Benjamin David Goodman (May 30, 1909 – June 13, 1986) was an American jazz clarinetist and bandleader known as the "King of Swing".
In the mid-1930s, Goodman led one of the most popular musical groups in the United States. His concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City on January 16, 1938, is described by critic Bruce Eder as "the single most important jazz or popular music concert in history: jazz's 'coming out' party to the world of 'respectable' music."
Goodman's bands started the careers of many jazz musicians. During an era of racial segregation, he led one of the first integrated jazz groups. He performed nearly to the end of his life while exploring an interest in classical music.
Goodman was the ninth of twelve children born to poor Jewish emigrants from the Russian Empire. His father, David Goodman (1873–1926), came to the United States in 1892 from Warsaw in partitioned Poland and became a tailor. His mother, Dora Grisinsky, (1873–1964), came from Kovno. They met in Baltimore, Maryland, and moved to Chicago before Goodman's birth. With little income and a large family, they moved to the Maxwell Street neighborhood, an overcrowded slum near railroad yards and factories that was populated by German, Irish, Italian, Polish, Scandinavian, and Jewish immigrants.
Money was a constant problem. On Sundays, his father took the children to free band concerts in Douglass Park, which was the first time Goodman experienced live professional performances. To give his children some skills and an appreciation for music, his father enrolled ten-year-old Goodman and two of his brothers in music lessons, from 1919, at the Kehelah Jacob Synagogue and Benny received two years of instruction from the classically trained clarinetist and Chicago Symphony member, Franz Schoepp. During the next year Goodman joined the boys club band at Hull House, where he received lessons from director James Sylvester. By joining the band, he was entitled to spend two weeks at a summer camp near Chicago. It was the only time he could get away from his bleak neighborhood. At 13, he got his first union card. He performed on Lake Michigan excursion boats, and in 1923 played at Guyon's Paradise, a local dance hall.
When he was 17, his father was killed by a passing car after stepping off a streetcar. His father's death was "the saddest thing that ever happened in our family", Goodman said.
His early influences were New Orleans jazz clarinetists who worked in Chicago, such as Jimmie Noone, Johnny Dodds, and Leon Roppolo. He learned quickly, becoming a strong player at an early age, and was soon playing in bands. He made his professional debut in 1921 at the Central Park Theater on the West Side of Chicago. He entered Harrison Technical High School in Chicago in 1922. At fourteen he became a member of the musicians' union and worked in a band featuring Bix Beiderbecke. Two years later he joined the Ben Pollack Orchestra and made his first recordings in 1926.
Goodman moved to New York City and became a session musician for radio, Broadway musicals, and in studios. In addition to clarinet, he sometimes played alto saxophone and baritone saxophone. In a Victor recording session on March 21, 1928, he played alongside Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Joe Venuti in the All-Star Orchestra directed by Nathaniel Shilkret. He played with the bands of Red Nichols, Ben Selvin, Ted Lewis, and Isham Jones and recorded for Brunswick under the name Benny Goodman's Boys, a band that featured Glenn Miller. In 1928, Goodman and Miller wrote "Room 1411", which was released as a Brunswick 78.
He reached the charts for the first time when he recorded "He's Not Worth Your Tears" with a vocal by Scrappy Lambert for Melotone. After signing with Columbia in 1934, he had top ten hits with "Ain't Cha Glad?" and "I Ain't Lazy, I'm Just Dreamin'" sung by Jack Teagarden, "Ol' Pappy" sung by Mildred Bailey, and "Riffin' the Scotch" sung by Billie Holiday. An invitation to play at the Billy Rose Music Hall led to his creation of an orchestra for the four-month engagement. The orchestra recorded "Moonglow", which became a number one hit and was followed by the Top Ten hits "Take My Word" and "Bugle Call Rag".
On July 31, 1935, "King Porter Stomp" was released with "Sometimes I'm Happy" on the B-side, both arranged by Henderson and recorded on July 1.:134 In Pittsburgh at the Stanley Theater some members of the audience danced in the aisles. But these arrangements had little impact on the tour until August 19 at McFadden's Ballroom in Oakland, California. Goodman and his band, which included Bunny Berrigan, drummer Gene Krupa, and singer Helen Ward were met by a large crowd of young dancers who cheered the music they had heard on Let's Dance. Herb Caen wrote, "from the first note, the place was in an uproar." One night later, at Pismo Beach, the show was a flop, and the band thought the overwhelming reception in Oakland had been a fluke. [a]
The next night, August 21, 1935, at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, Goodman and his band began a three-week engagement. On top of the Let's Dance airplay, Al Jarvis had been playing Goodman's records on KFWB radio. Goodman started the evening with stock arrangements, but after an indifferent response, he began the second set with arrangements by Fletcher Henderson and Spud Murphy. According to Willard Alexander, the band's booking agent, Krupa said, "If we're gonna die, Benny, let's die playing our own thing." The crowd broke into cheers and applause. News reports spread word of the exciting music and enthusiastic dancing. The Palomar engagement was such a marked success that it is often described as the beginning of the swing era. According to Donald Clarke, "It is clear in retrospect that the Swing Era had been waiting to happen, but it was Goodman and his band that touched it off."
The reception of American swing was less enthusiastic in Europe. British author J. C. Squire filed a complaint with BBC radio to demand it stop playing Goodman's music, which he called "an awful series of jungle noises which can hearten no man.":243 Germany's Nazi party barred jazz from the radio, claiming it was part of a Jewish conspiracy to destroy the culture. Italy's fascist government banned the broadcast of any music composed or played by Jews which they said threatened "the flower of our race, the youth.":244
In November 1935 Goodman accepted an invitation to play in Chicago at the Joseph Urban Room at the Congress Hotel. His stay there extended to six months, and his popularity was cemented by nationwide radio broadcasts over NBC affiliate stations. While in Chicago, the band recorded If I Could Be with You, Stompin' at the Savoy, and Goody, Goody. Goodman also played three concerts produced by Chicago socialite and jazz aficionado Helen Oakley. These "Rhythm Club" concerts at the Congress Hotel included sets in which Goodman and Krupa sat in with Fletcher Henderson's band, perhaps the first racially integrated big band appearing before a paying audience in the United States. Goodman and Krupa played in a trio with Teddy Wilson on piano. Both combinations were well received, and Wilson remained.
In his 1935–1936 radio broadcasts from Chicago, Goodman was introduced as the "Rajah of Rhythm". Slingerland Drum Company had been calling Krupa the "King of Swing" as part of a sales campaign, but shortly after Goodman and his crew left Chicago in May 1936 to spend the summer filming The Big Broadcast of 1937 in Hollywood, the title "King of Swing" was applied to Goodman by the media.
At the end of June 1936, Goodman went to Hollywood, where, on June 30, 1936, his band began CBS's Camel Caravan, its third and (according to Connor and Hicks) its greatest sponsored radio show, co-starring Goodman and his former boss Nathaniel Shilkret. By spring 1936, Fletcher Henderson was writing arrangements for Goodman's band.
In late 1937, Goodman's publicist Wynn Nathanson suggested that Goodman and his band play Carnegie Hall in New York City. The sold-out concert was held on the evening of January 16, 1938. It is regarded as one of the most significant in jazz history. After years of work by musicians from all over the country, jazz had finally been accepted by mainstream audiences. Recordings of the concert were made, but even by the technology of the day the equipment used was not of the finest quality. Acetate recordings of the concert were made, and aluminum studio masters were cut. "The recording was produced by Albert Marx as a special gift for his wife, Helen Ward, and a second set for Benny. He contracted Artists Recording Studio to make two sets. Artists Recording only had two turntables so they farmed out the second set to Raymond Scott's recording studio....It was Benny's sister-in-law who found the recordings in Benny's apartment [in 1950] and brought them to Benny's attention.:366 Goodman took the discovered recording to Columbia, and a selection was issued on LP as The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert.