Benny Goodman - clarinet
Lionel Hampton - vibes
Teddy Wilson - piano
Gene Krupa - drums
Slam Stewart - bass
This grand reunion of the classic Benny Goodman Quartet from 1936, featuring Lionel Hampton on vibraphone, Teddy Wilson on piano, and Gene Krupa on drums, was met with a sense of reverence and awe by the Carnegie Hall crowd at the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival. Four decades after forming, the four gentlemen of jazz were still swinging with youthful enthusiasm and verve, covering nostalgic swing era staples to the delight of the assembled Goodman fans. And as the bandleader told them, "It's not that I'm trying to prove anything anymore, but it's just the faintly astonishing fact that here we are all together again alive and kicking."
In its heyday, the Goodman Quartet was among the first racially integrated jazz groups to record and play before wide audiences. As Goodman once said, "If a guy's got it, let him give it. I'm selling music, not prejudice." And as Hampton noted years later, "As far as I'm concerned, what he did in those days—and they were hard days, in 1937—made it possible for negroes to have their chance in baseball and other fields."
Aside from being a groundbreaking group in a socio-political sense, the Goodman Quartet was also renowned during the mid to late '30s for its unbridled sense of swing, ambitious arrangements, and indelibly tight chemistry.
Augmented by bassist Slam Stewart, whom Goodman calls "our designated hitter," the reunion quartet opens its Friday evening set with a lively rendition of "Runnin' Wild," the Tin Pan Alley nugget from 1922, which was in Goodman Quartet's book back in the mid-'30s. Each of the members shows that his virtuosity is still very much intact on this uptempo opener, which has the clarinetist leading the way. Next up is a mellow rendering of the dreamy "Moonglow," a 1934 chestnut associated with the Goodman Quartet and Big Band. Hampton's vibes work here is superb (catch his clever quote from Louis Armstrong's "When It's Sleepytime Down South" at the outset of his solo) while the leader wails with abandon on his soaring clarinet solo. (A recording of "Moonglow" by the Benny Goodman Quartet is part of the soundtrack to the movie The Aviator, the Martin Scorcese-directed bio-pic on the life of aviation pioneer Howard Hughes).
Benny then announces, "Teddy, what about you playing something solo here…give me a little rest, huh?" And the great pianist launches into a boogie woogie flurry on the keys, accompanied by bassist Stewart and drummer Krupa. Stewart is also featured here doing his comedic scatting routinie, in which he simultaneously hums and bows unison lines on his upright. Krupa also breaks loose for animated drum solo on this jumping number. And Wilson nimbly quotes from Count Basie's "One O'Clock Jump" in the middle of his spirited stride flavored solo.
The Carnegie audience responds immediately to the first few unaccompanied notes from Goodman's clarinet on "Memories of You," the Eubie Blake song from the Broadway show Blackbirds of 1930, which became a swing era staple for the Goodman orchestra. The quartet then turns in a vigorously swinging, syncopated rendition of the popular Yiddish tune "Bei Mir Bistu Shein" (translation: "To Me, You Are Beautiful") which both the Goodman orchestra and quartet recorded in 1937. Goodman then turns over the proceedings to Slam Stewart, who demonstrates more of his zoom-zoom scatting and bowing technique on a spirited rendition of George and Ira Gershwin's "Oh, Lady Be Good."Goodman eventually jumps in on this effervescent number, eliciting shouts from the audience for his virtuosic wailing in this unlikeliest of duets.
The reunion quartet continues with a faithful rendition of "Don't Be That Way," which the Goodman orchestra premiered 35 years earlier at the historical 1938 Carnegie Hall "Spirituals to Swing" concert. Stewart, who in the '30s was part of the comedic duo Slim & Slam with guitarist-pianist-singer-jivester and raconteur Slim Gaillard, contributes more of his signature scatting and bowing unisons on this number, at one point veering off into a segment from Ravel's "Bolero," which Goodman quickly picks up on and copies note-for-note. But they come out of it swinging in typically swaggering fashion.
Hampton is next prominently featured on an exuberant reading of the jazz standard "How High the Moon," which became a popular jamming vehicle for jazz stars during the '40s and '50s. Switching gears, the quartet turns in a sublime rendition of "Body and Soul," another oft-covered jazz standard which the original Goodman quartet had recorded in 1935. The clarinetist's playing on this harmonically rich ballad is superb while Wilson offers a typically elegant piano solo on this affecting number. Their jaunty rendition of the swing era staple "After You've Gone" is sparked by exhilarating solos from Goodman, Hampton, and Stewart. And drum king Krupa is turned loose on his show-stopping solo for "Sing, Sing, Sing," the raucous number that nearly brought down the house at the 1938 Carnegie concert. They bring the concert to a close with the bright and breezy "Avalon," a favorite of fans from the original Benny Goodman Quartet days. Stewart once again injects some levity into the proceedings with his scatting and bowed bass technique before the tune reaches its conclusion with the familiar descending motif played in unison by Goodman and Hampton.
Goodman and his longtime colleagues from the quartet were all well into their 60s at the time of this 1973 Newport Jazz Festival concert at Carnegie Hall. But they all played with youthful enthusiasm and spirited abandon on this enjoyable set.
Born on May 30, 1909, in Chicago, Goodman was the ninth child of Russian immigrants David Goodman, a tailor, and Dora Grisinsky, who never learned to speak English. Benny began studying the clarinet at age 10, taking lessons at Kehelah Jacob Synagogue with Chicago Symphony member Franz Schoepp. He became a member of the American Federation of Musicians at age 14 when he quit school to pursue his career in music. As a teenager, he befriended a group of young, like-minded white musicians from the west side of Chicago near Austin High School like cornetist Jimmy McPartland, clarinetist Frank Teschemacher, saxophonist Bud Freeman, drummer Dave Tough, and bassist Jim Lanigan (collectively known as the Austin High Gang), who obsessively followed the music of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong and eventually rose to prominence as originators of the Chicago style of jazz in the late 1920s.
At age 16, Goodman was hired by the Ben Pollack band and moved to Los Angeles. He became a featured soloist with Pollack and remained in the band for four years. In 1929, with the onset of the Great Depression, he left Pollack and moved to New York City, where he played on sessions and radio shows. His career got a significant boost in 1933 from impresario John Hammond, the renowned jazz promoter and talent scout who also helped launch the recording careers of Billie Holiday and Count Basie, among many others. Hammond arranged for the clarinetist to appear as a sideman on recordings for the Columbia label that year. Goodman formed his first band in 1934 and later that year won a spot on NBC's weekly radio show Let's Dance, which instantly elevated the bandleader's profile and led to a recording contract with Victor. A national tour in 1935, culminating in a breakthrough performance at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, made Goodman a bona fide swing era star among teenagers and college students.
Goodman integrated his big band by bringing pianist Teddy Wilson into the group that year. Lionel Hampton was brought into the band in 1938, the year of Goodman's triumphant appearance at John Hammond's historic "Spirituals to Swing" concert on January 16 at Carnegie Hall, which culminated in a rousing rendition of Louis Prima's "Sing, Sing, Sing" that featured and explosive drum solo by Krupa. By then, Goodman was widely regarded in the public as "the King of Swing" (a title laid on him by Time magazine). Fueled by Fletcher Henderson's slickly syncopated arrangements and highlighted by star soloists like trumpeter Harry James, guitarist Charlie Christian, and extroverted drummer Gene Krupa, the Goodman big band rose to prominence through the '30s and '40s. Notoriously anti-bebop, Goodman continued to wave the flag for swing through the '50s while also experimenting with classical music in commissions from symphony orchestras.
A 1955 Hollywood bio pic on Goodman, with comedian Steve Allen portraying the iconic bandleader, exposed a new audience to the clarinetist's music. In 1957, he was inducted into Downbeat's Jazz Hall of Fame. During the 1960s and 1970s, Goodman appeared in reunions with the members of his famed quartet: Teddy Wilson, Gene Krupa, and Lionel Hampton. In 1982, he was honored by the Kennedy Center for his lifetime achievement in jazz, and in 1986 he received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement. Goodman continued to play concert dates up until his death from cardiac arrest on June 13, 1986, at age 77. (Milkowski)