When clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman died in 1986, he was eulogized by Bill Barol in Newsweek magazine as “arguably the only white jazz player to be the best on his instrument.” Known to critics and fans alike as “the King of Swing,” Goodman—with the help of his arranger Fletcher Henderson—was largely responsible for the popularity of swing-style jazz during the late 1930s. As John McDonough writing in down beat put it, Goodman’s “sharp, clean, legato clarinet solos performed against the smooth, unbroken, ensemble curves of his band were the perfect musical equivalent to an optimistic era marked by speed, sophistication, and streamlining.” But though Goodman made famous such swing and jazz classics such as “Sing, Sing, Sing,” “Let’s Dance,” and “The King Porter Stomp,” he was also a brilliant classical musician and commissioned works for the clarinet from such composers as Bela Bartok and Aaron Copland.
Born May 30, 1909, in Chicago, Illinois, Benjamin David Goodman was the eighth child of eleven. His father was a tailor, and the family was poor, but the Goodmans believed in education of all kinds. When his father learned that the local synagogue gave music lessons and rented instruments at extremely low rates, he sent young Benny and two of his older brothers over. The biggest boy came home with a tuba, the middle with a trumpet, and Benny—as the youngest and smallest, came home with a clarinet. He took lessons first at the synagogue and later studied at philanthropist Jane Addams’s Hull House, where he was taught by a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. By the time Goodman was thirteen, he was playing professionally and had received his first union card. He performed on the excursion boats that skimmed Lake Michigan, and in 1923 was a steady player at a local dance hall called Guyon’s Paradise.
When Goodman was sixteen years old, he traveled to Los Angeles, California, to play with the Ben Pollack Band. While he was with them he took part in the band’s recording sessions; in addition to clarinet solos that showed the influence of players such as Jimmie Noone and Leo Rappolo, he also dabbled with the saxophone. After approximately four years, however, Goodman left Pollack and made his living as a freelance side man, working in recording and in radio. Though he was fairly successful, he was affected by the Great Depression, and did not turn down the opportunity to play college dances with bands that he had formed because, by this time, he was supporting his widowed mother.
The young clarinet player’s fortune was forever altered in late 1933, when he made the acquaintance of jazz enthusiast John Henry Hammond. Hammond encouraged Goodman to form a jazz group, and though
Full name, Benjamin David Goodman; born May 30, 1909, in Chicago, II. Son of David (a tailor) and Dora (Grisinsky) Goodman; married Alice Hammond Duckworth, March, 1942; children: Rachel, Benjie (daughters); died of cardiac arrest, June 13, 1986, in New York, N.Y.
Began playing clarinet professionally while still in his teens; played with the Ben Pollack band, c. 1925-29; freelance sideman, 1929-34; leader of his own swing band, 1934-40; studied classical clarinet with Reginald Kell, 1949; appeared with his swing band, 1955-86. Appeared in films, including Sweet and Lowdown, The Big Broadcast of 1937, A Song is Born, Powers Girl, Hollywood Hotel, and Stagedoor Canteem. Appeared on radio shows, including Let’s Dance and Camel Caravan. Had own television show, 1958-59, Swing Into Spring. Taught at the Julliard School of Music.
Awards: Elected to the down beat Hall of Fame, 1957; two Grammy Hall of Fame awards; honored by the Kennedy Center, 1982; Grammy Award for life achievement, 1985; honorary doctor of music, Columbia University, 1986.
Goodman’s intent was to use the band in a recording session for English audiences, the resulting cuts were also released by Columbia in the United States, generating a cult following. By 1934 Goodman and his band had performed in famed promoter Billy Rose’s Music Hall, and were featured on the National Broadcasting Corporation’s radio program, “Let’s Dance.” Though a subsequent winter tour was discouraging to Goodman and his musicians, they were suddenly introduced to enormous popularity when they hit the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles. As Barol explained: “The kids went nuts, jitterbugging wildly.... The swing era was born.”
From that point on, Goodman was a musical celebrity. He went on to play successful band concerts at places such as Carnegie Hall and, in one of his most memorable sessions, the Paramount Theatre in 1937. The strains of such swing songs as “One O’Clock Jump,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “Air Mail Special,” and “Don’t Be That Way,” dominated the United States’ radio waves. The clarinetist and his band also appeared in a few motion pictures. Along the way, however, Goodman made social history by becoming the first white bandleader to make a black musician part of his group when he hired pianist Teddy Wilson in 1936. With Wilson, Goodman’s core bandmembers were Gene Krupa on drums and after 1937, Lionel Hampton, another black jazz artist, on the vibraphones. According to Maclean’s magazine, Goodman refused to play concert dates in the southern states, where audiences were segregated by race.
After World War II, the combination of a decline in the popularity of the big band sound and Goodman’s health concerns prompted the clarinetist to break up his band. But as early as 1938 Goodman had begun to pursue his interest in classical clarinet; he performed works such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Concerto in A Major for Clarinet, and asked Bartok to compose an original work for the clarinet for him. After recording the result, Contrasts, on Columbia Records in 1940, he commissioned concertos from Copland and Paul Hindemith. Goodman, however, was dissatisfied with his own skills, and in 1949 began to study with famed classical clarinetist Reginald Kell. Kell taught him a completely new approach to the instrument, but critics concluded that Goodman’s own unique style of playing had only been improved by these changes. As Maclean’s put it: “For… classical music, Goodman used the pure, literate tone that Mozart required. But when digging into… pop hits… he produced a gritty and guttural sound that would earn an F from any conservatory professor.” Actually, Goodman also spent some time as a conservatory professor himself, occasionally teaching at the Juilliard School of Music.
After 1955, the year when the story of Goodman’s life was made into a feature film starring Steve Allen by Universal-International, renewed interest in his music stirred by the movie induced the clarinetist to form another jazz band. By 1956, he was performing again. In addition to prestigious dates in New York and other U.S. cities, Goodman took his music to the rest of the world. He toured the Far East from 1956 to 1957, and Europe in 1959. As part of a cultural exchange program, he became the first man to tour the Soviet Union with a jazz band—he was extremely well-received by Soviet audiences. Goodman continued to perform and record for the rest of his life and accumulated many honors, including recognition by the Kennedy Center, a Grammy award for life achievement, and—a month before his death from cardiac arrest on June 13,1986—an honorary doctorate of music from Columbia University.
“Bugle Call Rag,” Columbia, 1934.
“Let’s Dance,” 1935.
“Good-bye,” MCA, Inc., 1935.
“King Porter Stomp,” Victor, 1936.
“Stompin’ at the Savoy,” Victor, 1936.
“Down South Camp Meetin’,” Victor, 1935.
“Moonglow,” Victor, 1936.
“Sing, Sing, Sing,” Victor, 1937.
“Avalon,” Victor, 1937.
“Don’t Be That Way,” Victor, 1938.
“And the Angels Sing” Victor, 1939.
“Dizzy Fingers,” Victor, 1947.
“Stealin’Apples,” Victor, 1948.
“These Foolish Things Remind Me of You.”
“One O’Clock Jump.”
This is Benny Goodman (two-album set; includes singles reissued from the 1930s and 1940s), RCA, 1971.
Benny Goodman: Trio and Quartet —Live, Columbia, 1976.
Benny Goodman Sextet, Columbia, 1986.
Benny Goodman: Clarinet a la King, Columbia, 1987.
Benny Goodman Sextet: Slipped Disc, 1945-46, Columbia, 1988.
Benny Goodman: Best of the Big Bands, Columbia, 1990.
Goodman, Benny, and Irving Kolodin, The Kingdom of Swing, Stackpole Sons, 1939.
down beat, September, 1986.
Maclean’s, June 23, 1986.
Newsweek, June 23, 1986.
New Yorker, December 1, 1986.
People, June 30, 1986.
Goodman, Benny (actually Benjamin David), American bandleader and clarinetist; b. Chicago, May 30, 1909; d. N.Y, June 13, 1986. Goodman popularized swing music and was its most successful early practitioner. An accomplished clarinetist, Goodman dominated both his big band and smaller groups, combining a high level of jazz proficiency with enormous commercial appeal. Among the many major hits he scored in the 1930s and 1940s, the most popular were ”And the Angels Sing,” “Goodnight, My Love’ “Goody Goody,” and “Taking a Chance on Love.”
Goodman was the ninth child of Russian immigrants David and Dora Rezinsky Goodman. His father was a tailor, and his early years were spent in extreme poverty. At the age of ten he began taking clarinet lessons at a synagogue, then joined the band at the settlement home Hull House and took lessons from Franz Schoepp. He first played professionally at the age of 12 and was soon performing in bands around Chicago, dropping out of high school at 14 to work full-time. In August 1925 he joined Ben Pollack’s Orch., with which he stayed off and on for four years, making his first released recordings with the band in December 1926. His first recordings under his own name, “A Jazz Holiday” and “Wolverine Blues” (music and lyrics by Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton, Benjamin F. Spikes, and John C. Spikes), were made in January 1928.
Goodman left Pollack in N.Y in September 1929 and worked as a freelance musician during the early years of the Depression, doing recording sessions, many of them organized by Ben Selvin, as well as playing on the radio and in the pit orchs. of Broadway musicals. During this period he studied music theory with Joseph Schillinger. He also made occasional recordings under his own name and scored his first minor hit with “He’s Not Worth Your Tears” in January 1931. In the fall of 1933 he began recording regularly for Columbia Records and scored hits in early 1934 with “Ain’t Cha Glad?” (music by Fats Waller, lyrics by Andy Razaf), “Riffin’ the Scotch” (music and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, Dick McDonough, Benny Goodman, and Buck Washington) with Billie Holiday on vocals, and “Ol’ Pappy” (music by Jerry Livingston, lyrics by Marty Symes and Al J. Neiburg) with Mildred Bailey on vocals.
Goodman organized a permanent orchestra for a residence at Billy Rose’s Music Hall in the spring of 1934. As he began the engagement on June 1, he was enjoying another hit with “I Ain’t Lazy, I’m Just Dreamin’” (music and lyrics by Dave Franklin), and his recording of “Moon Glow” (music and lyrics by Will Hudson, Eddie DeLange, and Irving Mills) became a best-seller in July. Before the four-and-a-half month stand ended in October, he scored further hits with “Take My Word” and “Bugle Call Rag” (music and lyrics by Jack Pettis, Billy Meyers, and Elmer Schoebel).
In December 1934, Goodman’s was one of three bands chosen to perform on the three-hour Saturday night radio program Let’s Dance, broadcast over the NBC network. The show lasted six months, and the exposure allowed him to achieve a series of hits that included “I’m a Hundred Percent for You” (music by Ben Oakland, lyrics by Mitchell Parish and Irving Mills) and “Blue Moon” (music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart) in January 1935, “Music Hall Rag” in February, “Night Wind” (music by David A. Pollack, lyrics by Bob Rothberg) in March, and “I Was Lucky” (music by Jack Stern, lyrics by Jack Meskill) in April.
Goodman signed to RCA Victor Records and under-took a national tour in the summer of 1935. Initially problematic, it became a spectacular success starting on Aug. 21, 1935, opening night at the Palomar Ballroom near L.A., a date remembered as marking the birth of the Swing Era. In November he began a six- month residency at the Congress Hotel in Chicago, during which he enjoyed a series of Top Ten entries on the hit parade: “No Other One” (music and lyrics by Tot Seymour and Vee Lawnhurst) in November, “It’s Been So Long” (music by Walter Donaldson, lyrics by Harold Adamson) in February 1936, and “Goody Goody” (music and lyrics by Johnny Mercer and Matty Malneck), which hit #1 in March.
Goodman again topped the hit parade with “The Glory of Love” (music and lyrics by Billy Hill) in July and with “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” (music by Jack Strachey and Harry Link, lyrics by Erich Maschwitz writing under the pseudonym Holt Marvell) in August, and he reached the Top Ten with “You Can’t Pull the Wool Over My Eyes” (music and lyrics by Milton Ager, Charles Newman, and Murray Mencher) in June, “You Turned the Tables on Me” (music by Louis Alter, lyrics by Sidney D. Mitchell) in October, and “Here’s Love in Your Eyes” (music by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Leo Robin) in November. The last title was performed in the motion picture, The Big Broadcast of 1937, released in October 1936, which marked the Goodman Orch.’s movie debut. The same month, the band began a residency at N.Y.’s Pennsylvania Hotel. Also in 1936, they launched a radio series, The Camel Caravan, which ran to the end of 1939.
In January 1937 trumpeter Harry James joined the Goodman Orch. He was featured on the band’s next major hit, “Goodnight, My Love” (music by Harry Revel, lyrics by Mack Gordon), on which Ella Fitzgerald sang; the song topped the hit parade in February. Goodman’s other hit parade entries for the year were “This Year’s Kisses” (music and lyrics by Irving Berlin), which went to #1 in March, and “Afraid to Dream” (music by Harry Revel, lyrics by Mack Gordon) in September. During the year, the group made another film, Hollywood Hotel, released in December.
Goodman gave a historic jazz concert at Carnegie Hall on Jan. 16, 1938; its climax was a performance of “Sing, Sing, Sing” (music and lyrics by Louis Prima), and the studio recording of the song later was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Goodman made frequent appearances in the hit parade during the year, including: “Bob White” (music by Bernard Hanighen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer) and “You Took the Words Right Out of My Heart” (music by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Leo Robin) in January; “It’s Wonderful” (music by Stuff Smith, lyrics by Mitchell Parish) in March; “Don’t Be That Way” (music by Edgar Sampson) in April; “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” (music by Duke Ellington, lyrics by Henry Nemo, John Redmond, and Irving Mills), which hit #1 in July; “What Goes On Here in My Heart” (music by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Leo Robin) in August; “I’ve Got a Date with a Dream” (music by Harry Revel, lyrics by Mack Gordon) in September; and “This Can’t Be Love” (music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart) and “What Have You Got That Gets Me” (music by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Leo Robin) in December.
Goodman scored his biggest hit in more than two years in April 1939 with “And the Angels Sing,” the music for which was written by his trumpeter, Ziggy Elman, who also contributed a memorable solo. Lyrics for the song, which went to #1 in May, were by Johnny Mercer. This recording also was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Goodman’s only other hit parade entry for the year came in November with “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” (music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart), one of the first records he released after returning to Columbia Records. The same month, he appeared with a sextet in the musical Swingin’ the Dream (N.Y, Nov. 29, 1939), which had songs by James Van Heusen and Eddie DeLange; it ran 13 performances. From the score, he recorded “Darn That Dream,” with a vocal by Mildred Bailey, and it topped the hit parade in March 1940. He was back in the hit parade in April with “How High the Moon” (music by Morgan Lewis, lyrics by Nancy Hamilton) and in May with “I Can’t Love You Anymore” (music by Allie Wrubel, lyrics by Herb Magidson).
Goodman’s orch. temporarily disbanded in July 1940 and he underwent an operation to correct a slipped disk. He reorganized his band in October. His next Top Ten hit came in April 1941 with his 1939 recording of “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” (music by W. Benton Over street, lyrics by Billy Higgins); interest in the 1924 song had been sparked by its use in the film Play Girl, released in January 1941. Goodman returned to the radio during the year, broadcasting for Old Gold cigarettes. On March 21, 1942, he married Alice Hammond Duckworth, the sister of his musical advisor, John Hammond. They had two daughters.
Goodman returned to the Top Ten in April 1942 with “Somebody Else Is Taking My Place” (music and lyrics by Dick Howard, Russ Morgan, and Bob Ellsworth), which had a vocal by Peggy Lee, and with the instrumental “Jersey Bounce” (music by Bobby Plater, Tiny Bradshaw, and Edward Johnson). In May he appeared in the film Syncopation. Despite the onset of the musicians’ union recording ban in August, he had stockpiled enough recordings that he was able to maintain a normal release schedule for nearly a year, and he scored Top Ten hits with “Take Me” (music by Rube Bloom, lyrics by Mack David) in August and “Idaho” (music and lyrics by Jesse Stone) in September, both with vocals by Dick Haymes, and with “Why Don’t You Do Right” (music and lyrics by Joe McCoy) with vocals by Peggy Lee in January 1943, while “Taking a Chance on Love” (music by Vernon Duke, lyrics by John Latouche and Ted Fetter) topped the charts in June 1943. He spent some of his time in Hollywood, appearing in the films The Powers Girl (January 1943), Stage Door Canteen (July 1943), and The Gang’s All Here (December 1943).
Goodman again disbanded in March 1944 because of a dispute with his agent. In September he had a major role in the film Sweet and Low-Down. He appeared with a quintet in the Cole Porter revue Seven Lively Arts (N. Y., Dec. 7, 1944), which ran 182 performances. In April 1945 he had his first Top Ten album with Hot Jazz, which reissued some of his 1930s recordings for RCA Victor. He reorganized his big band and went back to recording for Columbia, scoring three Top Ten hits during 1945: “Gotta Be This or That” (music and lyrics by Sunny Skylar) in July; “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E. Y. Harburg and Billy Rose) in September; and “I’m Gonna Love That Guy” (music and lyrics by Frances Ash) in October. In 1946 he reached the Top Ten of the singles charts with “Symphony” (music by Alex Alstone, English lyrics by Jack Lawrence) in January and “Blue Skies” (music and lyrics by Irving Berlin) in August, and his album Benny Goodman Sextet Session hit #1 in May.
During 1946 and into 1947, Goodman shared a radio show with musical comedian Victor Borge. He scored a Top Ten hit with “A Gal in Calico” (music by Arthur Schwartz, lyrics by Leo Robin) in January 1947. In October 1948 he appeared in the film A Song Is Born, and he scored his last Top Ten single with “On a Slow Boat to China” (music and lyrics by Frank Loesser) in December. With his band of 1948-9 he tried mixing bebop with his more familiar swing repertoire. In December 1949 he disbanded, thereafter assembling groups only for specific tours or recording sessions.
Discovering transcriptions of his January 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, Goodman released the album Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert, Vols. 1 & 2 on Columbia in November 1950; it reached the Top Ten and stayed in the charts for a year, becoming the best-selling jazz album up to that time. Later, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Columbia followed it in the fall of 1952 with an album of air-checks, Benny Goodman, 1937-1938, Jazz Concert No. 2, which went to #1 in December.
Goodman rerecorded some of his better-known songs for the Capitol album E.G. in Hi-Fi, which hit the Top Ten in March 1955. He recorded the music for his film biography, The Benny Goodman Story, starring Steve Allen, and upon the film’s release in February 1956 the soundtrack album hit the Top Ten. Increasingly, Goodman performed overseas, starting with a Far East tour in 1956-57, and in 1962 he undertook a tour of the U.S.S.R. that resulted in the chart LP Benny Goodman in Moscow. A studio reunion of the 1930s version of the Benny Goodman Quartet, featuring Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, and Lionel Hampton, resulted in the 1964 chart LP Together Again!
Goodman recorded less frequently in the last two decades of his life, but he returned to the charts in 1971 with Benny Goodman Today, a live album recorded in Stockholm. He continued to perform until his death from a heart attack in 1986 at the age of 77. After he died, his final album, Let’s Dance, the soundtrack to a television special, earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Big Band.
With Irving Kolodin, The Kingdom of Swing(N.Y, 1939); introduction by S. Baron, B.: King of Swing: A Pictorial Biography Based on B. G.’s Personal Archives (N.Y, 1979).
D. Connor and W. Hicks, B. G. Off the Record: A BioDiscography ofB. G. (Fairless Hills, Pa., 1958; rev. ed., B. G. on the Record: A Bio-Discography of B. G., 1969; 2nd rev. ed. The Record of a Legend: A Bio-Discography ofB. G., 1984); S. Ayeroff, B. G.for B-Flat Clarinet (1980); Ayeroff, B. G. (1986); D. Connor, B. G.: Listen to His Legacy (Metuchen, N.J., 1988); B. Crowther, B. G. (London, 1988); J. Collier, B. G. and the Swing Era (N.Y, 1989); R. Firestone, Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life & Times of B. G. (N.Y, 1993); D. Connor, B. G.: Wrappiri It Up (Lanham, Md., 1996).
Benny Goodman (1909-1986) was a great jazz clarinetist and leader of one of the most popular big bands of the Swing Era (1935-1945).
Benjamin David Goodman was born in Chicago, Illinois, on May 30, 1909, of a large, poor Jewish family. (A brother, Harry, was later a bassist in Benny's band.) Benny studied music at Hull House and at the age of 10 was already a proficient clarinetist. At age 12, appearing on stage in a talent contest, he did an imitation of the prevailing clarinet favorite, Ted Lewis; so impressed was popular bandleader Ben Pollack that five years later he sent for Goodman to join the band at the Venice ballroom in Los Angeles. After a three-year stint with Pollack, Goodman left in 1929 to free-lance in New York City in pit bands and on radio and recordings. In 1934 he led his first band on an NBC radio series called "Let's Dance" (which became the title of Goodman's theme song). The band also played at Billy Rose's Music Hall and at the Roosevelt Hotel and made a handful of records for the Columbia and Victor labels.
In 1935, armed with a repertory developed by some great African American arrangers (Benny Carter, Edgar Sampson, Horace Henderson, and ex-bandleader and Swing Era genius Fletcher Henderson), the band embarked on a most significant road trip. Not especially successful in most of its cross-country engagements, the band arrived at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles in a discouraged mood. The evening of August 21, 1935, began inauspiciously, the audience lukewarm to the band's mostly restrained dance music. In desperation Goodman called for the band to launch into a couple of "flagwavers" (up-tempo crowd-pleasers)—"Sometimes I'm Happy" and "King Porter Stomp"—and the crowd reaction was ultimately to send shock waves through the entire pop music world. Hundreds of people stopped dancing and massed around the bandstand, responding enthusiastically and knowledgably to arrangements and solos that they recognized from the just recently released records. (Apparently Goodman had been too conservative both early in his tour and earlier that night and had underestimated his audience.)
The Palomar engagement turned out to be not only a personal triumph for the band but for swing music in general, serving notice to the music business that "sweet" dance music would have to move over and make room for the upstart (and more jazz-based) sound. Goodman's popularity soared: the band topped almost all the magazine and theater polls, their record sales were astronomical, they were given a weekly cigarette-sponsored radio show, and they were featured in two big-budget movies, "Hollywood Hotel" and "The Big Broadcast of 1937." But an even greater triumph awaited. Impresario John Hammond rented that bastion of classical music, Carnegie Hall, for a concert that was to win respectability for the music. The night of January 16, 1938, is now legendary; responding to the electric expectancy of the overflow audience, the band outdid itself, improving on recorded favorites like "King Porter Stomp," "Bugle Call Rag," "Down South Camp Meeting," and "Don't Be That Way." It capped off the evening with a lengthy, classic version of "Sing, Sing, Sing" which featured some brilliant solo work by trumpeter Harry James, pianist Jess Stacy, and Benny himself.
Two of the finest musicians ever to work with Goodman were pianist Teddy Wilson and vibraphonist-drummer Lionel Hampton. Both were with the band from the mid-1930s and both were present at Carnegie Hall, but they were used only in trio and quartet contexts because of the unwritten rule forbidding racially integrated bands. Goodman has the distinction of being the first white leader (Artie Shaw and Charlie Barnet followed suit) to challenge segregation in the music business, and as the restrictions eased he hired other African American greats such as guitarist Charlie Christian, trumpeter Cootie Williams, bassist Slam Stewart, and tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray.
Goodman's band had a greater personnel turnover than most bands, and an endless array of top-notch musicians moved through the band, among them trumpeters Bunny Berigan, Harry James, and Ziggy Elman; trombonist Lou McGarity; tenor saxophonists Bud Freeman, Georgie Auld, Zoot Sims, and Stan Getz; pianists Mel Powell and Joe Bushkin; vibists Red Norvo and Terry Gibbs; and drummers Dave Tough and Louis Bellson. Most defected to other bands and a few to start their own bands (Krupa, James, and Hampton). Overwhelmingly, musicians found Goodman an uncongenial employer: he was reputed to be stern and tight-fisted. A taciturn, scholarly-looking man, Goodman was unflattering referred to in music circles as "The Ray" because of his habit of glaring at any player guilty of a "clam" or "clinker" (a wrong note), even in rehearsal. A virtuoso clarinetist equally at home performing Mozart (which he did in concerts and on records), Goodman was less than patient with technical imperfection.
After World War II the clarinet, which, along with the tenor saxophone, had been the Swing Era's glamour instrument, was relegated to a minor role in bebop's scheme of things. Even the peerless Buddy DeFranco, the definitive bebop clarinetist, was unluckily marginal in an alto saxophone-and-trumpet-dominated idiom. Goodman struggled for a while to reconcile himself to the new music, but in 1950 he decided to disband, and from that time forward his public appearances were rare and were chiefly with small groups (usually sextets or septets) and almost exclusively for television specials or recordings or European tours. In 1950 he toured Europe with a septet that included two other jazz greats, trumpeter Roy Eldridge and tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims. His most celebrated tour, however, was part of the first-ever cultural exchange with the Soviet Union. In 1962, at the behest of the State Department, he went to Russia with a septet that included Sims and alto saxophonist Phil Woods. The trip was a smashing success and contributed greatly to the popularization of American jazz in Eastern Europe.
After his marriage in 1941, Goodman's home was New York City; his wife Alice (John Hammond's sister) died in 1978; they had two daughters, and she had three by a previous marriage. Goodman maintained his habit of spot-performing and in 1985 made a surprise and, by all accounts, spectacular appearance at the Kool Jazz Festival in New York. He died the following year of an apparent heart attack.
With his withdrawal from the limelight, most observers felt that he became a deeper, less flashy player than he was in the glory years when he was fronting the country's most popular swing band. His ultimate contribution to jazz, however, is still being debated: much post-1940s jazz criticism retrospectively judged him to have been overrated relative to the era's other great clarinetist-leader, Artie Shaw, and to the great early Black players of the instrument (Jimmy Noone, Johnny Dodds, Edmond Hall, and Lester Young, a tenor saxophonist who "doubled" on clarinet) and the great white traditionalist Pee Wee Russell. Esthetic evaluations are problematical at best and tend to fluctuate from era to era, but Goodman's technical mastery, burnished tone, highly individual (and influential) solo style, and undeniable swing certainly earned him a permanent place in the jazz pantheon.
There is no serious biography of Goodman. There was a promotional autobiography, written with the help of Irving Kolodin, in 1939 called The Kingdom of Swing. A film biography produced in 1955 titled "The Benny Goodman Story" is more Hollywood than Goodman. Probably the best source is a biography-discography by D. Russell O'Connor and Warren W. Hicks, Benny Goodman—On the Record (1969). □
Benny Goodman was a great jazz clarinet player and the leader of one of the most popular big bands of the Swing Era (1935–1945). In fact, Time magazine dubbed him "the King of Swing."
Benjamin David Goodman was born in Chicago, Illinois, on May 30, 1909, into a large, poor Jewish family. His parents, who had moved to the United States from Eastern Europe, were Dora and David Goodman. Benny formally studied music at the famed Hull House (a settlement house that was originally opened by Jane Addams [1860–1935] to provide services to poor members of the community), and at the age of ten he was already a skilled clarinetist. At age twelve, appearing onstage in a talent contest, he did an imitation of the popular Ted Lewis. So impressed was bandleader Ben Pollack that five years later he sent for Goodman to join his band in Los Angeles, California. After three years with Pollack, Goodman left the band in New York City in 1929 to make it on his own. In 1934 he led his first band on a radio series called "Let's Dance" (which became the title of Goodman's theme song). The band also played at dance halls and made a handful of records.
The turning point
In 1935, armed with songs developed by some of the great African American arrangers, Goodman's band traveled the country to play their music. Not especially successful in most of its performances, the band arrived at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles in a discouraged mood. The evening of August 21, 1935, began coolly. Then, desperate to wow the unimpressed audience, Goodman called for the band to launch into a couple of fast-paced crowd pleasers, and the reaction ultimately sent shock waves through the entire popular music world. Hundreds of people stopped dancing and massed around the bandstand, responding with enthusiasm.
That performance turned out to be not only a personal triumph for the band, but for swing music in general. Goodman's popularity soared; the band topped almost all the magazine and theater polls, their record sales were huge, they were given a weekly radio show, and they were featured in two big-budget movies. But an even greater triumph awaited—a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York that was to win respect for Goodman's music. The night of January 16, 1938, is now famous; the band outdid itself, improving on recorded favorites such as "King Porter Stomp" and "Don't Be That Way." The band finished the evening with a lengthy, classic version of "Sing, Sing, Sing."
Goodman the person
Two of the finest musicians ever to work with Goodman were pianist Teddy Wilson (1912–1986) and vibraphonist-drummer Lionel Hampton (1909–2002). However, they played only in small-group arrangements because of the unwritten rule that did not allow white musicians and African American musicians to play together. Goodman was the first white bandleader to challenge segregation (keeping people of different races separate) in the music business, and as the rules eased he hired other African American greats.
Many top-notch musicians joined and left Goodman's band over the years, more so than in other bands. Most musicians found Goodman an unfriendly employer. He was said to be stern and stingy with money. Moreover, Goodman was referred to in music circles as "the Ray," because of his habit of glaring at any player guilty of a "clam" or "clinker" (a wrong note), even in rehearsal. An outstanding clarinetist who was equally at home performing difficult classical music, Goodman was not very patient with anything that was not technically perfect.
After 1945 the clarinet was pushed into a minor role in bebop music, the new style of jazz that was becoming popular. Goodman struggled for a while to accept the new music, but in 1950 he decided to dissolve his band. From that time forward his public appearances were rare. They were mostly with small groups and almost always for television specials, recordings, or European tours. His most celebrated tour, however, was part of the first-ever cultural exchange with the Soviet Union. In 1962, at the request of the U.S. State Department, he went to the Soviet Union with a band. The trip was a smashing success and greatly helped American jazz become popular in Eastern Europe.
After his marriage in 1941, Goodman's home was New York City. His wife, Alice, with whom he had two daughters, died in 1978. Goodman maintained his habit of performing on occasion. In 1985 he made a surprise and, by all accounts, spectacular appearance at the Kool Jazz Festival in New York. He died the following year of an apparent heart attack.
Goodman's ultimate contribution to jazz is still being debated. Much post-1940s jazz criticism has judged him to have been over-rated compared to other jazz greats. Nonetheless, Goodman's technical mastery, polished tone, highly individual (and influential) solo style, and undeniable swing certainly have earned him a permanent place in jazz history.
For More Information
Collier, James Lincoln. Benny Goodman and the Swing Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Connor, D. Russell. Benny Goodman: Wrappin' It Up. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1996.
Firestone, Ross. Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman. New York: Norton, 1993.
Goodman, Benny. Benny, King of Swing. New York: W. Morrow, 1979.
Jazz clarinetist and bandleader Benjamin David Goodman (May 30, 1909–June 13, 1986) was born in Chicago, the ninth of twelve children of poor immigrant parents. The children worked at early ages but also studied music. Benny showed talent on the clarinet, and he soon acquired a professional competence. While in Chicago Benny was exposed to "hot" African-American jazz, which deeply influenced his tastes.
At sixteen Goodman joined Ben Pollack's rising orchestra and began touring and recording. In 1929 he began freelancing in New York City to help support his family. He hoped to form his own band, but prospects during the Depression were dim. In 1933, though, the important young jazz promoter John Hammond (Goodman's future brother-in-law) hired the clarinetist to lead a recording ensemble. The two soon created a "hot" orchestra that challenged the dominance of "sweet" band music. Skilled white musicians, such as the trumpeter Bunny Berigan, drummer Gene Krupa, and Goodman's brother Harry, a bassist, were hired, as was the African-American arranger and ex-bandleader Fletcher Henderson. In 1935, appearances on the NBC Radio program Let's Dance inspired a cross-country tour. The final engagement at Los Angeles's Palomar Ballroom was a wild success. The band's youthful hot "swing"—performed by white musicians—arrived just as economic optimism stirred and young listeners were spending more on leisure. Extended bookings and recording contracts resulted; Goodman was dubbed "the King of Swing," and the big-band era had begun.
Hammond, a civil rights activist, encouraged the hiring of the pianist Teddy Wilson and the vibraphonist Lionel Hampton for recordings also featuring Goodman and Krupa. When the quartet appeared in public with the band, Goodman was credited by many with breaking jazz's color line. The combo's brilliant improvisations enhanced swing artistically and inspired other bandleaders to integrate. Goodman later hired such fine white and black players as the trumpeters Harry James and Cootie Williams and the guitarist Charlie Christian. The 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, instigated by Hammond, was a highlight of this period.
In the late 1930s Goodman confronted frequent personnel changes and competition from other bands. His popularity fluctuated, but his almost fanatical work ethic kept the band (and his own playing) at artistically high levels. After 1940 he would commission clarinet works from Béla Bartók and Aaron Copland and increasingly perform classical music. Jazz's most important white bandleader and clarinetist, Goodman established his reputation in his twenties and maintained it for the rest of his long career.
Collier, James Lincoln. Benny Goodman and the Swing Era. 1989.
Firestone, Ross. Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman. 1993.
Goodman, Benny, and Irving Kolodin. The Kingdom of Swing. 1939.
Burton W. Peretti
GOODMAN, BENNY (Benjamin David ; 1909–1986), U.S. clarinetist and band leader. He learned to play the clarinet as a child in Chicago in a music instruction program fostered by a local synagogue. When he turned professional, he played in various well-known bands until he organized his own orchestra in 1933. Goodman became one of the founders of the "swing" style prevalent in the 1930s, and was called the "King of Swing." His was the first jazz ensemble in which both white and black musicians played together. At the same time he developed a technical mastery that led to his appearances with symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles. Bartok dedicated his clarinet trio "Contrasts" to him in 1938, and Hindemith (1947) and *Copland (1948) each wrote a clarinet concerto for him. He wrote an autobiography, The Kingdom of Swing (1961), and authorized Benny Goodman's Own Clarinet Method (1941), edited by Charles Hathaway.
D.R. Connor, bg – Off the Record (1958); P. Maffei, Benny Goodman (1961); E. Condon and R. Gehman (eds.), Eddie Condon's Treasury of Jazz (1956), 258–74; N. Shapiro and N. Hentoff (eds.), Jazz Makers (1957), 175–86.