By Francis Lo Kee
Clarinetist Benny Goodman (1909-86) is considered by jazz historians to be one of the most important musicians in all of jazz, though not all of his important achievements were strictly musical. He is credited with racially integrating his bands at a time when it was not a popular idea, yet he brought jazz a level of audience attention that would earn it the title of pop music today. The DVD presents footage from 1939-66, while the CD concentrates on 1935-39, mostly big band music. The CD presents the pop music side of Benny Goodman more than the hot jazz improviser.
The music features vocals by Ella Fitzgerald, Helen Ward, and Martha Tilton and was arranged by Fletcher Henderson, Jimmy Mundy, Eddie Sauter, and Mary Lou Williams, to name a few. This is another aspect of the Goodman phenomenon: he surrounded himself with great musicians. (And some would say cynically built his career on their sometimes uncredited or de-emphasized work.) One of the great aspects of all the musical performances here is a sense of teamwork, a sense of the whole of the music being much more important than any one component part. Younger jazz musicians could get a lot out of this concept in this set.
Outstanding tracks include "Body and Soul, "I Hope Gabriel Likes My Music (with Roy Eldridge), "Bugle Call Rag, "Sing, Sing, Sing (with Gene Krupa), "Life Goes to a Party, Take 2, and "Bumble Bee Stomp. Also included is "And The Angels Sing, which, after a minute of a typical sounding pop ballad, stops, changes groove, and goes into the klezmer tune "Der Shtiler Bulgar (The Quiet Bulgar) for one pass, then segues back into the opening feel, giving trumpeter Ziggy Elman a very interesting feature.
The DVD presentation is more diffuse, drawing from Hollywood film performances that move from features to background function to an almost home-movie quality series from the 1966 Belgian Jazz Festival. The interest here is more cultural than musical. The big disappointment is that while Doc Cheatham is present in the 1966 group, we never really get to hear him do his thing!
This CD/DVD collection will be most interesting to Benny Goodman fanatics or would-be historians of jazz or pop culture. For a deeper understanding of Benny Goodman, clarinet improviser, we must dig deeper. This package is very good, with great sound and clear video, but the printed matter would be even more complete if it listed all of the performing musicians. If you can include recording dates and original serial numbers, go the extra mile and credit all the musicians (and be a little more generous with the type size). Other discs of interest in the Centennial Collection series feature Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, and Fats Waller.
Personnel: Chu Berry Piano; Israel Crosby Bass; Roy Eldridge Trumpet; Ella Fitzgerald Vocals; Benny
Goodman Clarinet; Lionel Hampton Vibraphone; Gene Krupa Drums; Allan Reuss Guitar;
Jess Stacy Piano; Martha Tilton Vocals; Helen Ward Vocals