The King of Swing plays it safe on this concert date, recorded in December ’56 during the first stop on a Far Eastern tour, departing from his tried–and–true repertoire only twice — to play songs written by another King and Benny’s host, His Majesty King Bhumiphal Aduljadet, who besides being ruler of Thailand was a saxophonist, composer and ardent Jazz fan. A command performance, one might say. Before his band took the stage, Goodman gave permission to a friend, Kurt Mueller, to record the concert on a borrowed tape machine. Although the setup was primitive and only two mics were used, the sound is surprisingly clean and sharp with only an occasional glitch and hardly any annoying background noise. According to the liner notes, a train came by about every four minutes blowing its whistle but the band must have drowned it out, as I heard neither train nor whistle. This was Goodman’s first big band in seven years, but as always, he hired the best available sidemen, and everyone is on the same page. Of course, this is music most of them could have played in their sleep. The program consists almost entirely of such Goodman and Swing Era favorites as “Don’t Be That Way,” “King Porter Stomp,” Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump,” “Flying Home,” Oh, Lady Be Good,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy” and so on. Fletcher Henderson is represented by “Down South Camp Meeting” and “Big John Special,” King Oliver / Louis Armstrong by “Sugar Foot Stomp.” Not as well known is bassist Israel Crosby’s charming feature, “Trigger Fantasy.” H.M. Bhumiphal’s two songs — “In the Evening,” “Falling Rain” — are actually pretty good, and I’m not just saying that because his heirs could probably have me beheaded if I didn’t. Apparently, the monarch listened closely to swing music and was an apt student. Unfortunately, the first of his songs is the most poorly recorded track on the disc with uneven sound levels and annoying distortion throughout. This was a topnotch band with a world–class rhythm section (Crosby, pianist Hank Jones, drummer Mousey Alexander) and a number of enterprising soloists including trumpeter Mel Davis, trombonists Rex Peer and Jack Rains, saxophonists Peanuts Hucko and Budd Johnson, and of course the King himself (Benny, not Bhumiphal) on clarinet. Benny plays with rhythm only on “Lady Be Good” and “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise.” Goodman’s tour, co–sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the international exchange program of the American National Theatre and Academy, came shortly after the release of the film The Benny Goodman Story,
in which Steve Allen portrayed the King (Benny, not Bhumiphal). TCB Records says the material is previously unreleased, so fans of the Swing Era in general and Goodman in particular will probably want a copy. They won’t be disappointed; this is vintage Goodman.
Track listing: Let’s Dance; Don’t Be That Way; King Porter Stomp; Trigger Fantasy; Roll ’Em; One O’Clock Jump; Down South Camp Meeting; Yarm Yen / In the Evening; Sugar Foot Stomp; Big John Special; Flying Home; The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise; Oh Lady Be Good; Sai Fon / Falling Rain; Stompin’ at the Savoy; Thai Royal Anthem (63:18).
Benny Goodman, leader, clarinet; Mel Davis, John Frosk, Billy Hodges, trumpet; Rex Peer, Jack Rains, trombone; Peanuts Hucko, Al Black, Budd Johnson, Bill Slapin, reeds; Hank Jones, piano; Israel Crosby, bass; Mousey Alexander, drums.