October 28, 2021

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Commentary: Benny Goodman and his 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert

A Smithsonian article claims that in the hierarchy of musical instruments, the clarinet gets short shrift, compared with the violin, cello, or piano. Still, we may remember that Mozart composed the first of his clarinet works in 1771, a divertimento, meaning a light and entertaining composition.

In 1920, along came 11-year-old Beno Goodman, ninth of 12 children born to Russian-immigrant parents, who became Benny Goodman, perhaps the best of the big-band or any other era. Many music critics think that Goodman led the most popular and polished big band of the swing era. I think so.

Goodman died in 1986, at the age of 76. One of his daughters, Alice Lasseau, mentioned that he always had a clarinet handy. He even practiced during the commercial breaks of the World Series.

He performed all his life, dying of a heart attack in his NYC apartment in June 1986 while rehearsing for a Mostly Mozart concert.

My favorite of his music is the legendary Carnegie Hall jazz concert of January 16, 1938.

It’s exhilarating listening to it with such greats as drummer Gene Krupa, trumpeter Harry James, and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, all wrapped into the music and mesmerized by it. Goodman and his crew lit up the hall with hot-jazz composer Louis Prima’s number, “Sing, Sing, Sing”, people began dancing in the aisles, a first for that venerable symphony space.

Listen to the Carnegie Hall concert on YouTube, “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)” – Carnegie Hall 1938. It’ll blow you away.

I wish I had been there, but at 6 months of age, I wasn’t going anywhere but around our apartment, wrapped in my mother’s arms.

Still, I can listen to Goodman’s great music now and it continues to be uplifting.

Michael D. Langan is the NBC-2.com Culture Critic. He has written for the BBC, Dublin Review of Books, Boston Globe, Buffalo News, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other publications.

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