March 25, 2009

HOLD ONTO YOUR CHAIR:

Benny Goodman Rides Again (WILL FRIEDWALD, 3/24/09, WSJ)

In 1940, the aspiring lyricist Alan Bergman was 15; he had a family friend who worked for NBC, and he was able to sneak into a rehearsal by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra. "I heard Benny call something called 'Benny Rides Again,' which they were apparently playing for the first time. I just absolutely fell out of my chair! It was the most amazing thing I had ever heard in my life. I had never heard music like that before -- no one had."

Mr. Bergman describes the Goodman Orchestra of the early '40s as "Benny's all-time greatest band," and he's not alone in this opinion. To more casual fans, the Goodman band that played the historic Carnegie Hall concert of January 1938 had more sheer star power. But the ensemble of the immediate prewar period was something else again. This is shown in a seven-CD collection of that band's essential recordings, "Classic Columbia and OKeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions 1939-1958" (www.mosaicrecords.com), released just in time for the Benny Goodman Centennial.

As Loren Schoenberg writes in the set's excellent liner notes, Goodman's intention with this band was nothing less than "the reinvention of the jazz orchestra." So the clarinetist hired and encouraged a staff of brilliant young, forward-thinking composer-orchestrators. Although Goodman had no shortage of star soloists in this period -- such as trumpeter Cootie Williams and drummers Dave Tough and Sid Catlett -- the real stars of the band were arrangers like Mel Powell, and especially Eddie Sauter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 25, 2009 6:06 AM
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