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Music Review: Benny Goodman – Big Bands Live: Benny Goodman Orchestra, Feat. Anita O’Day

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In 1947 Südwestrundfunk (Southwest Broadcasting) began a series of radio and TV Jazz broadcasts featuring both major American musicians like Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, and Lester Young as well as rising European stars. Almost 1600 audio and 350 video recordings of the live performances of these artists, most of which are previously unreleased, are housed in the company’s archives. Jazzhaus is a new label launched by Naxos of America and Arthaus Musik to release remastered versions of some of the best performances in quarterly installments. The first installment to be released at the end of March includes CDs by the Benny Goodman Orchestra featuring Anita O’Day, the Cannonball Adderly Quintet, and the Gerry Mulligan Sextet.

If the Benny Goodman CD, a fifteen track concert running just over 76 minutes, is an accurate indication of what is still to come, jazz fans have a bonanza of good listening to look forward to. Recorded live at Stadthalle-Freiburg in October of 1959, Goodman and a ten piece band play a selection of some of his best known tunes as well as one or two less well known, and while this is not the Goodman band of his heyday, it is a swinging ensemble that gives a fine account of itself. Joining Goodman are Russ Freeman on piano, Red Norvo on vibes, Jack Sheldon on trumpet, Flip Philllips on tenor sax, Bill Harris on trombone, Jerry Dodgion on flute. Jimmy Wyble plays guitar, Red Wootton on bass, and drummer John Markham rounds out the band. The vocals of Anita O’Day highlight the album.

The concert opens with the familiar Goodman theme song “Let’s Dance” and follows with the up-tempo “Air Mail Special” showcasing first the maestro and then Norvo, Phillips, and the rest of the band. “Raise the Riff” is a tight ensemble piece that has some nice work from Wyble and Freeman. “Whispering” has the clarinetist in a playful mood and “Memories of You” and “Body and Soul” are vintage Goodman. “Don’t Get Around Much Any More” gives Wootton a chance to show his stuff and Norvo shines. Bill Harris lights up the stage with “Ten Bone,” and Phillips’ sax is hot.

Anita O’Day steps up to the front of the band with a dynamic take on the Fats Waller favorite, “Honeysuckle Rose,” before changing the mood with a sweet version of “Come Rain or Come Shine.” “Let Me Off Uptown,” the classic duet she recorded with the Gene Krupa Orchestra and Roy Eldridge is something of a disappointment. Her introduction of Sheldon as Roy is a cute variation on her introduction of Roy as Joe, unfortunately when Sheldon (who may be better known for his comedic TV appearances) starts to blow he doesn’t manage to equal Eldridge’s terrific trumpet solo. Although the album listing doesn’t mention it, the track starts with “Boogie Blues.” The duet on “Gotta Be This or That” is a keeper.

The set includes two fine medleys. The first features O’Day scatting on the Woody Herman hit “Four Brothers” after opening with “Not For Me” and coming back for a sultry blues. The band ends with an eleven minute stew of “Don’t Be That Way,” “Stomping at the Savoy,” Sunny Side of the Street,” “In a Mellow Tone,” “Moonglow” and Bei mir bist du scheen.” Again, the track listing doesn’t mention it, but the medley ends with the Goodman show stopper, “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

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