One autumn day in 1978, a sprightly 69-year-old Benny Goodman decided on a whim that he wanted to 'book' Carnegie Hall for a gig commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the landmark performance held and so famously-recorded there for the Columbia label in 1938. That show registered as the first official full-length jazz program ever held at the hallowed venue. Tickets for the anniversary gig sold out in a matter of hours, with no advertising or even a formal announcement. Goodman's whim resulted in a highly eclectic evening originally released as a two-LP set by the London label, now reissued on CD.
Although the 1978 concert doesn't possess the raw charm of its predecessor, everyone on hand is in the highest of spirits and it gives you a welcome opportunity to hear Goodman's orchestra performing live and in glorious stereo. Goodman, who as a soloist is downright superb, is joined not by an all star roster of names from the 1938 show, but instead by a considerable amount of new blood, such as drummer Connie Kay and Buddy Tate on tenor sax. Guests pop up throughout the program, including vocalist Martha Tilton, who offers a rendition of one of the 1938 show's highlights, the Scottish-infused "Loch Lomond," giving the listener the first of many instances of Goodman chiming in on vocals. Pianist Mary Lou Williams is featured on two numbers: her own "Roll 'Em," as well as a rousing version of the Goodman standard "King Porter Stomp." Things get, as previously suggested, truly eclectic when the band tackles a couple of Beatles tunes. "Rocky Raccoon," with trumpeter Jack Sheldon on vocals, seems somewhat out of place but everyone else is having fun so it's hard not to as well! Then Goodman is featured on a sweet and introspective version of "Yesterday."
The highlight of the evening arrives, however, when Goodman varsity member Lionel Hampton steps on stage, where he remains for the rest of the second set. Featured on several favorites such as "How High the Moon," "Moonglow" and "Lady Be Good," Hamp doesn't let his age hold him back (he was also 69 at the time). Fans of "Mad Lionel" are surely familiar with his tendency during his heyday as a bandleader to speak in synchronization with every note he plays. Sure it was unique, but also at times a little overwhelming. There's very little of that here, as he lets his vibes do most of the talking and it certainly enhances the proceedings. Vocalist Debi Craig comes on near the end of the show for a couple of songs, notably a sublime rendition of the Gershwins' "Someone To Watch Over Me." Then we arrive at the long anticipated and inevitable "Sing, Sing, Sing," originally made famous by Gene Krupa's epic drum solo. Kay makes a valiant effort, but there's just no replacing the original version. That same way of thinking can be applied to this release as a whole; it's a harmless tribute to one of the most storied jazz performances in history, but it doesn't quite belong in the same pantheon as that which preceded it.
Let's Dance; I've Found a New Baby; Send in the Clowns; Loch Lomond; Star Dust;
I Love a Piano; Roll 'em; King Porter Stomp; Rocky Raccoon; Yesterday; That's a Plenty; How High the Moon; Moonglow; Lady Be Good; Jersey Bounce; Seven Come Eleven;
Someone to Watch Over Me; Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone; Benny Goodman Medley: Don't Be That Way/Stompin' at the Savoy/And the Angels Sing/Why Don't You Do Right/A String of Pearls/Sing, Sing, Sing/Christopher Colombus/Goodbye.