Discover more from Frank Beacham's Journal
Benny Goodman, King of Swing, was born 114 years ago today
Benny Goodman, 1958
Photo by Don Hunstein
Benny Goodman, King of Swing, was born 114 years ago today.
A jazz and swing musician, clarinetist and bandleader in the mid-1930s, Goodman led one of the most popular musical groups in America. His January 16, 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City is described by critic Bruce Eder as "the single most important jazz or popular music concert in history: jazz's 'coming out' party to the world of 'respectable' music."
Goodman's bands launched the careers of many major names in jazz. During an era of segregation, he also led one of the first well-known racially integrated jazz groups. He continued to perform to nearly the end of his life, while exploring an interest in classical music.
Born in Chicago, Goodman was the ninth of twelve children of poor Jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire. When Benny was 10, his father enrolled him and two of his older brothers in music lessons at the Kehelah Jacob Synagogue.
The next year he joined the boys club band at Jane Addams' Hull House, where he received lessons from the director, James Sylvester. He also received two years of instruction from the classically trained clarinetist, Franz Schoepp. His early influences were New Orleans jazz clarinetists working in Chicago, notably Johnny Dodds, Leon Roppolo and Jimmy Noone.
Goodman learned quickly, becoming a strong player at an early age. He was soon playing professionally in various bands. He made his professional debut in 1921 at Central Park Theater in Chicago and entered Harrison High School in 1922. He joined the musicians’s union in 1923 and, that summer, met Bix Beiderbecke.
He attended Lewis Institute (now Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1924 as a high school sophomore, while also playing the clarinet in a dance hall band. At age 14, he was in a band that featured the legendary Beiderbecke. When Goodman was 16, he joined one of Chicago's top bands, the Ben Pollack Orchestra, with which he made his first recordings in 1926.
Goodman was regarded by some as a demanding taskmaster. By others, he was an arrogant and eccentric martinet. Many musicians spoke of "The Ray," Goodman's trademark glare that he bestowed on a musician who failed to perform to his demanding standards.
Guitarist Allan Reuss incurred the maestro's displeasure on one occasion. Goodman relegated him to the rear of the bandstand, where his contribution would be totally drowned out by the other musicians.
Vocalists Anita O'Day and Helen Forrest spoke bitterly of their experiences singing with Goodman. "The twenty or so months I spent with Benny felt like twenty years," said Forrest. "When I look back, they seem like a life sentence."
At the same time, there are reports that he privately funded several college educations and was sometimes very generous, though always secretly. When a friend once asked him why, he reportedly responded: "If they knew about it, everyone would come to me with their hand out."
Goodman is also responsible for a significant step in racial integration in America. In the early 1930s, black and white jazz musicians could not play together in most clubs or concerts. In the Southern states, racial segregation was enforced by the Jim Crow laws. Goodman broke with tradition by hiring Teddy Wilson to play with him and drummer Gene Krupa in the Benny Goodman Trio.
In 1936, he added Lionel Hampton on vibes to form the Benny Goodman Quartet. In 1939, he added pioneering jazz guitarist Charlie Christian to his band and small ensembles, who played with him until his death from tuberculosis less than three years later. This integration in music happened ten years before Jackie Robinson became the first black American to enter Major League Baseball.
Goodman's popularity was such that he could remain financially viable without touring the South, where he would have been subject to arrest for violating Jim Crow laws.
Despite increasing health problems, Goodman continued to play until his death from a heart attack in New York City in 1986 at the age of 77 in his home at Manhattan House on 200 East 66th Street.
Here, Goodman and his orchestra (featuring Gene Krupa on drums and Harry James on Trumpet) perform “Sing, Sing, Sing” from the film, Hollywood Hotel, in 1937
Howard Hawks was born 127 years ago today.
A film director, producer and screenwriter of the classic Hollywood era, Hawks is popular for his films from a wide range of genres such as Scarface (1932), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Sergeant York (1941), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), The Thing from Another World (1951), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and Rio Bravo (1959).
In 1942, Hawks was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for Sergeant York, and in 1975 he was awarded an Honorary Academy Award as "a master American filmmaker whose creative efforts hold a distinguished place in world cinema." His directorial style and the use of natural, conversational dialog in his films were cited a major influence on many noted filmmakers, including Robert Altman, John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino.
His work is admired by many notable directors including Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, François Truffaut, Michael Mann and Jacques Rivette.
Hawks died on December 26, 1977 at age 81 from complications from falling over his dog several weeks earlier at his home in Palm Springs, California.
In the photo, Hawks talks with actors John Wayne, Dean Martin and Rick Nelson on the set of Rio Bravo in 1959. Rio Bravo was filmed on location at Old Tucson Studios outside Tucson, Arizona in Technicolor.
In 2014, Rio Bravo was deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
(L to R) Charlie Barnett, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong and Lionel Hampton on the set of A Song is Born, 1948
Two of today’s birthdays intersect on a major music project — Benny Goodman and Howard Hawks.
A Song Is Born (also known as, That's Life) is a 1948 musical film remake of the 1941 movie, Ball of Fire. It starred Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo. It was directed by Howard Hawks from an original story by Billy Wilder, produced by Samuel Goldwyn and released by RKO Radio Pictures.
Filmed in Technicolor, it featured a stellar supporting cast of musical legends, including Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton and Benny Carter. Other notable musicians playing themselves in the cast include Charlie Barnet, Mel Powell, Harry Babasin, Louis Bellson, Al Hendrickson, The Golden Gate Quartet, Russo and the Samba Kings, The Page Cavanaugh Trio and Buck and Bubbles.
Here is key scene featuring many of the performers.
On this day in 2009, Mick Jagger offered to buy an ice cream van but was turned down by its owner — who'd promised his daughter he would drive her to her wedding in it.
Guiseppe Della Camera had spent ten years restoring the rusting van to perfection after he spotted it on a farm. It was being used as a chicken shed. The restoration was such a success Sir Mick offered to buy the vehicle when he saw it at a show on Wandsworth Common.
“Jagger told me he'd really fallen in love with my van and asked me if I would consider selling it,” Camera said. “I was stunned when he offered me £100,000.”
Tom Morello is 59 years old today.
A guitarist best known for his tenure with the bands Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, The Nightwatchman, Street Sweeper Social Club and his solo act, Morello is also the co-founder (along with Serj Tankian) of the non-profit political activist organization, Axis of Justice.
Born in Harlem and raised in Libertyville, Illinois, Morello became interested in music and politics while in high school. He attended Harvard University and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Studies.
After his previous band, Lock Up, disbanded, Morello met Zack de la Rocha and the pair founded Rage Against the Machine together. The group went on to become one of the most popular and influential rock acts of the 1990s.
Morello is best known for his unique and creative guitar playing style, which incorporates feedback noise, unconventional picking and tapping as well as heavy use of guitar effects.
Also noted for his leftist political views and activism, Morello’s creation of his side project, The Nightwatchman, offered an outlet for his views while playing apolitical music with Audioslave.
Playwright Christopher Marlowe, 29, was killed in a brawl over a bar tab on this day in 1593 — 430 years ago.
Marlowe, born two months before William Shakespeare, was the son of a Canterbury shoemaker. A bright student, he won scholarships to prestigious schools and earned his B.A. from Cambridge in 1584.
He was nearly denied his master's degree in 1587, until advisers to Queen Elizabeth intervened, recommending he receive the degree, referring obliquely to his services for the state. Marlowe's activities as a spy for Queen Elizabeth were later documented by historians.
While still in school, Marlowe wrote his play, Tamburlaine the Great, about a 14th century shepherd who became an emperor. The blank verse drama caught on with the public, and Marlowe wrote five more plays before his death in 1593, including The Jew of Malta and Dr. Faustus. He also published a translation of Ovid's Elegies.
In May, 1593, Marlowe's former roommate, playwright Thomas Kyd, was arrested and tortured for treason. He told authorities that "heretical" papers found in his room belonged to Marlowe, who was subsequently arrested.
While out on bail, Marlowe became involved in a fight over a tavern bill and was stabbed to death.
Harmonica Man, Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, Sept. 30, 2012
Photo by Frank Beacham