Benny Goodman

Known as the “King of Swing,” Benny Goodman is responsible for bringing jazz to the mainstream. His band, the Goodman band, was widely popular throughout the ‘30s, and was one of the first mainstream integrated musical groups.

Goodman was born to two Polish Jewish immigrants in Chicago in 1909. At the age of 10, he started taking clarinet lessons at the Kehelah Jacob Synagogue, and a year later joined the boys’ club band of the famed Hull House. His talent was clear from an early age, and he began taking lessons from the classical clarinetist Franz Schoepp as well. In addition to this classical foundation, Goodman counts the early Chicago jazz scene as an influence. He was particularly struck by New Orleans jazz players such as Jimmy Noone and King Oliver, who had moved north to Chicago. Their influence was so deeply felt that he and a group of local boys formed the Austin High School Gang, who attempted to emulate the New Orleans sound.

He began his musical career in his early teens, making his professional debut in 1921 at age 12 and joining the local musician’s union in 1923 at age 14. That same year, he joined a band fronted by jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke. At age 16, Goodman had his big break when he was invited west to joined the Ben Pollack Orchestra. He then moved to New York in 1929, and spent five years freelancing, where he worked on everything from commercials to George Gershwin's Strike Up The Band and Girl Crazy.

In 1934, Goodman formed his first band. The 12-piece group became the house band for the Music Hall restaurant, and got a record deal through Columbia Records. 1934 also marks the Goodman band’s first appearance on Let’s Dance, a nationally syndicated radio show. It was with Let’s Dance that the Goodman band exploded in popularity, and they embarked on a cross-country tour in 1935. The first part of the tour was considered a disaster. It wasn’t until a show at the Palomar Ballroom that the tour was considered a success. In fact, the Palomar performance was so successful, that many consider it both the beginning of the swing era and the beginning of the Jitterbug dance craze.

Goodman and the Goodman band’s fame would only skyrocket from there. On January 16, 1938, the band played Carnegie Hall to a sold-out audience, making them the first jazz group to play at the prestigious venue. To honor the occasion, they started the night by playing through the history of jazz, ending the night with their own songs.

The popularity of the Goodman band waned in the mid-’40s, with the rise of cool jazz and bebop. Yet Goodman adapted his style, first recording a number of bebop records with Buddy Greco, Zoot Sims, and Wardell Gray and later hearkening back to his classical roots by playing chamber music. Goodman played off and on until the day he died in 1986, at the age of 77. Though his swing style of jazz may have fallen out of favor, there’s no denying it paved the way for modern rock and roll and pop music. Goodman was the first to take the New Orleans style and adapt it to big bands, creating a musical genre that left a lasting impression.

Benny Goodman Videos

Benny Goodman - Sing Sing Sing - 1938 Newsreel footage!

Benny Goodman plays "Sing Sing Sing" at Carnegie Hall

This 1938 rendition of "Sing Sing Sing" was performed and recorded at Carnegie Hall by Benny Goodman and his orchestra.

Benny Goodman At Carnegie Hall, New York 1974 #4

Benny Goodman plays "Gotta Be This or That" at Carnegie Hall

Now here's something you don't hear every day -- Benny Goodman singing! One has to wonder where Frank Sinatra was for this one.

Benny Goodman At The Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen Denmark 1972 #9

Benny Goodman At The Tivoli Gardens -- "I've Found a New Baby"

At the beginning of this performance, Goodman has a laugh at the expense of the rest of his group, as he seems to be the only one who knows what

Benny Goodman And His Orchestra 1985 #3

Benny Goodman and His Orchestra cover "King Porter Stomp" at Broadway Ballroom

A classic Dixieland big band number, "King Porter Stomp" is up next on the set list for the group.

Benny Goodman Quartet - Moonglow

The Benny Goodman Quintet plays a duo of "Moonglow" and "Picnic"

This is another performance from Goodman's "golden years." The classic medium-tempo swing, "Moonglow," features an all-star group: Lionel Hampton

Benny Goodman At Carnegie Hall, New York 1974 #5

Benny Goodman At Carnegie Hall: "Sing Sing Sing"

36 years prior to this date, Benny Goodman's Orchestra recorded this same song at this same venue.

Benny Goodman At The Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen Denmark 1972 #10

Benny Goodman At The Tivoli Gardens -- "Memories of You"

Another love song, this slow-swinging ballad starts off with yet another Benny G flourish before McGuffie jumps in on piano.

Benny Goodman And His Orchestra 1958 #4 With Harry James

"King Porter Stomp," featuring Harry James with the Benny Goodman Orchestra

This tune starts off with a ripping trumpet solo by Harry James, and then the saxes take the melody.

Benny Goodman & Buddy Rich Quintet (Merv Griffin Show 1979)

Benny Goodman and the Buddy Rich Quintet play together on the Merv Griffin Show

Merv Griffin's show served host to over 5,000 guests. In this video, the guests are none other than Benny Goodman and Buddy Rich.

Benny Goodman At Musikhalle, Hamburg Germany 1973

Benny Goodman At Musikhalle: "Avalon"

"Avalon" kicks off this concert at Musikhalle in Hamburg, Germany.


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