Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bach Goes To Town--Benny Goodman Brings Swing Jazz to "High Hats" at Carnegie Hall

From a recording of the famous January 16, 1938 concert by the Benny Goodman Band at Carnegie Hall. This was a revolutionary moment in jazz history as the most famous symphony hall in America hosted a genuine 100 percent jazz band playing a "gig" in this most august arena of symphonic music in America.

From the PBS website on the documentary "Jazz", directed by Ken Burns:

"On January 16, 1938, Goodman brought a new level of recognition to jazz with a concert in Carnegie Hall, presenting Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Jess Stacy, Hampton, Krupa, and Wilson from his own entourage, as well as guest soloists from the bands of Duke Ellington and Count Basie.

"In the same period, Goodman became the first famous jazz musician to achieve success performing classical repertory. His early training with Schoepp had prepared him for this dual career by laying the foundation for a "legitimate" clarinet technique, which he continued to improve in later study with Reginald Kell. In 1935, he performed Mozart's Clarinet Quintet before an invited audience in the home of John Hammond, and three years later he recorded the work with the Budapest String Quartet. He appeared in his first public recital at Town Hall in New York in November 1938. That year he also commissioned the work Contrasts from Bartok and gave its premiere at Carnegie Hall in January 1939. He later commissioned clarinet concertos from Copland and Hindemith in 1947. Goodman appeared with all the leading American orchestras, performing and recording works by Leonard Bernstein, Debussy, Morton Gould, Darius Milhaud, Carl Nielsen, Poulenc, Stravinsky, and Carl Maria von Weber."

How appropriate to bring a pastiche of the great Johann Sebastian Bach to the performance.


  1. One can tell by the quality of the playing, Benny Goodman could work with any kind of music...........super stuff, doug! Thank you.

  2. Hahahaha, it's the toffs arriving at Carnegie Hall! Now that's what I call big band excellence.

    Was this music used in a film where the swimming pool under the dance floor opened and the students fell in. I may have it all wrong, there's just something in the back of my mind...

    I enjoyed watching and listening to that, thank you.

  3. Very cool. I love Swing and Benny Goodman. Thank you.

  4. Just as fresh and wonderfull as the day it was recorded. Sheer brilliance.

  5. Excellent piece here Doug, it sounds so light of touch a great opening tune thanks for posting it.

  6. A very interesting documentary clip of that big event at Carnegie Hall in 1938. Most of the audience in the film seem to have 'got it' .....if 'it' is a adrenalin rush and an appreciation of Swing as a bona fide American musical form.

    Amongst the sophisticated New York set there are no black faces in the audience, jazz had come a long way from Dixieland and its Rag Time roots in the deep South.

    Benny Goodman was clearly a great pioneer who helped jazz to fulfill the American Dream, by dragging itself up out of the fetid Louisiana red light district swamp and materialising here with classical credentials and expensive footwear in such a citadel of cultured respectability.

    The symbolic impact of jazz as a metaphor for America's coming of age seems to me to be captured and crystallised in this one decisive event.

    Great blog Doug.

  7. So right Cassandra! He practiced and practiced of course. I was amazed to read in a biography out years ago how versatile Benny Goodman was in all forms of music!

    Just goes to prove great art can come from anywhere--even from a small tenament flat in a rough end of Chicago, where Mr and Mrs Goodman raised their seven children, including young Benny.

    The one undeniably sad thing about Benny Goodman was that he lost his father to a car accident before his dad could see his get a foothold in music.
    He was second only to Louis Armstrong in my mind in bringing American Jazz to the forefront of global recognition. Thank you Cassandra.

  8. Yes, I'll bet a lot of those toffs couldn't resist moving to that enticing beat. :-)

    "The Beatles" played there as well in 1964. That was big news of course, but the 1938 event was a groundbreaker.

    I think you are thinking of a prom scene in the movie "It's A Wonderful Life" (1946) with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. If it's not "Bach Goes to Town", its something close. I'll see if You Tube or another site offers a clue.

  9. You're welcome Jacquie. Always great to have another swing fan on the boards here. :-)

  10. I thought the same thing Jim---great arrangments and outstanding musicians never get old.

  11. So true AA. It really comes off like water flowing down a clear blue stream to my ears.

  12. It was a quantum jump in the place of jazz in the culture I think AA. Another moment that comes to mind for me was the inclusion of Bill Haley's 1955 hit "Rock Around the Clock" popping up as a soundtrack booster in the hit film "Blackboard Jungle" of the same year.

    You describe what I also believe happened that evening very, very well--jazz started in the rough neighborhoods of New Orleans in some long evolution from over a century back, and that evolution crossed over slowly into the white middle-class in the 1920's--with much resistence--and then along comes Goodman and his troupe at just this moment to solidify the transformation into the mainstream. It is not abusing a cliche to say this was an American Dream fulfilled. No more were Americans to define themselves by what European music forms could approve.

    Now not only was the world from Paris to London and Buenos Aries following our lead, but I thin k jazz set a foundation that brought an end to the knee-jerk racism that we endemic in the culture--violent in some places, and passively accepted everywhere. You couldn't dig far into jazz without finding its roots in the African-American community, and how could segregation make any sense if everyone wanted to hear the best performers this American sound had to offer. Much still had to be done and fought for, of course, but here I think is the cultural foundation of momentous events to follow.

    Thank you AA.

  13. I saw a film about the Goodman family and Benny seemed to have the drive to get on. What interests me about that period was the way a band often changed its sound completely,as with Glen Miller.
    Benny Goodman's music still seems to be play by all ages even today.

    Yes, what a shame his father didn't see his success.

    I'm a bit hooked on films about tenement living. It seems to me life was promoted in a kind of theatre of living, where on a hot day one could hear family arguments and music, floating out on the air at every window. Hahaha, it's a bit like that in Italy.

    Indeed, the great Louis Armstrong. Thank YOU doug.

  14. I love the way all the men were wearing hats. All films of the time showed many fights but the hat always stayed firmly on the head.

    Oh, I didn't know that about the Beatles. For some reason I wasn't a fan and they were a bit before my time ( waits to be lynched).

    Oh yes, I am, I remember the laughter when that was shown at the film club. I see it is rated as one of the great films of the time. I have come back to add that much of the film was very sad .However, the scene I speak of was such fun

    I don't know why, but my mind kept searching, Strike up the band!

  15. I look forward to th video of that scene in, It's a wonderful Life,if you can find it, doug.

  16. That's one of the defining things about being an adult male that has left society--wearing a hat in public. I think Hollywood movies had something to do with that. The weather in Los Angeles is so warm that the public saw famous people not wearing hats to work and the idea of hatless-ness caught on.

    Truth be told, The Beatles were a bit before my time even Cassandra. I caught up with them in the mid-seventies. McCartney had moved onto "Wings" when I started listening to Top 40 music.

    Yes, it's a sad film in a lot of places. A lot of bitterness and frustration on James Stewart's part. But everybody remembers the last part of the film. But like "A Christmas Carol" at the end where all is very, very well and the whole town is better off with George Bailey ( Stewart) around after all. Even Tiny Tim recovers . Whoops, wrong film. :-)

  17. Goodman was a driven guy, no doubt.

    He nearly folded his big band up in 1935, however, and thought about being a record-studio performer until they achieved sudden success with that "Swing" sound. Young people for the first time in America had their "own music". It wasn't as seismic as rock and roll, which changed everything, but nobody saw "The Swing Era" coming--not even Goodman--nor Miller or Artie Shaw I suspect.

    Louis Armstrong became a world citizen with those High Cs on his trumpet. He really is without peer

  18. Fantastic blog been there and literally loved it Doug...Benny is someone that took music to an era of something that went beyond America...

  19. I credit hearing The Goodman Band's recording of "Where or When?" with really getting me into Swing Music Jack.

    Benny certainly went all the world, even Red Square at the height of the Cold War...he was really a great ambassador for that unique sound...thanks for stopping by.