During the Swing Era there were two clarinetists who stood above the rest, at least in terms of mass popularity — Artie Shaw and the King of Swing himself, Benny Goodman. Even though Goodman, who organized his first big band in 1934, has been gone for 13 years his popularity has seldom waned, and the music he championed is played by groups both large and small from coast to coast and around the world. The well–rehearsed North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra, whose splendid salute to Duke Ellington we reviewed in August, turns its attention to Goodman on The Swing Collection, performing 15 songs either introduced by or closely associated with the clarinet maestro. Any such tribute dictates, of course, that one must have an able–bodied clarinetist to sit in for Benny, and the NCJRO is fortunate to have a talented surrogate in Gregg Gelb who presents a creditable facsimile of Goodman. With the building blocks in place, the question then becomes, is another Goodman tribute necessary? Perhaps not, but on the other hand, music this charming is always a pleasure to hear, especially when played with sincerity and enthusiasm. Many of the usual Goodman favorites are on display, starting with his familiar theme song, “Let’s Dance,” and including “Bugle Call Rag,” “King Porter Stomp,” “Air Mail Special,” “Don’t Be That Way,” “Sing, Sing, Sing,” “I Found a New Baby,” “Lady Be Good” and others. Not as well known but equally delightful are Fletcher Henderson’s “Wrappin’ It Up,” Andy Razaf’s “Stealin’ Apples” and Goodman’s own “Breakfast Feud.” Kathy Gelb is impressive on the album’s vocal tracks, “Why Don’t You Do Right” and “I Thought About You,“ while the generally brief solos — one chorus or less — are capably drawn with vibraphonist John Metzger especially appealing on “Bugle Call Rag,” “Stealin’ Apples,” “Moonglow” and “Lady Be Good.” The NCJRO, now in its sixth year, has blossomed into a topnotch regional ensemble, and The Swing Collection is another colorful snapshot of its talent.
Track listing: Let’s Dance; Wrappin’ It Up; I Thought About You; Why Don’t You Do Right; Bugle Call Rag; King Porter Stomp; Stealin’ Apples; Air Mail Special; Don’t Be That Way; Sing, Sing, Sing; Moonglow; Sweet Sue, Just You; I Found a New Baby; Breakfast Feud; Oh, Lady Be Good (52:43).
Rodney Marsh, David Reid, alto sax, clarinet; Gregg Gelb, tenor sax, clarinet; Sanford Ira Wiggins, tenor sax; Durham William Fritz, baritone, alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet; George Broussard, Tom Smith, Caren Enloe, trombone; Michael Kris, bass trombone; Jerry Bowers, James Ketch, Jay Lineberry, Benjy Springs, trumpet; Ed Paolantonio, piano; Drew Lile, guitar; Don Gladstone, bass; John Hanks, drums, percussion; Jon Metzger, vibes; Kathy Gelb, vocals.
Contact: Jazz Foundation of North Carolina, P.O. Box 51523, Durham, NC 27717