Saturday, June 25, 2016

Benny Goodman Live on the West Coast, 1960

During my recent trip to Europe, I rediscovered an album that I'd long forgotten—the outstanding Benny Goodman Swings Again, perhaps one of the least discussed entries in the prolific Benny Goodman discography. Early in 1960, the King of Swing put together a swinging new band for touring purposes. The ten-piece outfit included magnificent musicians such as vibraphonist Red Norvo, tenorist Flip Phillips, altoist Jerry Dodgion, trombonist Murray McEachern, trumpeter Jack Sheldon, pianist Russ Freeman, guitarist Jimmy Wyble, bassist Red Wooten, and drummer John Markham. This was essentially an augmented lineup of the Norvo-led quintet that a few months before had accompanied Frank Sinatra at a concert in Melborne that Blue Note released in the '90s under the title of Frank Sinatra Live in Australia 1959. The Goodman album was released by Columbia and was recorded live at Ciro's in Hollywood and Harrah's in Lake Tahoe, which explains its subtitle, "Recorded Live on the West Coast." It features exciting new readings of Goodman classics such as "Air Mail Special," "Slipped Disc," "I Want to Be Happy," and "After You've Gone" and captures the fresh sound of this tightly knit band in a live setting, the updated arrangements leaving plenty of room for solos not only by the leader but also by Norvo, Phillips, Sheldon, and the rest of the sidemen, all of whom get several chances to showcase their talents.

Benny Goodman, 1960s (Photo: Herb Snitzer)
Goodman is undeniably in top form and even vocalizes—and forgets the lyrics!—on "Gotta Be This or That," a number that he always enjoyed singing. The only ballad on the set list, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's "Where or When," is actually one of the highlights, an opportunity for Goodman to show his tender side amid so much swinging uptempo material. Though the clarinetist's contempt for and dislike of vocalists was no secret, he features the lesser-known singer Maria Marshall on two selections, "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee" and "Bill Bailey Won't You Please Come Home," both of which she delivers in a style clearly reminiscent of Judy Garland. A rather obscure vocalist, Marshall also worked with the likes of Chubby Jackson and one Frank DuBois, though I admit the two numbers on this LP are the only recordings by her I've ever heard. Judging by the cover, one of the selling points of the album was a new nine-and-a-half-minute rendition of "Sing Sing Sing (With a Swing)," and although this 1960 arrangement is no match for the classic 1938 Carnegie Hall version, it's still an engaging, spirited performance. Critic Gene Knight, who attended one of these concerts, enthusiastically described Goodman's gig in the New York Journal-American as "an electric shock, administered musically . . . all the old favorites became new favorites again . . . there were shouts, cheers; customers stood up and applauded wildly . . . last night, as always, Benny was BIG!" And Benny Goodman Swings Again fortunately preserves on tape some of the excitement created by this early '60s Goodman outfit for our listening pleasure—alas, my sole complaint is that it only features nine tracks!

No comments: