About Benny Goodman (1909-1986)
Bandleader - Jazz Musician - "The King of Swing"
Born: 30 May 1909;
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois;
Death: 13 June 1986;
Known As: Clarinetist "The King of Swing"
(1909-1986), Jazz clarinetist, bandleader, and concert performer. The music of Benny Goodman, the "King of Swing," is most closely identified with the years 1935-1945, when big bands played at dances and on the radio. The swing band functioned like an orchestra, with a leader and carefully arranged musical parts. Many had elaborate costumes and "signature" tunes that were especially popular on radio. But Goodman was more than a bandleader and soloist; he also contributed to American musical history as a jazz clarinetist, composer, and performer of concert works for the clarinet.
Born in Chicago, Benjamin David Goodman received his earliest musical training in his synagogue and at Hull-House, the settlement house established by Jane Addams. As a high school student, he immersed himself in the jazz style that had become popular in New Orleans the previous decade, and clarinetists Leon Roppolo and Johnny Dodds and trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke were major influences on his early performance style.
Goodman made his professional debut in Chicago in 1921 and then left four years later to play with the Ben Pollack band in Los Angeles. He subsequently followed Pollack back to Chicago and then to New York, where, between 1929 and 1934 he was a popular free-lance player at a time when Fletcher Henderson and other bandleaders were developing swing band music. Goodman formed a twelve-piece band in 1934, which performed for the National Biscuit Company's weekly program on nbc radio, "Let's Dance." In August of 1935, the Goodman band performed live at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles. The dancers were so moved by the virtuosity of the arrangements and solos that they crowded around the bandstand to listen to a performance that has since been characterized as a high point in the history of swing.
Goodman's band was most successful from 1936 to 1939. His January 16, 1938, Carnegie Hall concert brought together a wide range of jazz soloists and contributed to the growing respectability of jazz as a performance art. He formed other, larger performing groups in the 1940s and experimented with be-bop, but these bands were never as popular as his earlier one. Goodman also recorded with jazz chamber groups, first a trio with pianist Teddy Wilson and drummer Gene Krupa, and later a quartet with Wilson, Krupa, and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton.
During World War II, Goodman recorded for the army's "V disc" program and performed for Armed Forces Radio. After the war, he became a musical ambassador, touring the Far East for the State Department in 1956-1957 and playing at the Brussels World's Fair in 1958.
Goodman continued recording into the 1980s and also achieved success as a performer of the traditional clarinet repertoire. He played and recorded with many orchestras and commissioned pieces by Béla Bartók, Paul Hindemith, and Aaron Copland
One of Goodman's most significant contributions to American culture was his bringing black and white musicians together in his performing and recording groups. He presented the best musical talent, regardless of the musician's race, at a time when segregation prevailed in the music world.
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Bibliography: D. Russell Connor, Benny Goodman: Listen to His Legacy (1989); Benny Goodman and Irving Kolodin, The Kingdom of Swing (1939); F. Kappler and G. Simon, Giants of Jazz: Benny Goodman (1979).
Author: Barbara L. Tischler