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Swing Set

Benny Goodman: "Sing, Sing, Sing"

By Published: January 31, 2005

"Sing, Sing, Sing" is probably the most famous tune associated with Goodman, if not the entire Swing Era. However, it was originally a tune written by Louis Prima, and did feature vocals as the title suggests. Thus when it was imported into the band, it was originally intended as a feature for singer Helen Ward. However, the talented instrumentalists in the band kept changing it in performances, adding new passages and quotes from other songs like Chu Berry's "Christopher Columbus" to the point where it bore little resemblance to the original. But the most recognizable part of the song is Gene Krupa's drumming, which exists as a motif throughout the song. Ward recalls that one night Krupa refused to stop drumming when he got to the end of the third chorus and Goodman picked up his clarinet and soloed right along with him. The tune continued to morph in this fashion until it reached a length of eight minutes and filled both sides of a 78.

The Record

"Sing, Sing, Sing" bristles with energy and reckless abandon, all powered by Krupa. There isn't much organization or development of themes at all, but it was capable of whipping crowds into a frenzy every time it was played. The record begins with the tom-tom drumming of Krupa that forms the bedrock of the piece. The band enters and plays the familiar head with the reeds and horn tossing the melody back and forth. Goodman comes in for a brief solo with the horns punctuating his swinging phrases, which then gives way to a restatement of the drum theme. For the rest of the first side the band trades riffs with each other, the trumpets slowly building to a crescendo with the reeds darting and gliding. Krupa interjects at the end of each passage with a few measures of drum fills adding new accents to the basic pattern. On the last of these, Krupa takes his longest solo (Goodman seems to start his solo on accident before Krupa restates the theme, but he also does it at the Carnegie Hall Concert) before the full band comes in to bring the piece to the end of the first section. The second half of the piece (and Side Two of the 78) begins with a solo from Vido Musso backed by Jess Stacy and Krupa while the rest of the band quietly fans the flames from the back. Musso's wide vibrato and rhythmic kicks are followed by a brief Goodman solo under which the band builds to a growling crescendo. Another solo for Krupa, then a solo by Harry James backed solely by the rhythm section, who ever so gracefully builds to a bristling climax joined by the rest of the section, who then drop out while James deftly finishes off with a few high notes. To finish the piece, Goodman solos again, backed only by Krupa. Goodman's solo features some intelligent reworking of the melody and an almost sinister tone, yet not lacking in sophistication. Goodman and Krupa fade out as the solo develops. A cowbell signals the return of the full band, and Krupa's fiery press roll leads to the climax.

Gene Krupa

"Sing, Sing, Sing" made good use of the ferocious energy of Krupa, who was the showman of the band. A whirl of arms, hair, and chewing gum, Krupa knew how to work a crowd and cater to the audience. As pianist Jess Stacy related to Whitney Balliett, "Gene was our salesman, our showman, and he worked hard. You could wring water out of his sleeves when he finished a set." Quite naturally, then, "Sing, Sing, Sing" became a showcase for the drummer. Unfortunately, it also pointed to the trouble brewing in the band. The first to depart was Harry James, who suffered from anxiety from having to perform an over the top solo on "Sing, Sing, Sing" at the end of every night. He tried to convince Goodman to move it to the beginning of the show, but he refused. The pressure eventually caused James's departure.

The Split

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