Jazz Stars: Benny Goodman

Today, on the birthday of Benny Goodman, the American clarinetist and bandleader known as the "King of Swing", the Jazz Stars column features a story about his life and a new selection of musical compositions that he plays.
Benjamin David Goodman was born in a poor immigrant family in Chicago on May 30, 1909. When Benny was 10 years old, he and his two brothers started going to the synagogue, which had a special music class. There, children were given musical instruments and trained to play them for just 25 cents a week. Benny received a clarinet.

A year later, he was already playing compositions by the famous clarinetist Ted Lewis to earn pocket money. Goodman joined the American Federation of Musicians when he was just 14 years old. It was a serious commitment, and he had to drop out of school to concentrate on music.
At the age of 16, he became a clarinetist in the orchestra of Ben Pollack. The 1925th saw the first gramophone recordings of the future 'King of Swing'. In September 1929, Goodman quits the Pollack Orchestra and moves to New York. There he begins his solo career: he performs on Broadway, makes radio recordings, and organizes small instrumental bands that perform his own compositions.

In 1933, Benny met John Hammond, a renowned jazz expert who was instrumental in the young clarinetist musical career. Hammond became not only Goodman's friend but also his mentor and producer. In the spring of 1934, on Hammond's advice, Benny Goodman formed his own orchestra, which made its debut performance in June. In November of the same year, he signed a contract with NBC for a series of radio shows “Let's Dance” (Shall We Dance), and in the spring of 1935, the orchestra embarked on its first national tour.

This was where swing came into play, believed to have happened when Benny's band played the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles on 21 August 1935. The concert was sensational and ushered in the swing era. Goodman was the first jazz musician to achieve success in the classical genre as well. The first philharmonic jazz concerts are also associated with Goodman, beginning with his landmark first jazz concert at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1938 (regarded as one of the most significant events of the jazz era), early experiments in swing stylization of baroque music. In December 1937, his orchestra was featured in the film “Hotel Hollywood”.

In Chicago, together with singer Helen Ward, Goodman performed a number of songs that had become real hits of their time, repeatedly hitting the top of the charts: "It's Been So Long", "Goody-Goody", "The Glory of Love", "These Foolish Things Remind Me of You", "You Turned the Tables on Me". By the late 1930s, Goodman had become a real star. As a clarinetist, Goodman influenced many Dixieland, swing and modern jazz musicians. Interestingly, being already super-popular, he took performance lessons from the famous Anglo-American clarinetist Reginald Kell. Goodman fostered a constellation of "stars", prominent orchestra leaders, arrangers and composers.
He is also known as a professional music tutor (from the 1940s he was head of the clarinet class at the Juilliard Institute). He also wrote the book “The Kingdom of Swing” (together with Irving Kolodin, 1939). Goodman's role in jazz history cannot be overstated. He helped many black musicians to gain public recognition (black and white musicians played together in his bands), expanded the world of solo improvisation in big bands, and did much to preserve and develop the hot-jazz tradition of swing, enriching the expressive resources of the big band and chamber jazz ensemble. The swing era began to come to an end by the mid-40s. Benny tried his hand at bebop and classical music. In 1944, Benny appeared in the Broadway musical “The Seven Arts”, which was enormously popular with audiences. To devote himself entirely to performing, he disbanded the jazz orchestra at the end of 1949, then ended his career as a composer

Thereafter, he would only assemble the bands for concerts, tours and recordings. These were mostly quintets or sextets, less frequently full-length big bands. Countries in Europe, the Far East, South America, the Soviet Union - that's the vast geography of Goodman's tour, famous not only as a prominent jazzman but also as a superb performer of the classical repertoire. When he came to the Soviet Union in 1962, it was said, "swing had almost deflated the Iron Curtain". In 1978, Benny Goodman's band performed at Carnegie Hall again to mark the 30th anniversary of the first concert. In 1982, Benny was awarded the Kennedy Centre Prize for Excellence in Swing Music. He received an honorary doctorate in music from Columbia University in 1986 and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. During his long 60-year career, Goodman has received countless awards, including an honorary doctorate from Yale University and a Peabody Medal from the Peabody Conservatory. He continued to play until his death on 13 June 1986 from a heart attack.

- Goodman was married once to the sister of his producer Hammond, Alice Frances Hammond Duckworth. One of his two daughters, Rachel, became a classical pianist.

-- In 1956, a film was made about Benny's life, “The Benny Goodman Story”. Steve Allen played the leading role in the film, but Goodman himself played the clarinet.
-- Together with Leonard Bernstein, the maestro has recorded works by Johannes Brahms, Aaron Copland and Claude Debussy.
-- While on tour in the Soviet Union during a visit to Red Square, Goodman was so enchanted by the rhythm of the honour guard at the Lenin Mausoleum that he took out a clarinet and played it. The next day the headlines read, "King of Swing, accompanied by soldiers' boots, plays jazz in the heart of communism".