The sound of the opener is unmistakable; it's the familiar, driving urgency of Benny Goodman's clarinet, which made him the undisputed "King of Swing," heard again in all its electrifying glory on "Sweet Georgia Brown," the 1967 take which opens this collection. Recorded live in New York's old Rainbow Grill, Goodman is in solid company with pianist Bernie Leighton
, bassist George Duvivier
and especially saxophonist Zoot Sims
. With a simpatico honed by playing together over the decades, Sims' sleek, rhythmic strength paves the way for a blazing burst from Goodman.
This first release from the Benny Goodman Archives in the Yale University Music Library is a choice sampling from a variety of recording sessions. Among the previously unreleased treasures is a 1955 studio version of "Soft Lights and Sweet Music," recorded for Goodman's own then newly-formed music company. Urbie Green
's trombone playing, mainly in upper register, is a joy, as is the wonderfully inventive trumpeting of a young Ruby Braff
. This is also the only occasion on which the then little-known Dave McKenna
recorded with Goodman. Perhaps it was Goodman's excitement about the new venture that lent what sounds like an extra gusto in his playing.
Among several sides from a 1955 Basin Street East session is "Slipped Disc," which has an inspired leadoff solo by Goodman's longtime pianist Teddy Wilson. Drummer Bobby Donaldson is no less outstanding, as are Braff and saxophonist Paul Quinichette
, before Goodman swings in, blowing with a variegated intensity that has the feel of a grand summing up. According to the liner notes this session was all played without sheet music on the stands; Goodman and company just had it all down. Totally.
A March 1955 Basin Street live set is heard on disc two. It's all standards from the Goodman songbook such as "Let's Dance," "Sing, Sing, Sing" and "Memories of You." Typical is "Runnin' Wild," on which Goodman and Wilson revisit their 1937 Goodman Quartet hit. Donaldson's drumming here is reminiscent of Gene Krupa on the original but Wilson's varied accompaniment, with its countermelodies and note choice, makes it clear here and throughout that neither he nor any of the others are interested in mere nostalgia.
Even among all this choice music, a 1986 take on the classic "Blue Room," by what was to be Goodman's final big band, is outstanding. The group includes Randy Sandke
and Goodman's longtime drummer, Louie Bellson
. Though the band proved to be short-lived (Goodman died that same year), many consider it to have been among his very best. The ease and mastery of the dynamic changes has an irresistible freshness, as "The King" and his men conjure up images of countless happy ballroom nights, filled with dancers forever young.
CD1: Sweet Georgia Brown; Macedonia Lullaby; Soft Lights and Sweet Music; Broadway; Marching and Swinging; Batunga Train; Cherokee; Slipped Disc; Diga Diga Doo; Lullaby in Rhythm; Don't Blame Me; Blue Room. CD2: Let's Dance; Honeysuckle Rose; Runnin' Wild; Mean to Me; Memories of You; Stompin' At the Savoy; Blue and Sentimental; One O'Clock Jump; I Found A New Baby; Stairway to the Stars; Body and Soul; Air Mail Special; Nice Work If You Can Get It; Sing, Sing, Sing; Goodbye.
Benny Goodman: clarinet; various musicians (CD1)Ruby Braff: trumpet (CD2); Urbie Green: trombone (CD2); Paul Quinichette: tenor saxophone (CD2); Teddy Wilson: piano (CD2); Perry Lopez: guitar (CD2); Milt Hinton: bass (CD2); Bobby Donaldson: drums (CD2).