Archive for Benny Goodman

Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman in Chicago

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on May 10, 2017 by telescoper

Following up the post I did last week about Joe Morello which proved very popular, here is another about a drummer whose name came up in the discussion following that item, Gene Krupa.

Gene Krupa didn’t exactly invent the image of the drummer as a madman who sat at the back of the band, but he certainly cultivated it. He may sometimes have lacked subtlety in his playing, but he always injected a huge amount of energy into a performance whether in a small group (as here) or behind a big band.

His extrovert personality proved an excellent complement to the rather introverted bandleader Benny Goodman which, together with his undoubted technical ability, led to them having a very long working relationship. That said, Gene Krupa did leave the Goodman Orchestra in 1938 reportedly because Benny Goodman didn’t his drummer’s tendency to hog the limelight, insisting on taking a drum solo in just about every number. They did continue to work together for many years afterwards, however, as this clip demonstrates.

Many people credit Gene Krupa for basically inventing the modern drum kit and was certainly one of the first drummers in Jazz to be well known as a soloist and, indeed, the first to become a nationwide celebrity. He also inspired subsequent generations of drummers: Keith Moon of The Who was an admirer of Gene Krupa and I was told some years ago that Krupa also provided the inspiration for `Animal’, the drummer in the Muppet Show band.

People don’t generally realize what a smash hit Benny Goodman’s band was in the pre-War years – their fame was exactly on the scale of the `Beatlemania’ of a few decades later.

My Dad taught himself to play the drums using a book called The Gene Krupa Drum Method. I found his (very old and battered) copy of it among his personal effects after he died almost a decade ago and gave it – along with his drums, sticks, brushes, etc – to a local school. One thing that came from learning from a book was that he learnt to read drum music very well, which helped him get jobs with various dance bands. Few Jazz drummers of his generation could read music.

This performance, dating from the 1960s, represents a kind of reunion the three members of Benny Goodman’s famous trio of the 1930s (Goodman, Krupa and Teddy Wilson), along with bassist George Duvivier. I never really understood how that original trio managed to get away without having a bass player, but it was hugely popular and made a number of terrific records.

There’s a (somewhat rambling) verbal introduction by Benny Goodman, so I’ll restrict myself to a couple of observations. One is that Gene Krupa (who is clearly enjoying himself in this clip – watch him at about 3:07!) shows off the `trad’ grip very effectively. The other is that if you look closely at Teddy Wilson’s right hand you can see that he doesn’t have the use of his index finger, which he was unable to unbend. I believe that came about as the aftermath of a stroke and it caused him a lot of problems in later life although he carried on playing well into the 1980s. Anyway, he still plays very nicely, as do they all. Enjoy!

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Honeysuckle Rose

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on October 5, 2015 by telescoper

Not too well today – and ridiculously busy – so I thought I’d post a brief pick-me-up by the “King of Swing”.  I remember that my Dad – who was a semi-professional Jazz drummer – wasn’t all that keen on Benny Goodman’s clarinet playing, which he regarded as “too clinical”. In fact many jazz writers also refer to Benny Goodman as “unemotional”. I can’t agree – the clarinet on this track is absolutely sensational to me, and I find it a joy to listen to over and over again. And if that wasn’t enough for a three-minute 78 there’s also a fine solo from pioneering electric guitarist Charlie Christian and Cootie Williams on trumpet on this big band version of Fats Waller’s familiar composition Honeysuckle Rose.

Charlie Christian: Swing to Bop

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , on November 2, 2014 by telescoper

I was transferring some old CDs onto my iPod the other day, and in the process of doing that I realized that in all the six years I’ve been running this blog I haven’t posted a single item about the great guitarist Charlie Christian, who did more than any other individual to promote the use of the electrical guitar and thus had an enormous influence on the development of  20th century music. The only reason I can think of why his is not a household name is that he died so young, in 1942, of tuberculosis, at the age of just 25.

Born in 1916, Charlie Christian came to prominence with Benny Goodman‘s orchestra during the 1930s. That in itself merits a remark. Benny Goodman was one of the first white bandleaders in the Swing Era to have black musicians in his band at a time when both musicians and audiences were generally racially segregated in the United States of America. Goodman deserves great credit for picking the best musicians he could find, regardless of the colour of their skin; Lionel Hampton is another prominent example. Bringing the young Charlie Christian into his band also testifies not only to his refusal to pander to racism, but also his willingness to experiment with new musical ideas, not least taking the guitarist out of the rhythm section and placing him as front-line soloist.

Here’s an excellent example of Charlie Christian playing with Benny Goodman’s Orchestra in 1939. I remember that my Dad wasn’t all that keen on Benny Goodman’s clarinet playing, which he regarded as “too clinical”. In fact many jazz writers also tend to refer to Benny Goodman’s playing as “unemotional”. I can’t agree. I admit that the band is a bit “slick”, but the clarinet on this track is absolutely sensational to me, and I find it a joy to listen to over and over again.  There’s also fine Cootie Williams on trumpet on this version of Fats Waller’s composition Honeysuckle Rose:

Commercial records from the 1930s were strictly limited by the available technology to 3 minutes’ duration, so Charlie Christian’s solo on that track  is necessarily brief.  You can hear much more of him on the historically important amateur recordings made during the early 1940s of late-night jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse in New York City. This is an excerpt from a piece called Swing to Bop recorded in 1941, which shows how far Charlie Christian had advanced in just a couple of years. His improvised solo is way ahead of its time in the way it develops through an effortless string of musical ideas into an exploration of the harmonic possibilities of the chord sequence that I find absolutely sensational to listen to.

Not many people knew it at the time, because tracks like this weren’t made commercially available, but a musical revolution was brewing. Charlie Christian changed the course of jazz history, helping to usher in the bebop era, but his influence on rock-and-roll guitar is also incalculable.

Incidentally, I think Swing to Bop is actually the Count Basie tune Topsy in disguise, or at least the chords thereof. Listen to Topsy here and see if you agree..

Jazz Musicians Play Classical…

Posted in Jazz, Music with tags , , , on January 30, 2014 by telescoper

I had an interesting exchange via Twitter the other day after listening to “CD Review” on BBC Radio 3. The programme included a few examples of Opera singers trying – and, in my opinion, failing – to sing like Jazz singers.

I was reminded of this discussion last night when I got home to find a lovely Clarinet sonata by Poulenc being played. It turns out that this piece was commissioned by none other than the “King of Swing”, clarinetist Benny Goodman.

I love both Jazz and Opera, but attempts to mix the two very different genres are not often successful.  Jazz and Classical music are rather like different languages and musicians are rather like poets: fully bilingual exponents who can perform their art in more than one tongue are few and far between. There are, however, notable exceptions to this rule if not among singers but among instrumentalists. I think this is largely because so many Jazz musicians are so unbelievably virtuosic on their instruments that they can play more-or-less anything they put their mind to.

Anyway, I thought I’d post a few examples of famous Jazz musicians who have proved that they can play Classical music well. Here’s the man Benny Goodman playing the Mozart Clarinet Quintet K. 581:

Wynton Marsalis playing a Haydn Trumpet Concerto:

Keith Jarrett playing the first movement of the Italian Concerto by J.S. Bach  BWV971. I would have included his version of the Goldberg Variations, but it’s on harpsichord and therefore not allowed…

I’d like to hear any further suggestions of excellent performances of Classical repertoire by Jazz musicians, so feel free to comment through the box.

That’s a Plenty

Posted in Jazz with tags , on November 25, 2010 by telescoper

By way of a little Thanksgiving gift to my friends and colleagues over in the US of Stateside, and also to warm the cockles of everyone shuddering here in the cold snap that’s fallen over Blighty, here’s a rare taste of hot jazz from a very young Benny Goodman.

This track was recorded in 1928, long before the start of the Swing Era of which Benny Goodman’s Orchestra was in the vanguard, leading Mr BG to be called “The King of Swing”. His clarinet sound is a bit rougher around the edges than he achieved in the slick performances of his later years, but then he was only 19 at the time and he certainly plays with a huge amount of drive.

This was recorded with a trio of himself on clarinet, a piano (Mel Stitzel) and a drummer (Bob Conselman). After he formed his big band in the thirties he continued to make records with a band of the same format, but featuring Teddy Wilson on piano and Gene Krupa on drums. I never quite worked out why he preferred not to have a bass player in the small group recordings (although he often included Lionel Hampton on vibes), but this older track at least demonstrates that he was consistent in that respect!

And another thing. I’m not an expert, but to my ears there’s more than a hint of the sound of  Klezmer music in this recording. Waddayathink?