This Is Benny Goodman: Volume Two, Benny Goodman and various side men, RCA, 1972
Musically, I am a blues man. I am informed, malformed, deformed, reformed by the blues. Then I am a rock man. And a folk man, in all its variants. So where doe that lead me into an exposition of jazz that I have recently started to write more about in this space. Well, let’s just call it an extension of the blues (not hard to do by the way). I mentioned in a recent review of the work of jazz singer Mildred Bailey that the clearest example of that is Lady Day, Billie Holiday. I noted there, that, yes, I know that she was a jazz singer extraordinaire. But, the way she swept my blues away when I was down in the dumps sure makes me think she was the queen of the blues (Bessie Smith being, of course, outlandishly the “Empress” ). I would further note in the category of male bandleaders (that is, after all, what jazz was about back in the days, bands) Duke Ellington’s work has a similar status.
Taking this idea once more as my theme all of this is by a very round about way of bringing the jazz band leader under review, Benny Goodman into the picture. Duke Ellington set the standard in the 1940’s for the phrasing of a jazz piece, for the mix of instruments, for the hush that signaled a new direction to the piece, for the … well, underlying sense of what was going on. As I expressed elsewhere, for that something unsayable but certainly knowable when the music is done right. Benny Goodman, although I believe more into the commercial showmanship of the music than Ellington and others like Chick Correa (who will be highlighted here later) had that in spots. But Benny had that something different, consciously so. He made his work jump to the swing that would get even a tongue-tied, doubled-jointed clod like this review up and dancing. That, my friends, is no mean trick.
I believe that Benny Goodman had two good stretches. One when he had the singer Peggy Lee fronting for his big band. And as highlighted here when he worked (and according to the memories of those who worked under him, worked them hard) small groups that demonstrated that swing could be done in that small combo, if you just had the right personnel. Proof here? “King Porter Stomp". “Avalon" (Christ, even the name gives the swing sense of the piece). “One O’Clock Jump”. "When Buddha Smiles" How’s that. If you need more, believe me there are more here and on other Goodman CD’s. No wonder Hitler, according to some memoirs of Hamburg youth that were made into a movie, wanted his work banned. Swing On...