Dueling Clarinets: Goodman and Shaw Centennial Collections

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In the Swing Era people were either Goodman fans or Shaw fans. Continuing with their excellent Centennial Collections, Bluebird presents a sampling of each artists' work along with a DVD of material that present the artist in a different light.

Benny Goodman
The Centennial Collection
2004

Back in the thirties, Goodman made swing a national phenomenon at the Palomar and gave it respectability at Carnegie Hall. Today, Goodman is held in the same class as the 78s and radio broadcasts that made him famous: a relic of a bygone age. This is unfortunate, since Goodman's records are infused with a pulse and energy that makes them sound more alive today than records from his other contemporaries, like Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. He may not have deserved the title "King of Swing" as much as Ellington and Basie, but there's probably more people that have heard "Sing, Sing, Sing" than "Take the 'A' Train" and "One O'Clock Jump".

This set isn't a comprehensive look at Goodman, nor does it need to be. The tracks span the late thirties when Goodman was doing his best work, much of it for RCA Victor. Part of the credit can go to two arrangers. Fletcher Henderson, who led his own swinging band, brought Goodman his first success with charts like "King Porter Stomp." But Jimmy Mundy was the one who really beefed up the book with the high-powered numbers he called killer-dillers. Plenty of those are featured on this CD, like "Swingtime In the Rockies" a number showing that the Goodman unit could really swing and blow hot.

But the musicians on the bandstand were the key to Goodman's success. After the first round of riotous concerts success bred success and thereafter Goodman surrounded himself with excellent musicians. Whether it was Gene Krupa or Dave Tough at the drums, the beat was and steady and forceful as a locomotive, and the trumpet section was stocked with men like Harry James who all could have occupied the first chair. Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson also pop in and out of these recordings. There are a number of examples here of the instrumental prowess of the band, from the killer-diller "Sing, Sing, Sing" with excellent soloing and tight riffs to the sweet, languid "Goodbye" (Goodman's theme).

For many who have plenty of Goodman already, the DVD will be the real draw. It collects a number of performances from movies when such performances were a selling point (and occasionally the only worthwhile part). There is also footage from the sixties form a Belgian festival showing Goodman exploring a more modern style of music long after people were eating up Coltrane and Monk instead.

So what's missing? The Carnegie Hall concerts and the recordings with Charlie Christian, since those are owned by Columbia. And one wishes for a few more recordings from the trios and quartets, since there's only a couple included here. But for an artist whose catalog is already loaded with compilations, the Centennial Collection is as good a place as any to start.

Artie Shaw
The Centennial Collection
2004

No one felt the tension between art and entertainment as acutely as Shaw did. "Begin the Beguine," the song most associated with him, was his biggest hit, but it was a tune that Shaw reportedly hated. He resented having to play pop fluff for crowds simply to earn a living, and, disgruntled, finally abandoned the music business for good in the '50s.

Certainly a man who chose a brooding, intense song like "Nightmare" as his theme had different aspirations than playing crowd pleasers. Early on he experimented with a string quartet as part of the bandstand, and in the fifties, when many of his contemporaries were resting on their laurels, Shaw formed a modern-sounding version of the Gramercy Five as his last gasp. But regardless of what Shaw thought of his more commercial material, songs like "Carioca" and "Star Dust" demonstrate that his band could hang with anybody's from the era. Many of the well-known tunes here are culled from radio broadcasts, and that's as it should be; the band is locked into a looser swing and surpasses the studio versions.

Shaw never gave the spotlight to soloists as much as Goodman did, and the solos allowed to his band were frequently only a chorus. Yet Shaw too had his own high powered drummer in Buddy Rich and a fiery trumpeter in Roy Eldridge that were capable of making the most of their moment. Shaw never really warmed up to vocalists, but a one-time recording with Billie Holiday is rightfully included here. Shaw himself was a talented soloist who, while not as nimble as others, could wax romantically and play sweet better than most.

While Goodman excelled at the up-tempo numbers for dancing, Shaw was at his best when he forced people to sit and listen. "Summertime" is one of the best recordings of the tune, with a piercing, mournful solo by the leader, and "The Man I Love" is another great chart that the band takes at a stately tempo.

The DVD includes an interesting short where Shaw demonstrates how swing music is created and a couple of movie appearances. But the real treat is interview footage from the release of the Self Portrait set where Shaw talks at length about his career and his music.

Unfortunately, this set is made up of mostly the hits and none of the more daring work that Shaw wished he could pursue more. For that you'll have to check out Self Portrait , a five disc set that Shaw selected himself and one of the best boxed sets of big band music. The Centennial Collection doesn't quite capture the maverick spirit of Shaw and thus only represents a small part of his work. But as a greatest hits collection, it fits the bill.

Benny Goodman-The Centennial Collection
Tracks: 1. Sometimes I'm Happy 2. King Porter Stomp 3. Body and Soul 4. Good-Bye 5. I Hope Gabriel Likes My Music 6. Swingtime In The Rockies 7. These Follish Things Remind Me Of You 8. Moonglow 9. Bugle Call Rag 10. Jam Session 11. Goodnight My Love 12. I Want To Be Happy 13. Rosetta 14. Sing, Sing, Sing 15. Roll 'Em 16. Life Goes To A Party, Take 2 17. Lullaby In Rhythm 18. Wrappin' It Up 19. Bumble Bee Stomp 20. And The Angles Sing 21. Opus 3/4.

Artie Shaw-The Centennial Collection
Tracks: 1. Begin the Beguine 2. Any Old Time 3. Back Bay Shuffle 4. Nightmare 5. Say It With A Kiss 5. Traffic Jam 6. Frenesi 7. The Man I Love 8. Summit Ridge Drive 9. Carioca 10. Carioca 11. Star Dust 12. The Man From Mars 13. Evensong 14. Suite #8 15. Summertime 16. Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen 17. Concierto For Clarinet Parts 1 and 2 18. There'll Be Some Changes Made 19. The Grabtown Grapple 20. Everything is Jumpin'.


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