Benny Goodman. Following my review of the new Benny Goodman box set from Mosaic Records and subsequent interview with Loren Schoenberg, I received quite a few emails. [Photo by Stan Wayman for Life, 1962]
Interestingly, it seems the generally accepted story surrounding Goodman's pivotal August 1935 Palomar Ballroom appearance that ushered in the big band era has a few holes. Reader John Cooper shared these comments:
"It's hard to know exactly why teens crowded the Palomar Ballroom on August 21, 1935. Much has been made of NBC's Let's Dance radio broadcast. But according to New York and Los Angeles radio logs, the show appears to have been off the air since May 1935. So NBC would have had to have re-broadcast an old program. But in 1935, the network wouldn't have had the technical ability to do so. Also, keep in mind that Goodman's portion of the Let's Dance show was only one hour out of the program's three hours.
What's more, newspaper radio logs for both N.Y. and L.A. don't seem to show a Let's Dance broadcast on August 21, 1935, though the L.A. log does show Goodman on the air at 11 pm, presumably from the Palomar. [Pictured: Goodman on NBC's Let's Dance in early 1935]
The content at the official Benny Goodman site is suspect. Aside from the fact that the site's writer left out critical information, such as the fact that the band did extremely well up in Oakland a couple of nights earlier, the paragraph on the Palomar is misleading. This is the one about a three-hour delayed broadcast, which based on the radio logs didn't air on August 21st.
Also, why would NBC care about drumming up business for Goodman? The network had nothing to lose or gain. The fact that the Let's Dance show was off the air since May 1935 tosses a wrench into the theory that the show had been responsible for the huge turnout in L.A. three months later in August.
In addition, the Goodman cross-country tour in 1935 has been very poorly documented, which might not matter much except for the fact that recent writers seem to consistently take the easy and romantic way out by proclaiming the tour a 'disaster' until L.A. That simply wasn't the case. In addition to doing very well in Oakland and San Francisco (there is confusion as to whether Goodman performed two nights in one spot or one night in each city), he also had done well on August 17th in Salt Lake City! This is never mentioned in the convenient history of the tour. For more information, your readers may want to see the posts at this forum."
Editor's note: Exactly why crowds of teens swarmed the Palomar Ballroom to see Benny Goodman on the last night of his cross-country tour apparently is a jazz mystery that clearly requires further research and explanation. To be continued.
Michael Steinman, host of the Jazz Lives blog:
"A delightful and enlightening post. Loren Schoenberg certainly knows this subject from the inside out. You read his comments on reed sections, and he has the kind of knowledge that comes from sitting in one. And you asked the right questions. Of course, I'm always thrilled to see someone like you spreading the word about my heroes, Sidney [Catlett] and Dave Tough. But the most intriguing part of this blog is Loren's comment about Benny thinking too much. With any creative spirit, there's a balance between doing and analyzing—maybe that also accounts for the fossilizing of Benny's later repertoire. It surely wasn't simply a matter of giving the crowds what they wanted. He was and is a complex subject. Thanks for giving us such insightful peeks into the man and his music!"
Rosemary Clooney. Back in the 1950s, TV networks had time to fill and audiences to please. So popular singers were given half-hour shows if a sponsor could be found. The singers, in turn, would invite on other entertainers and they'd perform, giving viewing audiences abridged versions of the musical variety shows they used to see live at theaters in the 1940s.
One of those early singing TV hosts was Rosemary Clooney, who in 1956 had a show on NBC. In 2004, Concord released a DVD titled The Rosemary Clooney Show: Songs from the Classic Television Show. I saw it for the first time on Friday night and rather enjoyed it, though I must confess to not being a huge Clooney fan. I've always found her a bit square-sounding and dated, even for the period in which she was widely popular.
But on this DVD, I was able to see the Clooney magic, which was strangely appealing. Jolie-laide, Clooney was part seductress, part ugly duckling, and her coy, flirty on-screen charm sort of grows on you. I still find her singing largely fizz-less, but this video is quite revealing. While Clooney sang songs straight, she could nail them dead on without breaking a sweat.
Unlike Peggy Lee's vixen image and Anita O'Day's slick chick persona, Clooney transmitted a certain sadness, like the girl picked last for the team. But Rosey knew how to work it. If Lee's stunning beauty was impossibly out of reach for most women and O'Day's reckless sass too intimidating, Clooney was the gal at the corner market who could carry a tune. As is apparent on this DVD, Clooney had an special chemistry with audiences. Much, I think, was owed to her sly ability to have you initially peg her as average or plain. Of course, as soon as you did, you were hooked, and Rosey worked her eyes and voice to reel you in. To fully understand the voice, you really have to see the face in action. [Time cover: February 23, 1953]
The 19 songs featured on this Rosemary Clooney DVD include Moonlight in Vermont, They Can't Take That Away from Me, There Will Never Be Another You and Hey There.
"Great stuff ! Regarding Benny's comment: 'Somehow the music didn't get there in time. We had to play an entire concert with no music.' I was at that concert—the first time the Basie band had played in England. It was at The Royal Festival Hall in 1957. Yes, they did have music stands, but none of us knew they didn't have music.
"The band played wonderfully, and it was a dream come true for the jazz-starved British fans to see their idols in the flesh. The British Musicians Union ban had prevented tours by American bands there in the past, and by 1957 the ban had been lifted. What a thrill it was to see Freddie Green sitting next to Basie, and Joe Newman and Benny Powell and the sax section. Thanks for bringing back those memories."
Parliament Funkadelic. What Horace Silver started George Clinton [pictured] and Bootsy Collins finished in the 1970s. Mind you, Parliament Funkadelic has little to do with jazz. Instead, the group fused elements of Carnival, African ceremonial dances, tricked-out minstrelry, and late 1960s soul in a potent brew of beats, riffs and funk bass lines. The result was and is a fascinating combination of extremes.
What initially appeared to be just another funk band dressed for Mardi Gras was really a clever musical collage of Bo Diddley, Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, James Brown and Sun Ra [pictured]. Bassist Collins and vocalist and keyboardist Clinton never were fully recognized for the music they created, in part because P-Funk was so many genres wrapped up in one. Collins and Clinton were rockers in r&b territory, funk masters at a time when Philadelphia soul was ascending, and raw James Brown disciples just when gospel-funk was transitioning into processed dance music.
You can see what this group was about in their heyday on the new DVD Parliament Funkadelic: Live 1976, The Mothership Connection. This is funk at its height, with outlandish staging, rubbery bass lines and ever-shifting funk melodies. What I like most about P-Funk is the group's abandonment of fear and brazen artistic courage. It's not jazz as we know it but it was abstract exhibitionism and freaky groove at its more energetic level. The group's music was often misunderstood by mainstream critics. Looking back, you realize how influential and ahead of its time P-Funk was.
As readers of this blog know, I like all music and artists who combine creative risk with entertainment, whether it's Nat King Cole or George Clinton. It's always about art for me. Remember, where else on the web are you going to read praise for Rosemary Clooney and P-Funk in the same post? If you know nothing about this group and are curious, here's a clip from the DVD:
Bret Primack's v-blog. Many web-based jazz writers, critics and documentarians who love the 1950s are actually living in 2015 when it comes to technology and media. One such pioneer is Bret Primack, also known on the Internet as the Jazz Video Guy. Bret hosts Sonny Rollins' website, is keeper of the jazz video flame at YouTube, and is director of the recent, mind-blowing series of video interviews with Orrin Keepnews for Concord Records. He also directed the promo video for Mosaic Records' new Benny Goodman box. All important stuff.
In today's visual world, what you see on the web is becoming just as singular as what you read and hear. Bret is way ahead of the curve on preserving the words and images of jazz legends and their stories through digital video. Future generations of jazz fans already owe Bret a debt of gratitude.
Bret also is a kind and creative guy, which I think are the two best things you can say about anyone. Now the NYU film-school grad and former Down Beat editor and writer tells me he has started a v-blog—which is short for a blog that uses video instead of the written word to express opinions and insights.
You can catch Bret's new blog here. Bret tells me he will be posting bi-weekly. Very, very exciting news, and congratulations!
Paul Desmond. Great post last week by jazz critic and author Doug Ramsey at Rifftides on Paul Desmond's Thanksgiving of 1976. It's a must read. And it's always a joy to read Doug on Desmond. If you're unfamiliar with Doug's coffee table-sized book, Take Five, it's the definitive work on the relentlessly melodic alto saxophonist. Plenty of anecdotes, letters from Desmond, and glossy large photos.
Hank O'Neal. Famed jazz photographer, author and Chiaroscuro Records producer Hank O'Neal is also a radio guy. Each year, Hank hosts Christmas Music: The Jazz Feeling, an hour-long syndicated NPR show. This year he recorded his holiday show from the home of jazz pianist (and comedian) Chevy Chase. There's lots of great jazz Christmas music, stories and banter. I first heard Chase play piano last year following Dave Brubeck at the Jazz Foundation of America benefit at the Apollo Theater. My jaw dropped. Chase is beyond good and really should record a jazz piano album.
Christmas Music airs on three dates: Saturday, December 20th at 10 pm; Sunday December 21st at 7 pm, and Christmas Eve at 7 pm. You can catch the show via the web on those dates here, at the site of NPR radio station WVIA.
John Bunch. Last Wednesday night I made a rare trip out of my apartment to hear pianist John Bunch at New York's Smalls club. John was joined by Jay Leonhart on bass and Alvin Atkinson, Jr. on drums. They were terrific. I also got to catch up with legendary jazz festival producer George Wein, who was there to hear John's tender and tasteful touch. [Photo of John Bunch by Roy Edwards]
Smalls, for those not in the know, is to me New York's most relaxed, coziest and best-priced jazz club. It's just around the corner from the Village Vanguard, and the atmosphere at Smalls is akin to your living room (with a long bar, of course). There's a modest $20 cover charge that includes a drink, and you can stay all night or come and go as you please.
John played about 10 tunes during the first set, including a lush Mr. Lucky, Don't Misunderstand by Gordon Parks and Like Someone in Love. At 87, John is playing as beautifully as ever, from mischievous bop lines to lock chords. What makes John special are his delicious chord choices, perfect time and joyous lines. He also brings enormous experience to every note, making his playing look and sound devilishly easy. As George Wein [pictured] said, leaning over to me: "He's fabulous. He doesn't miss a single note." John doesn't. When his hands hit the keys, you almost sense the keyboard rising up to meet them. His touch is so soft and gentle, making him easily one of the best and most overlooked jazz pianists around today. A true legend. [Photo by Jim Cooper, AP]
Two albums by John worth downloading: A Special Alliance and Plays Irving Berlin with Frank Wess. To find the later album at iTunes, search for "The John Bunch Trio."