(In my ongoing series of “records I own which I think you should hear”. Click here for more.)
The oldest record I currently own is BENNY GOODMAN – The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert – Vol. 2, though the music in it is slightly preceded by The Swing Years Collector’s Edition, 1936-1946 (not pressed ’til 1966). I have other records which contain music written earlier (performed by Nat King Cole, BB King, etc), but the actual tracks weren’t laid down until the ’60s or later.
Goodman’s January 16, 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City was called “the single most important jazz or popular music concert in history: jazz’s ‘coming out’ party to the world of ‘respectable’ music.”(1) Put together by his publicist, Wynn Nathanson, Goodman’s performance made him the first jazz bandleader to perform at Carnegie Hall. Goodman was nervous about doing it, but his latest movie, Hollywood Hotel, had lines of fans waiting outside the Paramount lot to see him, so he went ahead. Why was he nervous? At the time, the Hall was considered “An import house of Old World traditions where snobby smirks toward American culture had a way of making status-sensitive Yankees feel like Babbitts for comparing Gershwin to Wagner or Tatum to Horowitz….”(2)
It’s important to know that this was one of the first public concerts to feature a racially integrated group, which helped to convince white audiences that jazz could be an “elevated” form of music, though they were aware of its beginnings with mostly-black bands. The show sold out, even with a higher than usual ticket price. It started with a couple of contemporary songs, segued into a history of jazz, including some guest appearances by Count Basie (his Hall debut) and members of the Duke Ellington band, before heading into the songs that had made Goodman famous. Lionel Hampton and Gene Krupa, shown in the photo below, were there, as were Buck Clayton, Johnny Hodges, Walter Page, Lester Young, Harry Carney, and Freddie Green.
The audience started out uncertain but eventually loved the concert. Martha Tilton’s vocals “Loch Lomond” provoked five curtain calls and cries for an encore. “The encore forced Goodman to make his only audience announcement for the night, stating that they had no encore prepared but that Martha would return shortly with another number.”(3) Recordings were made of the concert, on acetate, but the quality wasn’t great. They were forgotten about for a while, actually, until Rachel Speiden (Benny’s sister-in-law) found them in his apartment in 1950(4). He then took them to his label, Columbia, and they were issued in LP (including the one I now have).
When this collection was first released in 1950, it was one of the first Goodman records on the new long-playing 33-1/3 rpm format, and the first one to sell over a million copies. It was considered “premiere performance given by a jazz orchestra in the famed Carnegie Hall in New York City”. The original release was the first ever double album. The one I have is part of a slightly-later set that broke the concert into individual 45s. I also don’t have the complete set, just this one album, but it’s absolutely worth listening to.
Columbia – CL815
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album, Mono
Style: Big Band
You can hear the crackle that signifies old vinyl from the very moment the needle touches down on the record. Only three RCA 44BX mics were used to record the concert: one above the conductor’s podium, and two others at the ends of the band. The feed went offstage to a mixer in a truck sitting in the alley behind the Hall. The onsite engineers didn’t control the mix, so they didn’t do anything to bring out the solos or adjust for the varieties of each song. In fact, they didn’t have enough turntables to record it all, so they sent the feed to Universal Recording Studio’s Raymond Scott, so the concert was recorded on four different cutting machines, and there’s no way to make it sync correctly on an analogue system.
Columbia brought in Harvard physicist Bill Savory to work on the sound after Goodman rediscovered the acetate in 1950, which of course had degraded over time. After much industrial magic, it was possible to restore about 75% of the concert. (Apparently, Goodman was amused when he found out that he had come in sixteen bars late on “Dizzy Spells”; he hadn’t realized until then.)
The arrangements are a mix of big band and smaller trios and quartets.
A1 Blue Reverie 3:18 (written by Harry Carney / Duke Ellington) – Considered by many to be the “highlight of the set, with Johnny Hodges’ masterfully played, Bechet-inspired soprano sax, Carney’s broad-toned baritone and Cootie Williams’ plunger-muted trumpet.”(5)
A2 The Man I Love 3:26 (George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin)
A3 Avalon 4:16 (Buddy DeSylva / Al Jolson / B. Rose / Vincent Rose)
A4 Body And Soul 3:23 (Frank Eyton / Johnny Green / Edward Heyman / Robert Sour)
A5 Life Goes To A Party 4:15 (Benny Goodman / Harry James)
B1 I Got Rhythm 5:09 (George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin)
B2 Blue Skies 3:18 (Irving Berlin)
B3 Loch Lomond 2:58 (traditional)
B4 Blue Room 2:42 (Lorenz Hart / Richard Rodgers)
B5 Swingtime In The Rockies 2:30 (Benny Goodman / Jimmy Mundy)
You can listen to .mp3s of the whole collection here.
(1) Eder, Bruce (November 2, 1999). “Live at Carnegie Hall: 1938 Complete – Benny Goodman : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards”. AllMusic.
(2) McDonough, John (1995) Down Beat: Sixty Years of Jazz. Hal Leonard Publishing Company.
(3) “insert booklet”, “The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert” Sony 199 2 CD reissue.
(4) Firestone, Ross (1993). Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life & Times of Benny Goodman. New York: Norton. P. 366.
(5) Sohmer, Jack (May 200) “Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall-1938: Complete”. JazzTimes.
Hancock, John. (2009) Benny Goodman – ‘the Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert’. Prancing Fish Publishing. (The book has a Facebook page with lots of pics and links.)
Tackley, Catherine. (2012) Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert. Oxford Studies in Recorded Jazz. (Includes transcriptions of the music.)