Benny Goodman

Biography

In the Swing Era, the world knew Benny Goodman as the King of Swing. He became a superstar at a time when popular music and jazz were closer to each other than they have ever been before or since. Though there were many other fine jazz clarinetists in his day, most young players of that instrument strove for the Goodman sound. And today it is heard in the playing of clarinetists all over the world.

Goodman was a master of his instrument, and he worked constantly to keep his playing in top condition. He also hired the best musicians he could find and put together a number of superb musical organizations. With the assistance of such arrangers as Fletcher Henderson and Eddie Sauter, and in collaboration with musicians such as Charlie Christian, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, Mel Powell, and Teddy Wilson, he set a standard of excellence in personal musicianship and group performance that has rarely been equaled.

As popular music turned away from big bands and jazz, Goodman’s position in the entertainment world diminished. By the 1970s, his wild success in the Thirties was unknown to most of the younger generation. But jazz aficionados continued to admire his playing, especially those old enough to remember the glory days. Though Goodman broke up his band at the end of the Forties, he never stopped practicing, and whenever he assembled groups to make tours, he was always in good form. Goodman retained his playing ability and his interest in music until his death in 1986, at seventy-seven.

Bill Crow

April 1994

Excerpted from Benny Goodman Verve Jazz Masters 33