Jazz Artist Benny Goodman

Benny Goodman was an American jazz musician and bandleader born on May 30, 1909, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.  His name in full is Benjamin David Goodman. He was the eight born, but first son, of the two Russian Jewish immigrants, Dora Grisinsky Goodman and David Goodman who had fled the anti-Semitism in Russia. His approach to music reflected his relentless pursuit of perfection as he was a complex personality. For this reason, he was dubbed “King of Swing” (Farrington, 909). He was a renowned twentieth-century clarinet virtuoso who received his first training in 1919 at Kehelah Jacob Synagogue in Chicago. He soon started to study music at Jane Addams’ Hull House while playing in bands.

When he picked a clarinet for the first time, Goodman was only 10 (Crowther, 26). He acquired the purity of tone and the work habits from two years of study with Franz Schoepp- the classical instructor. These skills from Franz Schoepp enabled Benny Goodman to perform adroitly in both the jazz and classical fields. Goodman’s ability on the clarinet was promptly evident. While he was still extremely young, he turned into an expert artist and played in a lot of bands in Chicago. Crowther also notes that Goodman even did jam sessions with Frank Teschemacher, Jimmy McPartland and Bud Freeman. In his early teenage years, he absorbed the basics of jazz (27). His absorption of the basics of jazz was also aided by his listening to musicians such as Johnny Dodds and Jimmy Noone. Seasoned musicians were astounded by Goodman’s intonation, attack and fluent improvisation only at the age of 14 (Crowther, 27).

As Gioia carefully notes, in 1925, Benny Goodman landed his first significant job (4). He joined one of the leading Dixieland drummers by the name the orchestra of Ben Pollack. While Goodman was with the band, he took part in its recording sessions and dabbled with the saxophone. Besides, he did clarinet solos that exhibited the positive influence of Leo Rappolo, Johnny Dodds, and Jimmy Noone. This is the time that Benny Goodman recorded his first solo “He’s the Last Word” in 1926. His company with the Ben Pollack orchestra also had a significant contribution to his several recordings in the subsequent few years (Gioia, 4-5).

In 1929, Benny Goodman left the Ben Pollack orchestra after approximately four years and began making his living as a freelance sideman. During this time, he worked both in radio and in the recording. His work was a studio musician in New York City. His featuring in a jazz setting, some with Billie Holiday, is one of his most notable recordings of the time (McCombe, 69). The Great Depression of America affected Goodman though he was fairly successful. However, Goodman did not reject the opportunities to play college dances with jazz bands he had formed. The reason he would not turn down such opportunities is that he was supporting his widowed grandmother by this time (McCombe, 69).

In 1931, Benny Goodman began to record under his own name and would assemble his band only three years later (Farrington, 910). He was helped to connect with Fletcher Henderson, the first-rate arranger, through producer John Hammond. For several years, Fletcher Henderson had worked with the black orchestra which is why he had a link to producer John Henry Hammond. Benny Goodman’s band would be given its most characteristic sound by Fletcher Henderson’s charts although he used other arrangers at times. John Henry Hammond was another jazz enthusiast who would forever alter the fortune of this young clarinet player in late 1933. He encouraged Benny Goodman to form a jazz group (Farrington, 910).

Between 1934 and 1940, he led his own swing band. This is the period he acquired his stage name “The King of Swing” (Farrington, 910). In 1934, Benny Goodman teamed up with the then-upcoming jazz star Billie Holiday to come up with “Riffin’ the Scotch.” This remained a top ten hit in the same year. His other hits from the time include “I Ain’t Lazy, I’m Just Dreamin” and “Ain’t Cha Glad?” whose vocals were the works of Jack Teagarden. Goodman began his vocation as a bandleader in 1934. He and his band were warmly welcome at Billy Rose’s Music Hall where they performed. At this point, the band turned into a customary follow up on Let’s Dance, a popular NBC radio show during that time. “Moonglow was his earlier hit in the same year. This also hit number one on the charts in July the same year. During his time in the show Let’s Dance, he hit another six Top Ten hits on Columbia.  By the end of that year, he recorded five more top ten hits having switched from Let’s Dance to RCA Victor (Farrington, 910).

In 1935, the band started taking tours in the country. During this time, they received a lot of popularity having introduced a new kind of music. On August 21, 1935, he performed at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles. The performance was spectacularly successful, and this day is remembered as that when the Swing Era kicked off (Schuller, 19). According to Schuller, Benny Goodman became one among the first white persons to form an integrated band (20). For this reason, he was highly appreciated for fighting racism. By the time he was only 28, he had received notable fame and success. For this reason, ‘The Camel Caravan’ radio show, which ran from 1936 to 1939, featured and broadcasted his compositions. The ‘The Big Broadcast of 1937’ film featured Benny Goodman in which he appeared as himself. The film was a huge success, and this prompted him to make several films himself such as ‘Sweet and Low-Down,’ ‘Syncopation’ and ‘The Hollywood Hotel’ (Schuller, 23).

Dougherty points out that the 1938 Carnegie Hall concert by Benny Goodman remained one of the jazz’s high points and was the first of its type in such a venerable setting (55). That which had been an all-inescapable piece of American culture in the swing orchestra started to blur by late the 1940s. This was because many of its artists began to try different things with new forms of jazz. With bebop becoming more popular than jazz, there came the virtual shroud jazz swing and the big band. The demand of jazz was no longer as great. Nevertheless, Benny Goodman continued to play the clarinet (Farrington, 910). Goodman became an astoundingly devoted bandleader and musician. He was the reason the swing gained all the fame, making a home for many incredible performers including Lionel Hampton, Stan Getz, Fletcher Henderson, Mel Powell, Gene Krupa, Peggy Lee and Wardell Gray (Dougherty, 57).

In 1942, Benny Goodman was married to Alice Hammond Duckworth. With his wife, Goodman had two children; Benjie Goodman Lasseau and Rachel Goodman Edelson. Goodman’s popularity seemed to fade after the Second World War in 1945. This made him break up with his Swing orchestra band. However, he continued to perform, but with smaller groups. In 1948, Benny Goodman starred in the film ‘A Song Is Born.’ He continued to feature in films, and in 1955, he produced the film ‘The Benny Goodman Story’ whose soundtrack he recorded himself. During the 1950s and 1960s, he spent most of his life during this period abroad (McCombe, 69).

According to Skale, ‘Benny Goodman Today’ is the music album that Goodman produced in 1971, and during this time his health started deteriorating (9). Benny Goodman turned to classical music in his later years, despite his declining health. His fall in health could be attributed to the death of his wife Alice Hammond Duckworth in 1978. In June 1986, he died from a heart attack, and was buried in Long Ridge Cemetery in Stamford (Skale, 15). Benny Goodman’s music still finds an audience among the young and the old to this day. His remarkable talent as a bandleader and an instrumentalist is still evident in his recordings. Benny Goodman won a plethora of awards including honorary degrees from Bard College as well as Brandeis University. Besides, following his remarkable contribution to the world of jazz, the Legends of the American Music series featured him on a postage stamp in 1996. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award shortly before his death. He was also honored with the Grammy Award in 1987, an award he received posthumously. His major works include the ‘Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert’. It was the first ever album to be issued and to sell over one million pieces. Besides, the concert remains the most popular in the history of jazz.

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