidy, energetic sextet.  The jam session numbers bring together some of my favorite New York musicians — people I have been celebrating here as long as I’ve had this blog — and the arranged songs both summon up the big bands and (in subversive ways) actually improve on the original charts by presenting them as slim, streamlined versions of the recordings we cherish.

THE KINGS OF SWING: THE ANDERSON TWINS’ SEXTET (May 19, 2010)

As far as I can see, the Swing Era isn’t coming back any time soon.  Gone are the days when sixteen or seventeen tuxedo-clad musicians (seated neatly behind their individual music stands bearing the bandleader’s initials) played dances, toured the country in a bus for one-night stands.  1938 and 9 don’t seem to be returning.  Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman have been gone for some time.

But their music isn’t dead and isn’t gone. 

The Anderson Twins proved that last night at 59 E 59 (a New York City theatre located at 59 East 59th Street: http://www.59e59.org.) in two sets devoted to the music Artie and Benny and their bands made in their prime.

The Anderson twins are Pete (on clarinet, tenor, and bass clarinet) and Will (clarinet, alto, and flute).  Pete is on the left in the videos below.  Both are expert musicians — although they young, they are deeply immersed in this music, able to improvise nimbly in it rather than just copying the notes.  And they’re also engaging, low-key bandleaders as well as first-rate arrangers, responsible for the wonderful charts we heard. which kept the flavor of the big bands without seeming cut-down or compressed. 

At this concert (with no microphones: how rare and wonderful!), the other players were Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Ehud Asherie (piano), Clovis Nicolas (string bass), and Steve Little (drums).  The premise of this week of concerts was to consider who the real King of Swing was — which one of the rather neurotic, talented Jewish clarinet players from immigrant backgrounds was the reining musical monarch. 

Of course, Will and Pete like each other too much to make it into a dysfunctional musical family onstage: the atmosphere was congenial, and the boys didn’t vie for the limelight.  And it was very sweet to know that their parents were in the audience: we chatted with Will, Pete, and their mother and father after the concert: gentle, unaffected people.   

The series of concerts runs from May 18-23 and again from May 25-30.  The second week’s performances focus on Shaw’s music and to the vocalists who sang with the band — hence the appearance of the charming Daryl Sherman in Week Two, who will sing some of the music associated with Billie Holiday’s brief stint with the band and Helen Forrest’s longer one.  Daryl is a contemporary singer who actually worked with an “Artie Shaw band” supervised by the Master himself — and I am sure she will have good stories.  Incidentally, the second week of concerts celebrates Shaw’s centennial, an occasion for celebration. 

The boys promise that there will be new repertoire throughout the run of the concerts, so that’s good reason for going more than once.  Various musicians will fill the chairs: Charlie Caranicas and Mat Jodrell (trumpet), Steve Ash (piano), and Kevin Dorn (drums). 

Last night, we arrived late and missed AVALON, WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?, STARDUST, CARIOCA, MOONGLOW, STEALIN’ APPLES.  Marianne Mangan (there happily with husband Bob Levin) told us that STARDUST followed the iconic Shaw Victor recording, but that there had been a good deal of impromptu jamming otherwise.

Here are seven performances from last night’s concert, beginning with an excerpt from the Sextet’s extended exploration of CONCERTO FOR CLARINET, Artie’s “answer” to Benny’s SING SING SING:

FRENESI was a huge hit for Artie and his band, and this nifty arrangement (with Will on flute and Pete on bass clarinet) not only summons up the Shaw band, but also echoes the Alec Wilder Octet, always a good thing:

BEGIN THE BEGUINE, more evidence of Artie Shaw’s affinity for Cole Porter, became the ironic apex of his career.  No one expected it would be a massive popular hit, and he came to hate it and the people who demanded that he play it.  Here the Andersons offer a bouncy, entirely unironic reading of the song.  Too bad there was no room for dancing:

GOOD-BYE (a treat to hear it before the end of a concert!) was the Goodman band’s closing theme, a melancholy song by Gordon Jenkins.  Goodman fanciers are used to hearing it in fragments, as the broadcast fades away, but the Andersons are generous listeners and players, and offered this beautifully textured and complete arrangement:

When Goodman planned the program for his January 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, one of the organizing ideas was “Twenty Years of Jazz,” beginning with the ODJB and going up to “the present.”  Of course there had to be a tribute to Louis, and Harry James was asked (or asked to?) to perform Louis’s astounding solo on SHINE (or S-H-I-N-E, if you prefer).  Here Jon-Erik plays his own version of the classic explosion, with encouragement from his colleagues:

It might say a good deal about Artie’s approach to his audiences that he didn’t open his shows with something pretty, accessible.  Rather he gave his jitterbugging fans a good dose of their darkest urges and fears in NIGHTMARE:

The evening concluded with a romping LADY BE GOOD — in an arrangement that owed a good deal to the Shaw band, to Eddie Durham’s chart of EVERY TUB for the 1938 Count Basie band, and to Lester Young — although Benny had his own good time playing the Gershwin standard in every conceivable context:

The Kings of the Swing Era may be dead, but long live their successors!

[Just so no one makes our mistake of arriving late, there are no shows on Monday.  Tuesday and Wednesday, the show starts at 7.  Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, it’s moved to 8, and there’s a Sunday matinee at 3.]

ONE-NIGHT STAND! DAN LEVINSON’S PALOMAR TRIO (April 29, 2010)

Benny Goodman was and is such a powerful influence on generations of musicians — especially clarinetists — that there are many players still living off of the King of Swing’s solos.

But Dan Levinson, who plays a number of reed instruments with great skill and understanding, is head and shoulders above the Kinglets. 

He can, upon request, rip off choruses that will make you think you are back at the Madhattan Room with your best girl or fellow in 1937; he can play a lovely ballad.  But he’s not a copyist or an imitator at heart.  Rather, he’s someone who understands the jazz and pop of that period (and of earlier eras) so that he can improvise on a song that didn’t exist in 1937 or he can make, say, CHINA BOY, sound new. 

One of Dan’s groups (he is a man of many affiliations and associations) is his Palomar Trio, which pays tribute to the California spot where Benny and his band caught fire in front of a large popular audience.  The other members are the swinging marvel Mark Shane on piano, and the ebullient Kevin Dorn on drums. 

They’ll be appearing at Shanghai Jazz in Madison, New Jersey, on Thursday, April 29, 2010 from 7:00 – 9:30 PM.  The club is at 24 Main Street.  For reservations or information (there’s no cover charge for the music, but there is a $15 food and drink minimum per person, and the menu is — as the name would suggest — Asian), call (973) 822-2899 0r or contact info@shanghaijazz.com.  The club’s website is www.shanghaijazz.com.  

I’ll be there!

EVERYBODY LOVES BENNY

That was the general mood of today’s hour-long conversation sponsored by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.  “Memories of You,” which was a three-way chat among Martin E. Segal (now ninety-three and a Lincoln Center luminary, emeritus) and Phoebe Jacobs (now ninety, and a jazz / show business beacon) — moderated by George Boziwick.  Because both of the participants had known Benny Goodman (“Mr. Goodman” to Ms. Jacobs) as a friend and as a non-musical employer, there were no stories about the King of Swing being a difficult boss or a perfectionistic bandleader.  So we heard about Benny the pioneer against racism, the salmon-fisherman and sports enthusiast, the generous man who paid Teddy Wilson’s doctor bills and sent money to Wilson’s wife for a year after Teddy’s death, the fond parent (daughters Sophia and Benjie were in the audience, as was a youthful Goodman grandson, as was Mercedes Ellington), loving husband, a son devoted to his parents, a thoughtful brother. 

It was as if the afternoon had been arranged to get rid of those wicked stories about Benny’s inability to deal with people — especially his sidemen and women — decently.  And his famous obliviousness was only touched on once, in Phoebe’s story about Goodman’s having his fly open on the Dick Cavett Show.

But several things rescued the afternoon from amiable blandness.  One was watching Segal and Jacobs, people who won’t see ninety again, sharp, witty, and totally in command of their material and of the audience.  Enthusiastic, too, as Lorna Sass’s portrait of Phoebe in full flight proves:

DSC02680

And Martin Segal, sly rather than ebullient, kept on reminding me of someone.  This photo doesn’t entirely capture the resemblance, but it dawned on me that Segal looked a good deal like a shorter version of his friend Benny:

DSC02660

Finally, two other highlights — one before the conversation, one after.  When the Beloved and I sat down, an elegantly dressed woman in a dark paisley jacket chose to sit next to us and said that she had met Goodman at a Segal party (she had been Segal’s right-hand woman when he created the Film Society of Lincoln Center).  Sallie Blumenthal, for that is her name, had many charming stories — most of them about the actor Louis Calhern, a generous and gracious man.  We never got back to her Goodman story, but now I know that Calhern was a sweet man who remembered everyone he had ever met. 

After the conversation, we went to the third floor of the library to look at their Goodman memorabilia — a quite impressive collection of things that were almost all new to me: a Gil Evans chart for the song DELIA’S GONE, another, earlier chart with Mel Powell’s name penciled in; photos that I hadn’t seen — all curated by a quietly industrious young librarian whose first name is Jonathan (I apologize for not getting his full name). 

A pleasant afternoon, with all the usual (occasionally venomous and hilarious) Goodman gossip put to rest for a change.  Next week, slightly later in the afternoon, Goodman’s musical legacy — as opposed to his social one — will be celebrated and considered by a sextet of musicians who are unfamiliar to me.  But I’m sure they will swing: Goodman’s music is a powerful inspiration!

Photographs copyright 2009 by Lorna Sass.  All rights reserved. 

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.”

CD OF THE MONTH (November 2008)

I’ve written approvingly of other issues on the Canadian Jazz Oracle label, originally the beloved idea of Colin Bray and John Wilby; I’ve learned that Colin approached John R.T. Davies at his home in Burnham, Bucks with the idea of starting a new label; “Ristic” joined as an equal financial partner. Jazz Oracle is a superb label for hot jazz, blues, and hot dance recordings, beautifully documented, and in fine sound — projects of consistent quality, far from the dreaded “bootleg” issues of past and present.  This most recent issue, collecting twenty-seven tracks under the real and nominal leadership of one Benjamin David Goodman, whose centennial is next year, is an entrancing collection.

But first, a caveat.  Goodman is so firmly fixed in the public mind as the hot clarinetist-bandleader-Swing Era-nostalgia-icon that it may be necessary to say that the BG here is not yet the King of Swing, and he certainly isn’t the elder statesman embracing “Memories of You,” “Send in the Clowns,” and “Avalon” on television.

Although the illustrious personnel on these 1930-33 discs includes Gene Krupa and Bunny Berigan, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Dick McDonough, Arthur Schutt, Larry Binyon, Charlie Teagarden, Manny Klein, Stan King, and others, the Palomar Ballroom is years in the future.  What’s here is evidence of the cross-fertilization of jazz and dance music, hot improvisation nestled comfortably into well-played stock arrangements.

Some of us, as more rigid and less sophisticated jazz listeners, when presented with a Fred Rich or Sam Lanin 78, focused only on the sixteen-bar hot solos and ignored the rest of the record.  True, someone hearing this CD for the first time may be slightly unsettled by the crooning of Paul Small, Scrappy Lambert, Sid Garry, Grace Johnston, or Johnny Morris.  But an open-minded listener comes to realize that these records are immensely significant as artifacts of jazz’s subversive powers: the 1931 fox-trotting couple, clinging close during a rhythm ballad, didn’t know that Manny Klein or Dick McDonough was working his enchantment — but recordings like these made jazz acceptable to a public who might otherwise have thought it foreign, unbridled.  And advocates of “pure jazz,” whatever that is, should go back and check out the Goodman Victors and Columbias of 1935-45, many of which are lovely dance music with swinging vocals — not that far from these 1930-1 hot dance sessions.

Listeners unmoved by hot dance music will still want to consider this issue for its four final tracks — a 1933 session under the leadership of singer Steve Washington.  These records, in their own way, are precursors of the hallowed Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey sessions of the middle Thirties.  In them, a little-known but emotionally compelling singer works as part of a small swinging jazz ensemble.  Although “We Were The Best of Friends” is not an ambitious composition, once heard, Washington’s yearning version is hard to forget.

Good music for those who can hear it!  And it’s available through http://www.worldsrecords.com, where you’ll find full details on this and other Jazz Oracle issues.