As a young child, Benny Goodman, studied music at the Hull House in Chicago, Ill. He was an integral part of the early Chicago-wide group of musicians, now-a-days collectively known as 'The Chicagoans' that included Pee Wee Russell, Frankie Teschmacher, Leon Rapolo, Max Kaminsky, Jimmy McPartland and his brother Charles, Mugsy Spanier, the Dorsey brothers, Glenn Miller, and many others others. As such, Benny can be considered one of the 'inventors' of the modern American Swing Band.
In 1922, he appeared onstage with the Benny Meroff orchestra, in Chicago, doing an imitation of Ted Lewis, who was America's favorite clarinetist. Not long afterwards, Ben Pollack sent for him to join the Pollack orch. at the Venice ballroom in LA. Benny's first recorded solo, "He's the Last Word", was with the Pollack orch, in Chicago, Dec. 12, 1926. Benny left Pollack in 1929 and became a successful "studio" musician in New York City. He formed his first 'regular' band in 1934.
In the aftermath of the great 1929-1933 depression, a new generation of young people were looking for music that they could call their own. Goodman's orchestra was destined to fill this need. The sidemen were on average just 5 years older than the audience. (Benny himself, maybe only 10 years older.) The hot bands of the 1920's and early 30s like Fletcher Henderson, Coon-Sanders Nighthawks, and Don Redman had all been disbanded. Perhaps Benny's only real competition was the Casa-Loma Orchestra.
In 1934, Benny was signed for the NBC coast-to-coast radio show called "Let's Dance". (He was also booked into the Roosevelt Hotel and Billy Rose's Music Hall at this time.) Goodman's orchestra shared the Let's Dance radio show with the Kel Murray Orchestra, a straight-ahead dance band, and Xavier Cugat's latin 'Waldorf-Astoria Hotel' orchestra, a society dance band.
NBC's 'Let's Dance' radio show was actuallly a 5 hour broadcast from New York designed so that all U.S.time zones would get three hours of music. The east coast and central time zones were cut off after the first three hours; Mountain Time zone listened to hours 2-4, while the West Coast listened to hours 3-5. In this manner, American listeners heard 3 solid hours of dance music over the airwaves.
Six months later, MCA booked Benny's orchestra for a coast- to-coast tour which turned out to be dismally unsuccessful until the band reached the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, CA. Several times during the tour, MCA considered cancelling the remainder. The tour was absolutely unsuccessful until the very last date at the Palomar Ballroom. There Goodman found "his" audience. The kids went completely wild over Goodman's 'swing' sound. That day, Goodman''s invention, the 'big band swing' sound, swept over the world. When Benny brought the orchestra back to New York's Paramount Theatre, the kids were actually dancing in the aisles. "Bobbysox-ers" were invented and "jitterbugs" became endemic. Benny Goodman was crowned as the King of Swing, a title he held for the rest of his life (very deservedly).
At the start, when Benny's orchestra was little known, it was basically a dance band, ocassionally playing some 'hot' music. There was little income, and Benny was working hard to build his band's 'book'. Before the 1934-1935 period, throughout it and afterwards too, most of the Goodman Orchestra's book had been written by Spud Murphy. The 'Killer-Dillers' (like "Sing, Sing, Sing") in the Goodman book, were almost all written by Jimmy Mundy. Benny was also just beginning to pick up some charts from Fletcher Henderson. (I think that he only had two charts from Fletcher at this time. Henderson's scores for "Sometimes I'm Happy" and "King Porter Stomp" proved popular.)
After Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra disbanded, Benny hired Fletch, in August 1939. By this time, Goodman's orchestra was enormously successful. Fletcher then presented Benny with many of his own band's scores. Benny continued to use the Fletcher and Horace Henderson; Edgar Sampson; Benny Carter and Deane Kincaide scores throughout his career. (Mary Lou Williams contributed the famous "Roll 'Em".) To Benny's credit, he never failed to give full credit to Fletcher for co-authorship of the "big band swing" sound (even tho Benny, himself, played a huge part in the invention of that 'sound'.)
This was a historic moment in American musical history. It was the first time that a "white" band hired a black musician to play with it on stage. To Benny's great pride and credit, he was the man to integrate our musicians. After Henderson, Benny went on to hire such fine musicians as Teddy Wilson (piano); Lionel Hampton (Vibes); Cootie Williams (trumpet); Charlie Christian (guitar) and 'Slam' Stewart (bass fiddle) as well as singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Jimmy Rushing.
Benny should also be remembered for forming the "personality" concept in big band swing. It was with Benny's band that the sidemen were given public exposure as soloists. It was this fan worship for Goodman's sidemen such as Harry James; Gene Krupa; Lionel Hampton and Ziggy Elman, that later allowed them to form their own orchestras. This practice of featuring the sidemen was picked up by virtually every other swing orchestra of the day. Rarely does Benny receive sufficient credit for this.
Among his girl vocalists were Helen Ward, (original), 'Liltin' Martha Tilton; Peggy Lee and Louise Tobin.
In 1939, Benny switched recording companies from RCA to Columbia. He also signed Eddie Sauter as his new arranger. It was Sauter who rejected Goodman's original brasses against the saxes format to a newer and more harmonically advanced type of scoring, especially for the ballads. Sauter was responsible for such hits as "Clarinet ala King" and "Benny Rides Again".
In 1941, Benny married Alice Duckworth, famed jazz critic John Hammond's sister. It was a very happy, long lived marriage. It was this same John Hammond who had encouraged Benny to integrate negroes into the orchestra.
The small group sessions with the "Hamp", Teddy and Krupa are as live and vibrant today as when they were recorded a half century ago.
After the end of the bigband era, Goodman went on to a career as a classical Clarinet solist with many of the world's great symphony orchestras. He never-the-less would, from time to time put, together a pickup group for jazz concerts.
Nobody, but absolutely nobody, played the clarinet as well as Benny. He drilled his band to perfection by demanding no less from the sidemen than he did of himself. He was not only well liked by the bandsmen, but also very much admired for his musicianship.
Benny Goodman, a true giant among American Jazz musicians, and the master of swing M-U-S-I-C-1.