Benny Goodman

Benny Goodman was born Benjamin David Goodman on May 30, 1909 and died June 13, 1986. He is an American jazz musician best known for his roles as King of Swing (Patriarch of Clarinet), The Professor and Senior Statesman of Swing. Some viewed Goodman as a hardworking taskmaster while others referred to him as an eccentric and arrogant martinet. Many musicians spoke about The Ray, Goodman’s trademark glare. He imposed his strict standards on musicians who didn’t perform up to his high standards. Anita O’Day, Helen Forrest and others spoke bitterly about their singing experiences with Goodman. Forrest said, “The twenty-or-so months I spent with Benny felt almost like twenty years.” They seem like a life sentence to me when I think back. Goodman could also be extremely self-absorbed. It is said that Goodman ate around a ketchup bottle cap after eating an egg. There are also reports that Goodman privately funded college educations, and was often generous, but always secretly. He reportedly answered a friend’s question about why he did it once, saying, “Well, if everyone knew about it, everybody would come to my aid.” Many believe that Elvis Presley achieved the same success in rock and roll as Goodman did with jazz and swing. Both were instrumental in bringing black music to a younger, white audience. There wouldn’t have been a swing period without Goodman. Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra had played many of Goodman’s arrangements for years. Goodman acknowledged Henderson’s contribution, but many young white swing fans hadn’t heard Henderson. Although many consider Goodman a jazz innovator and a great jazz musician, others believe that his greatest strength was his drive and perfectionism. Goodman, along with Artie Shaw were among the most technically skilled jazz clarinetists ever. Goodman was also responsible for significant progress in American racial integration. In the 1930s, jazz musicians of both races could not perform together in clubs or concert halls. Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation in the Southern states. In 1936, Benny Goodman broke with tradition and hired Teddy Wilson to perform with him. In December 1936, he added Lionel Hampton to the rhythm section. Then, in the Summer of 1939, he joined the “quartette” by adding Charlie Christian, a pioneering jazz guitarist, to his ensemble and small ensembles. Christian played with Goodman until his death from tuberculosis three years later. This is a brief overview of American history. Goodman’s integration with popular music occurred ten years before Jackie Robinson joined Major League Baseball. “[Goodman]’s popularity meant that he was able to continue financially viable without having to tour the South where he would have been arrested for violating Jim Crow laws. Benny hired legendary “Big Sid”, a rhythmic and showman drummer. He also had John Simmons, the (later), famous bass player, and Charlie Christian, an electric guitarist -plus Cootie was still in the middle of his 1-year contract. It was almost one-quarter the size of the orchestra of African heritage. But, following Jimmy Munday (who also joined them as pianist for six months in July 1939), it was actually an orchestrated white extension to black big band jazz, only, curiously, better. You can also access user-contributed text under the Creative Commons By–SA License.

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