About this Recording
8.120768 - GOODMAN, Benny: Sing, Sing, Sing (1937-1940)

‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ Original Recordings 1937-1940

In 1935 after his totally unexpected success at Los Angeles’ Palomar Ballroom, Benny Goodman was crowned ‘The King Of Swing’. The clarinettist was not the founder of swing or even leader of the first swing orchestra (Fletcher Henderson had preceded him by more than a decade) but it was his big band that caught on big first and launched the swing era.

Benny Goodman was an unlikely matinee idol, being an introvert who wore glasses and whose main concern was playing clarinet. Born 30 May 1909 in Chicago, he grew up in poverty. Goodman began playing clarinet when he was eleven and developed very quickly, winning an amateur contest with his imitation of the cornball clarinettist Ted Lewis. He joined the Musicians Union when he was fourteen and by that time was working regularly in the Chicago area.

In August 1925, the sixteen-year old Goodman joined the Ben Pollack Orchestra, becoming one of its featured stars. He made his recording debut with Pollack in December 1926 and at that early stage was already a very fluent and impressive player, most influenced by Jimmie Noone. He led his first record dates in 1928 and, after leaving Pollack in 1929, he worked with Red Nichols’ Five Pennies and became a very busy studio musician in New York.

By 1934, Goodman had become quite bored with his musical life despite it being very lucrative for that era. He longed to play jazz and lead a big band so he took a major chance. Goodman organized an orchestra that passed an audition (by one vote) to become one of the three bands on the Let’s Dance radio series. The radio programmes and record dates kept the Benny Goodman Orchestra busy until the series ended in May 1935. Faced with the certain breakup of his band due to lack of work, Goodman agreed to go on a cross-country tour.

The trip had its hits and misses, with Benny Goodman often drawing a respectable crowd in the bigger cities but playing to near-empty houses elsewhere. By the time his band limped its way to California, its days seemed numbered. But after playing a conservative dance set at the Palomar Ballroom, Goodman decided that there was nothing to lose and he had his band cut loose. The place exploded with excitement as dancers flooded the aisles, and the swing era was on.

From that point on, success followed success. Benny Goodman became a household name overnight, his orchestra was the most popular in jazz for the next couple years and on 12 January 1938 they became the first swing orchestra to perform a concert at Carnegie Hall.

One of the hits of that concert was first recorded by Goodman a few months earlier. Sing, Sing, Sing was a simple Louis Prima song until it was combined with the riffs of Chu Berry’s “Christopher Columbus” by arranger Jimmy Mundy and turned into a feature for the first superstar drummer, Gene Krupa. The extended studio version, which also features Goodman and trumpeter Harry James, is still a sensation.

Four of the next five songs have vocals by Martha Tilton. Although not as jazz-oriented as her predecessor Helen Ward, Tilton was a cheerful presence and her attractive voice kept her popular in her post-Goodman years. Pop-Corn Man became one of the rarest of all Benny Goodman recordings when it was recalled shortly after its release. The reason for the recall is obscure for there was nothing wrong with the lyrics, but possibly less than a dozen copies of the record escaped being destroyed.

When Helen Ward was in the Benny Goodman Orchestra, she recorded two titles with the Goodman Trio. Tilton’s only recording with a Goodman small group is her extended version of Bei Mir Bist Du Schon (a recent Andrews Sisters hit) with the Goodman Quartet plus trumpeter Ziggy Elman. Elman’s trumpet solo over a Jewish fralich dance section was a hint of things to come.

Although composed by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman had the hit version of I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart, thanks in large part to Tilton’s warm vocal. Since the clarinettist was always interested in playing classical music and he would record in that setting fairly extensively later in his life, it was only natural that he premier the novelty Bach Goes To Town.

After the success of Bei Mir Bist Du Schon, Ziggy Elman used a variation of his trumpet solo and recorded “Fralich In Swing.” In early 1939 Johnny Mercer gave the song lyrics and it resulted in Martha Tilton’s biggest hit, And The Angels Sing. Elman plays in a similar fashion on the obscure Who’ll Buy My Bublitchki.

By the time Benny Goodman recorded Stealin’ Apples in mid-1939, the swing world had changed quite a bit. Harry James and Gene Krupa had long since departed to lead successful big bands of their own and Goodman, though still called the ‘King’, was challenged in popularity by Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie and a recent upstart named Glenn Miller. Goodman, while modernizing his orchestra a bit by adding additional brass and reeds and sometimes utilizing the arrangements of Eddie Sauter, largely stayed clear of trends and fads, going his own way and continuing to play the swing music that he loved.

Stealin’ Apples, though composed by Fats Waller, was used by Fletcher Henderson as the theme song for his own 1936-39 orchestra. Henderson contributed the arrangement and plays piano on this version with Goodman.

The brightest new voice in the Goodman musical world in 1939 was Charlie Christian, a major pioneer of the electric guitar whose swinging ideas formed the basis for virtually all jazz guitar styles of the next thirty years. Christian holds his own with Goodman and Lionel Hampton on sextet versions of Rose Room and Flying Home, the latter heard in its earliest recording, two years before Hampton and Illinois Jacquet made it famous.

Mildred Bailey, after the breakup of her big band with Red Norvo, was for a short time the regular vocalist with Goodman’s orchestra. She is in fine form on a straightforward version of Darn That Dream, which is the first of several arrangements on this set by the adventurous writer Eddie Sauter. The catchy Zaggin’ With Zig was one of Ziggy Elman’s best features during his nearly four year period with BG. Busy As A Bee was the earliest number recorded by Helen Forrest with Goodman and she quickly proved to be one of his finest singers.

Two different versions of the Benny Goodman Sextet are heard on Boy Meets Goy and Wholly Cats. In the period between, the clarinettist had reluctantly broken up his big band in order to deal with contracting sciatica. He recovered well enough within a few months that he was able to put together a new orchestra that included some of his former sidemen including Charlie Christian and Helen Forrest, while also featuring former Duke Ellington trumpeter Cootie Williams and tenor-saxophonist Georgie Auld. Count Basie guests on Wholly Cats.

The new Goodman Orchestra is in excellent form on this programme’s final three numbers. Eddie Sauter’s Benny Rides Again is full of adventure with a prominent role for drummer Harry Jaeger. Helen Forrest does a good job on her version of Ethel Waters’ hit Taking A Chance On Love, with Fletcher Henderson providing the arrangement. Sauter’s eccentric Superman is a showcase for Cootie Williams and is one of the very few records ever issued under Benny Goodman’s name where one does not hear the clarinettist at all.

Still just 31 as 1940 drew to a close, Benny Goodman would remain a living legend and a household name during the 46 years he had left, never having to step down as ‘The King Of Swing’.

Scott Yanow – author of nine jazz books including Jazz On Film, Swing, Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record 1917-76

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