On August 21, 1935, the Benny Goodman Orchestra caused an incredible sensation at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, marking the symbolic start of both the swing era and the clarinetist's quick rise to fame as the most popular big-band leader of the time. However, the music on this CD largely predates all that. From December 1, 1934 to May 25, 1935, the struggling Benny Goodman big band appeared on a weekly series of Saturday night broadcasts over NBC as one of three orchestras, along with the dance music of Kel Murray and the Latin pop of Xavier Cugat. Goodman, who had spent the past five years primarily as a studio musician, was largely unknown to the general public. The music on the 1998 Circle CD, all previously unissued, is taken from Let's Dance broadcasts dating from February to May 1935. The selections are not in chronological order, nor are the airchecks issued in complete form (one wishes they were), but the 23 performances (three of which are incomplete) are all quite worthwhile and certainly historic. At the time, the Benny Goodman Orchestra was almost already what it would become. Goodman's nine horn players did not include any major soloists; trumpeter Pee Wee Erwin is hardly heard from, Bunny Berigan is absent, and altoist Toots Mondello emerges as the clarinetist's main supporting star. While Gene Krupa is on drums and Goodman's younger brother Harry is on bass, the pianist is Frank Froeba (who would later be replaced by Jess Stacy); heard fairly prominently on rhythm guitar is the great George Van Eps. The late Helen Ward, who wrote the excellent and informative liner notes, has seven vocals (she was arguably Goodman's finest singer), and there are two ballad vocals from the forgotten Ray Hendricks. Stomps alternate with ballads, and future Goodman standards (such as "King Porter Stomp" and "Bugle Call Rag") are outnumbered by worthwhile obscurities. Among the highlights are a humorous take-off on Ted Lewis ("When My Baby Smiles at Me," which has a Toots Mondello vocal that sounds pretty close to Lewis), a cooking "Three Little Words," "I Got Rhythm," "I Know That You Know," and "The Dixieland Band." The Benny Goodman band certainly sounds ready for stardom here, and these broadcasts would lead to the future explosion at the Palomar Ballroom. Little did they know what was to come!
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