Benny Goodman 70th Anniversary Concert Carnegie Hall New York, NY January 16, 2008
The King of Swing, Benny Goodman, played a historic concert at Carnegie Hall on January 16, 1938. The concert was probably the first to prominently display popular music in a classical music venue. Carnegie Hall was open again to swing, when a 70th Anniversary tribute to the 1938 concert was held on January 16, 2008 in the Stern Room, the main auditorium of Carnegie Hall.
There is a video clip on Youtube that shows Goodman's orchestra live at the Hollywood Hotel the year before, in 1937, performing the climactic number "Sing Sing Sing": somewhere in the comments to the clip, a viewer expresses the wish that modern musicians would "take note of what these guys are doing." Absolutely, and a glimpse of what they were doing was provided again seventy years later at Carnegie Hall.
The music was provided by a both small jazz group and a "classical" orchestra (the "Champagne Symphony" Pops Orchestra: Champagne Symphony) put together by clarinetist and band leader Bob deAngelis and conductor/arranger John McLeod, both of Toronto. The Goodman band did not have strings, let alone a full orchestra, but that is the sound that was presented.
The concert began, as did the original, with the swing theme tune "Don't Be That Way," a powerful riff number that Goodman had described as his "ice-breaker" for the original night. DeAngelis is a fluid clarinetist with a full tone, and the superb acoustics of Carnegie Hall projected the sound very well. Carnegie Hall is not as big as one would think, or, at least, the acoustics are so good that you feel you are almost on the stage listening.
As a jazz clarinetist, DeAngelis is probably closer to Artie Shaw than Benny Goodman, nailing the high notes in quite a Shaw-like manner, but he was more like Goodman on the first notes of the small group classic "Moonglow" that began the medley of Goodman hits before the interval.
The numbers played in the concert were the major Goodman numbers of the period, with the exception of four numbers that were recorded by Goodman two or three years later in his career, and also one that was not identified with him at all but is nevertheless a great swing-era clarinet tune, Artie Shaw's enormous hit "Frenesi."
"Bugal Call Rag" began with the familiar bugal-like introduction of the Goodman band, but played neatly by what sounded like a classically-trained trumpeter in the backing orchestra: a little too neatly, perhaps. But the trombonist sounded authentic. DeAngelis also sounded good on this version. The big riff ride-out at the end sounded like a huge ship powering away out to sea. There was good arranging here.
The next number was the classic "It Had To Be You," which began in a rather schmaltzy fashion but then began to really kick: the Goodman band did not have strings, of course, but his rival Artie Shaw had experimented with them and so the idea nevertheless had some authenticity.
The concert was characterized by a small purely jazz group taking over from the full orchestra from time to time, just as Benny Goodman interpolated a few numbers with his small group in 1938. The basic small group was the same make-up as Goodman's quartet, but with bass added (clarinet, vibraharp, piano and drums), but on "Up A Lazy River" the group was joined by arranger John McLeod on cornet and a trombonist. The original Carnegie Hall concert had a salute to the history of jazz (up to 1938), and this Hoagy Carmichael tune was made a tribute to Bix Beiderbecke and his softer cornet sound of the late 1920s. The trombonist sounded quite like Jack Teagarden.
Canadian singer Melissa Stylianou took the microphone for a swish version of "East of The Sun," which had good strings that raised the sound above any danger of schmaltz: it was interesting to see two orchestral double bass players bowing the melody at one point. However the jazz bassist, on the other side of the stage, was a bit too modern in his style on this number.
It was the small group (the quartet plus bass) that ended the first half, with a medley beginning with "Moonglow." The opening notes of this song were probably the most authentically-Goodman like sounds of the night. "Avalon" followed, and then "Goodbye" and "Sing Sing Sing."