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Benny Goodman: 1958-59


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Benny Goodman was remarkable in more ways than we often realize. Obviously, his clarinet playing was extraordinary in tone, technique and soulful expression. But his musical judgment, assembly of musicians and taste were impeccable as well. His bands were nearly always exceptional, and he had a golden ear that ensured that his vision and expectations would be met. What's more, he was rarely cliche and nearly always looked for ways to expand into new territory. Two little-known albums that illustrate Goodman's hard-charging and artistically ambitious qualities are Happy Session (1958-59) and The Sound of Music (1959). Both have been hard to come by and are among my favorite Goodman recordings. [Photo above of Benny Goodman in 1958 by Bert Stern]

The first album, Happy Session, was recorded in New York following Goodman's trip to the Brussels World's Fair in May 1958. Goodman is featured on all of the studio sessions' tracks but in varied configurations, including two different quintets—one with Russ Freeman and another with Andre Previn. Since Goodman paid the tab on the sessions through his Park Recording Co., he was able to negotiate deals with two different labels for two-thirds of the material—Columbia and Chess. The balance consisted of alternate takes that would appear on subsequent LPs and CDs issued over the years.

Here's the track breakdown that corresponds with the download that I'll tell you about shortly...

Tracks 1 and 11 (Nov. 15, 1958): John Frosk, Ermit V. Perry, Allen Smith, Pete Ventura (tp); Buster Cooper, Rex Peer, Hale Rood (tb); Benny Goodman (cl); Herb Geller, Jim Sands (as); Arthur “Babe" Clarke, Bob Wilber (ts); Pepper Adams (bar); Russ Freeman (p); Turk Van Lake (g); Milt Hinton (b) and Shelly Manne (d).

Tracks 2 and 7 (Sept. 4, 1958): Benny Goodman (cl); Andre Previn (p); Barney Kessel (g); Leroy Vinnegar (b) and Frank Capp (d).

Tracks: 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 13 and 14 (Nov. 18, 1958): Same as 1 and 11, except George Duvivier replaces Milt Hinton (b).

Tracks 4 and 10 (Nov. 19, 1958): Benny Goodman (cl); Russ Freeman (p); Turk Van Lake (g); George Duvivier (b) and Shelly Manne (d).

Tracks 12, 15 and 17 (Jan. 3, 1959): John Frosk, Taft Jordan, Buzz King, Ermit V. Perry (tp); Eddie Bert, Vernon Brown, Harry DiVito (tb); Benny Goodman (cl); Skip Galluccio, Ernie Mauro (as); Dick Hafer, Buddy Tate (ts); Gene Allen (bar); Sir Roland Hanna (p); Chuck Wayne (g); Henry Grimes (b); Roy Burns (d) and Andre Previn (arr).

Track 16 (Jan. 3, 1959): Urbie Green (tb) Benny Goodman (cl) Zoot Sims (ts) Russ Freeman (p) Chuck Wayne (g) Milt Hinton (b) Don Lamond (d) Donna Musgrove (vcl) Al Cohn (arr).

The second Goodman album in this post is The Sound of Music. In November 1959, Goodman opened at New York's Basin Street East and remained there for nearly three weeks. On the afternoon of the second to last day of his run there, Goodman took a 10-man band into the studio to record an album for MGM of Richard Rodgers' music. They recorded nine tracks, all arranged by Fred Karlin, who had just graduated from Amherst College. Karlin would go on to score more than 100 feature films and TV shows.

Goodman wasn't a big fan of show albums or albums featuring the music of a single songwriter. But he made an exception here, likely because of Karlin's magnificent scores, which are sophisticated without losing an ounce of swing or smarts.

The band on Nov. 20, 1959 featured Jack Sheldon (tp), Bill Harris (tb), Benny Goodman (cl), Jerry Dodgion (as,fl), Flip Phillips (ts), Red Norvo (vib), Gene Di Novi (p), Jimmy Wyble (g), Red Wootten (b) and John Markham (d).

The bonus material on the download I'm going to tell you about shortly were recorded at Basin Street East on Nov. 13, 1959.

These two albums are extraordinary by any measure. Goodman's “ray" stare and his odd treatment of band members are of little interest to me. Much more fascinating are the artistic results. Like any entrepreneur charged with running a business, Goodman constantly had to reinvent himself and his sound and offer listeners new products, with “employees" operating at their very best. Songs like the King and Me, Macedonia Lullaby, No Way to Stop It, Cherokee, Happy Session Blues and so many others show that the King of Swing could jump with the best of them in 1958 and '59, deftly handling anything arrangers threw at him and his band.

JazzWax tracks: You'll find Benny Goodman's Happy Session here and The Sound of Music here.

JazzWax clips: Here's Happy Session Blues...


Here's Macedonia Lullaby...


Here's Sixteen Going on Seventeen...


And here's The Sound of Music...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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