Benny Goodman Small Combos Tribute This Week On Riverwalk Jazz


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This week on Riverwalk Jazz, guests Allan Vaché and Chuck Hedges on clarinet, vocalist Rebecca Kilgore, and John Sheridan on piano join the Jim Cullum Jr. Jazz Band in a tribute to the Benny Goodman small combos.

The program is distributed in the US by Public Radio International, on Sirius/XM satellite radio and can be streamed on-demand from the Riverwalk Jazz website. You can also drop in on a continuous stream of shows at the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound.

In 1935 The Benny Goodman Trio created a style of “chamber jazz" that emphasized highly developed ensemble playing and technically brilliant solos. The Trio took the ensemble sound of the small jazz band to a new level of precision coupled with excitement that attracted a new audience to jazz.

In an era when big dance bands dominated popular music, The Goodman Trio, with Teddy Wilson on piano, Gene Krupa on drums and Benny on clarinet, made ground-breaking hit records and created a popular sensation with their small ensemble. Audiences screamed and stomped at the mere mention of The Benny Goodman Trio from the stage. Trio recordings sold more than 50,000 copies each.

The genesis of the Goodman Trio was a jam session party at the suburban Queens, New York home of vibraphonist Red Norvo and his wife, singer Mildred Bailey. It was the first opportunity Goodman and pianist Teddy Wilson had to play together. Goodman later explained, “That night Teddy and I began to play as though we were thinking with the same brain. It was a real kick.”

Alternating sets with Goodman’s big band on stage, the Trio allowed Benny more creative freedom than he had with his orchestra. Jim Cullum Jazz Band clarinetist Ron Hockett remarked, “Benny liked the trio’s transparent, light musical texture. He envisioned the group as something more for listening than just for dancing.”

There had been interracial recording sessions before Teddy Wilson and Benny Goodman made their first record “Body and Soul” in 1935, but when Goodman and Wilson gave their first public performance together at a tea dance sponsored by the Rhythm Club at The Congress Hotel in 1936, it was a dramatic event. According to Leonard Feather, “It was an historic precedent, the magnitude of which can hardly be appreciated today in correct perspective.”

At that time segregation was so prevalent that even the Chicago musicians union was rigidly divided into white and black locals. And though black musicians performed in New York clubs on 52nd Street and elsewhere, black patrons were not allowed inside.

Vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and guitarist Charlie Christian later joined Goodman to form quartets and sextets, but Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson were the foundation of all the small ensembles. Working together as a team in the Goodman Trio for over ten years, Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson made over 100 recordings together.

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