Recalled as a virtuoso clarinetist, Benny Goodman’s musical career spanned over 60 years. And in addition to earning the moniker of “The King of Swing” for successfully adopting black jazz styles, his racially integrated band lineups were also groundbreaking. Informed of Goodman’s death, his colleague Lionel Hampton commented, “he gave music character and style.”
Clarinetist, bandleader and composer Benjamin David Goodman aka Benny Goodman was born in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Taking up the clarinet as a youngster, Benny made his first live performance aged 13 and by the age of 17 had made his first studio recordings with Ben Pollack’s Orchestra in Chicago.
Later basing himself in New York City and playing sessions with a variety of musicians (including Paul Whiteman’s band and Glenn Miller), Goodman first established a big band in 1934 and linked up with influential producer John Hammond before landing a role on the radio programme, “Let’s Dance”.
Engaging pianist/bandleader Fletcher Henderson to write arrangements for him, Benny would also crucially team up with drummer Gene Krupa and pianist Teddy Wilson. Taking his band on the road, Goodman & Co. endured poor audience reaction to his renditions of Henderson’s “hot” charts, until what is now recognised as a landmark concert at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles on August 21st 1935.
The music – and positive crowd reaction – was broadcast nationwide and helped usher in the swing era of jazz, with Goodman to the fore. Adding vibraphonist Lionel Hampton to his trio, the newly-christened “King of Swing” filled halls across the USA with excited teenagers and was in demand for both radio broadcasts and films.
That popularity reached its apex in January 1938 at Carnegie Hall, when Goodman headlined an all-star ensemble including his quartet, Harry James and members of the Duke Ellington and Count Basie bands. Benny’s popularity continued into the following decade, despite numerous personnel changes and alterations in musical style (he was also a noted classical performer).
Later assembling bands for specific engagements including overseas tours, Benny increasingly fulfilled the role of a jazz ambassador, travelling widely including the USSR – the latter highly appropriate, given his background as the child of Russian imigrants. Periodic reformations of his classic Quartet lineup with messrs Wilson, Krupa and Hampton also followed and Goodman continued to perform until shortly before his death from a heart attack in 1986, at the age of 77.
Check out and purchase Benny Goodman CDs from our e-shop, Propermusic.com by clicking on the logo below:
And here’s some footage of BG in action: