Benny Goodman : After The Swing Years©2004JCMarion


By the end of World War II, Benny Goodman had done it all. He had truly been the "King of Swing", singularly ushering in the the "Swing Era", the only time in American history when jazz music became the country's popular music for a time. His 1935 broadcasts from the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles had fired the imagination of young America looking for a diversion from the Great depression. Goodman's theme song "Let's Dance" spoke to a generation and Goodman became an American institution. His inclusion of Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton in the B.G. Quartet was a landmark step in the fight for racial equality, and his band appeared at the most important jazz concert of the time in January of 1938 at New York's Carnegie Hall. The live recording of that concert has become one of American music's watershed moments in musical history. But now the time was the mid forties and the war and the swing years were over. The big bands were mainly gone and the vocalists had taken over center stage. What was left for Benny Goodman now that the scope of the recording landscape had changed so drastically ?

By January of 1946, Benny Goodman had chalked up one hundred and forty six (146 !) charted records beginning in 1931. Fifteen years later, even the death of the big bands could not still the hit making ability of B.G. "My Guy's Come Back" and "Symphony" (a big hit for Freddy Martin) was a big two suded seller early in the year on Columbia #36874. Vocals by Liza Morrow paced the tunes as both sides charted with "Symphony" getting as high as number two in the country and spending close to four months on the top sellers charts. In mid March "Give Me The Simple Life" (#36908) a song from the film "Wake Up And Dream" featuring another vocal turn by Morrow gets into the top fifteen. In May Goodman shows there is still life in the BG Quartet when "Don't Be A Baby" also charts briefly for Columbia on #36967. In late summer "I Don't Know Enough About You" which featured Stan Getz on tenor sax and Art Lund on vocals is a number twelve seller on #37053. The next hit for Goodman in 1946 was a tune his band played for years, "Blue Skies". It got a new lease on life as the title song of the 1946 movie and the new version by the band with vocal by Art Lund was a good seller and a top ten charter.

Another movie song "A Gal In Calico" (from "The Time The Place and The Girl") featured new vocalist Eve Young. The Columbia release on #37187 was a solid number six seller and stayed on the charts for two months giving Benny his first hit of 1947. "Moon Faced And Starry Eyed" followed in April with a vocal by song writer extroadinaire and old Goodman partner Johnny Mercer. This was the first recording for Goodman on the Capitol label on #376(founded in part by Mercer in 1942) after a stay of eight years with Columbia, and was a top twenty record as was the follow up tune "I Want To Be Loved" (#416) by another new vocalist Lillian Lane. In early 1948 another change in vocals - this time it was Peggy Lee on the tune "For Every Man There's A Woman" (from the film "Casbah") which was a number twenty five seller as was the flip side, an instrumental version of Debussy's "La Mer" entitled "Beyond The Sea" on Capitol #15030. Later in the year vocal quartet The Sportsmen, long featured on the Jack Benny radio program, did the vocals on "Give Me The Good Old Days" on #15044 which charted briefly. In July Columbia Records got back into the mix with a 1942 re-issue (originally on Okeh #6497) of the song "Somebody Else Is Taking My Place" which also charted for a week. In late 1948 Benny Goodman showed he still had the touch with his biggest hit in three and a half years, "On A Slow Boat To China" with a great vocal by Al Hendrickson (#Capitol #15206). Despite the song being one of the big tunes of the day, and hit versions by Kay Kyser, Freddy Martin, Eddy Howard, Larry Clinton, and former Goodman vocalist Art Lund, Goodman's take on the tune was a solid top ten seller and spent more than three months on the hit charts. Not bad for a twenty year veteran of the American music scene.

In the spring of 1950, Benny Goodman and his orchestra recorded a cover of Sammy Kaye and Don Cornell's big hit "It Isn't Fair" on Capitol #860 with vocal by Buddy Greco. A decent effort that charted as high as number thirteen nationally kept Benny in the spotlight. Another cover followed - "Oh Babe" originally done by Louis Prima - with an interesting vocal duo comprising Nancy Reed and Jimmy Ricks, bass singer of the Ravens. The record marks Benny Goodman's return to Columbia Records (#39045) after three years with Capitol. "Babe" is a top twenty five seller for Goodman as he realizes that his days as a hitmaker are finally numbered. The overwhelming popularity of young ballad singers and the record buying public becoming younger by the day convince Goodman that touring, personal appearances, and albums are in his future as an American musical icon. In August of 1951 Columbia re-issues "Wang Wang Blues" from 1941 on #39748 which charts for one week as does a June 1953 release of an old Goodman hit "I'll Never Say 'Never Again' Again" with his original vocalist Helen Ward. Three years later Goodman has his swan song on the singles charts with a tune from his own bio on film "The Benny Goodman Story". Using the trio setting with a vocal by Rosemary Clooney, the song "Memories Of You" on Columbia #40616 which gets to number twenty in the country, is a nice way to bow out.

On the album charts, Benny Goodman produced two best sellers. "B.G. In Hi-Fi" for Capitol #565 was a four month best seller during the spring of 1955, while a year later the movie double album "The Benny Goodman Story" on Decca #8252 and 8253 was a huge seller getting to number four. There are many CDs available of the music of Benny Goodman. The remastered 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, the 40th anniversary album of that concert, and live CDs from Brussels, Bangkok, Australia, Stockholm, and Moscow from the early 60s to the mid 70s. There are many others from collector labels that document Goodman's career from the earliest days. From our period of interest there is "Benny Goodman & Peggy Lee : The Complete Recordings" and "Magic Carpet Selections : 1945-46" with Art Lund and Liza Morrow, both JazzBand imports. Benny Goodman was certainly the "King" of not just Swing, but much, much more.

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