Benny Goodman

The Quintessence: New York, Los Angeles, Stockholm 1935-1954

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Taken literally, the title of Fremeaux's Quintessence series promises that listeners will encounter the concentrated, unadulterated, essence of the musical legacies documented therein. Released in 2007, this label's double-disc anthology of recordings made by virtuoso clarinetist Benny Goodman in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Stockholm between July 1935 and November 1954 lives up to this heady assignment by presenting a well-chosen array of 36 outstanding studio, live, and radio broadcast performances, with the big band featured on disc one and a dazzling series of small groups lined up across disc two. The Benny Goodman Orchestra essentially defined big-band swing music for the U.S. and the world during the 1930s and early '40s. Beginning with the classic 1935 realization of Jelly Roll Morton's "King Porter Stomp," 18 examples of Goodman's mastery of the large jazz ensemble unfold chronologically. Goodman's star soloists in this realm included trumpeters Bunny Berigan, Cootie Williams and Charlie Shavers, trombonist Kai Winding, saxophonists Georgie Auld, Don Byas and Stan Getz, pianist Jess Stacy and drummer Gene Krupa. Vocalist Peggy Lee is featured on Irving Berlin's "I Threw a Kiss in the Ocean." Goodman's arrangers as represented here spell out the grand tradition of big-band arranging. They include Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Gordon Jenkins, Edgar Sampson, Eddie Sauter, Buster Harding, Toots Camarata, Buck Clayton, Mary Lou Williams and Chico O'Farrill. Disc two is a fascinating survey of Goodman's experiments with the duo, trio, quartet, quintet, sextet and septet formulae. It presents the historic 1935 Goodman/Teddy Wilson/ Krupa combination, the marvelous addition of vibraphonist Lionel Hampton in 1936, singer Martha Tilton's superb rendering of "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" backed by the quartet in 1937, and subsequent interactions with pianists Count Basie, Mel Powell and Johnny Guarnieri; guitarists Charlie Christian and Billy Bauer (who was closely associated with Lennie Tristano at that time); trumpeter Fats Navarro and saxophonist Wardell Gray; bassist Slam Stewart, drummer Dave Tough, vibraphonist Red Norvo and jazz accordionist Ernie Felice (on "I'll Always Be in Love with You"). Don't miss the lovely version of "Lazy River," rendered as a duet with pianist Jimmy Rowles. This delightful collection concludes with an extended jam by a seven-piece ensemble on "Air Mail Special," air-checked off of a live radio broadcast from Stockholm, Sweden on April 4, 1950. With Goodman on this occasion were trumpeter Roy Eldridge and saxophonist Zoot Sims. Cumulatively, the players and their music add up to what the producers intended for us to have: an excellent mini-history of Benny Goodman containing some of the best swing and bop recordings that ever appeared under his name. There are almost too many Benny Goodman collections on the market -- let it be known that this one ranks with the best.

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