Benny Goodman's 21st volume in his portion of the Classics Chronological Series contains all of the red label Columbia records the popular clarinetist and bandleader made in Chicago and New York between August 15 and October 8, 1941. This compilation contains Peggy Lee's very first recordings. Originally known as Norma Egstrom, she was singing at the Windy City's Hotel Ambassador when Goodman heard her while taking a break from his band's run at the Panther Room in the Hotel Sherman. Goodman, who needed a vocalist to fill the gap left by the sudden departure of Helen Forrest, hired her without hesitation. He also continued his struggle against bigotry by including in his band several uncommonly skilled Afro-American musicians -- trumpeter Cootie Williams, bassist John Simmons and drummers Jo Jones and Sid Catlett. Because of hassles with the Musicians' Union, Jones, who can be heard on two recently unearthed "test" takes, almost didn't get to record with Goodman at all on September 25, 1941; five of the tracks cut on that day have no drummer at all. For an interesting listening experience, compare both versions of "The Earl." Take one is powerfully propelled by Jones, who during take two may very well have been egging on the band from the sidelines as he did years later during the Ellington band's notoriously over-the-top performance at the Newport Jazz Festival. Both takes feature the piano of Mel Powell, who composed and arranged this exciting number. Jones was borrowed from Count Basie to fill in for Catlett, who had quarreled with Goodman during an appearance at Meadowbrook in New Jersey and quit shortly afterwards, only to return for the session of October 2. Another test recording that has existed for years in a sort of discographical no-man's-land devoid of matrix numbers is Goodman's two-part jam on Mary Lou Williams' "Roll 'Em." The producers of this series have determined that it belongs in this portion of the Classics Benny Goodman chronology.
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf