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Music Review: Benny Goodman-The Essential Benny Goodman

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One hundred months of May ago, Benjamin David Goodman was born. Armed with his trusty clarinet, young Benjamin climbed the ladders of the New York jazz scene in the 20s and 30s until he became known all over the world as Benny Goodman, the “King of Swing.” While Goodman may be gone, he certainly is not forgotten, so what better way to celebrate his birthday than with Legacy Recordings’ The Essential Benny Goodman collection.

Before listening to this collection, I really only knew one Benny Goodman arrangement.  “Sing, Sing, Sing,” while penned by Louie Prima, is one of Goodman’s signature songs. Much like Glen Miller’s “In the Mood,” it seems like one of those classic songs that will never fade away, and Goodman’s version may be the best known. You may not know it by name, but as soon as Gene Krupa taps out that tribal beat off his toms, you know it almost as fast as your feet start hopping. To be honest, this collection is a necessity, if only for this nearly nine-minute arrangement. But there are an additional thirty-nine tracks of big-band goodness, including two previously-unreleased recordings.

The collection is split into four sections over two discs. The first ten tracks, “Benny’s Big Band Arrangers,” focuses on the work of the band’s arrangers, who gave the songs their signature sound. From Jimmy Mundy’s arrangement of “Sing, Sing, Sing” to Fletcher Henderson’s arrangement of “King Porter Stomp,” these are some of the songs that made Goodman’s band popular.

The next section, “Benny Visits Tin Pan Alley,” focuses on some of the great New York songwriters Goodman drew from. Manhattan’s Tin Pan Alley was home to a large number of publishers and songwriters of Goodman’s era, and the source of many chart-topping songs. Johnny Mercer and Matt Malneck’s “Goody Goody,” Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It,” and George and Ira Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Going On,” are some of the standouts here.

Disc two starts with “Benny’s Small Groups.” These are some of the popular songs of Goodman’s smaller bands, from the late 30s and early 40s. Ranging from trios to septets, Goodman scaled down the big-band sound and included several original tunes, like his “Wholly Cats” and “Rachel’s Dream.” There are also some great examples of electric guitar pioneer Charlie Christian’s work on several of these tracks, like “Air Mail Special.”

The final section, “Benny Live,” is an excellent collection of live performances, including several songs from his 1938 Carnegie Hall show.

Mainstream popularity of swing may come and go, but every one of these songs is a classic that will last longer than most.  The Essential Benny Goodman is a great over-view of Goodman’s career, and an excellent collection to celebrate Benny’s 100th.

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