Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert (Columbia/Legacy)
Reviewed by Harvey Pekar, Fri., Dec. 10, 1999
Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert (Columbia/Legacy)One of the factors that helped popularize jazz was its presentation in high-class venues. Benny Goodman's January 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall certainly did a good deal to popularize the genre, for example. Beyond this, some impressive music was created, which is presented in its entirety, unissued missing tracks and solos being restored, on this 2-CD set. Participants included not only Goodman's band, but also musicians from Duke Ellington's and Count Basie's outfits. The concert, put on by Sol Hurok, was something of a risk, but sold out nevertheless, with the crowd loving every minute of it. Goodman's popular records and radio appearances had built him a large and loyal national audience, and though it wasn't in the same class as Ellington's or Basie's, his band was a fine one. In addition to clarinetist Goodman, it contained several impressive soloists, including trumpeters Harry James, Ziggy Elman, and Chris Griffin, trombonist Vernon Brown, tenorman Babe Russin, and pianist Jess Stacy. The charts, by Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Eddie Durham, Claude Thornhill, Jimmy Mundy, and Edgar Sampson are well-wrought and infectious. Gene Krupa was a powerful, if not subtle, drummer, and his work here, particularly on "Sing, Sing, Sing," helped popularize him. The musicians generally rose to the occasion with inspired performances of favorites such as "Don't Be That Way," "Sometimes I'm Happy," "Life Goes to a Party," "Swingtime in the Rockies," and "Big John's Special." The great Austin-born pianist Teddy Wilson and vibist Lionel Hampton are also heard on trio and quartet numbers with Goodman, and the bandleader deserves credit for his early efforts to integrate jazz performances. Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Jo Jones, Count Basie, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Cootie Williams, and Freddie Green, from the Ellington and Basie bands, plus the lyrical cornetist Bobby Hackett, highlight the long jam session on "Honeysuckle Rose" and "20 Years of Jazz," in which various jazz styles are illustrated. Goodman, a great clarinetist, was a tremendous influence on that instrument, employing a more "legit," streamlined style than earlier jazz clarinetists. Buster Bailey and Jimmy Noone had been his precursors, but Goodman did it his own way, and here plays with considerable emotion. You know he was excited about being in a mainly classical venue. Corny as it sounds, history was made when Goodman played Carnegie Hall, and this recording has not only musical but also social and documentary value.