Aug 21, 2015
2015 marks the 80th anniversary of Benny Goodman's famous Palomar concert that started the “Swing Era,” and Israeli-American clarinetist Oran Etkin commemorates the event by bringing together a crack quartet, including Steve Nelson (vibes), Matt Wilson (drums), and Sullivan Fortner (piano) for a creative homage to the groundbreaking quartet of Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa of the 1930s. Praised as a great clarinetist and all-around improviser by the New York Times, Etkin felt a deep connection with Benny Goodman, whose groundbreaking work in redefining the role of the clarinet and challenging the status quo inspired a generation of musicians. The Motema label will release this band’s celebration of the daring and playful spirit of Benny Goodman, What's New: Reimagining Benny Goodman next month. The album is a tribute not by recreating his music note for note, but rather by getting, as Etkin told me, at the essence of who Goodman was and the spirit that he brought to the music,
On August 21, 1935, at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, California, Benny Goodman and his quartet performed for thousands of young fans in the live audience and millions more tuning in to a live radio broadcast. Historians today credit this moment as the opening of the Swing Era, In Podcast 493, Etkin talks about this famous gig, and his lifetime fascination with Goodman and his place in musical history.
Goodman had begun to perform “hot” arrangements by African-American bandleader Fletcher Henderson—arrangements that departed from the more romantic style of the day by employing loose, upbeat, syncopated rhythms that had been common in African-American jazz ensembles for years, but had been passed over by white orchestras for years. Goodman’s band would often appear well past midnight, EST, on a radio program called Let’s Dance. This may have limited their exposure on the East Coast, but since the show aired in “prime time” on the West Coast, Goodman would soon discover a huge new fan base there.
The story goes that Goodman stuck to relatively staid, stock arrangements during the first part of the Palomar show, and he began to lose the young crowd. Before their return from the first intermission, the band’s drummer, Gene Krupa, is said to have urged Goodman, “If we’re gonna die, Benny, let’s die playing our own thing.” It was at that point that Goodman famously pulled out Henderson’s arrangements along with all the stops on his talented orchestra, to the crowd’s immense delight. The rest, as they say, is history.
Podcast 493 is my conversation with Oran, as we talk about how the music of Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman influenced him, and how he and his three talented cohorts went about this project. Musical selections from the new CD include their takes on Goodman standards like "King Porter Stomp", "Dinah", and - of course - "SIng, Sing, Sing", the last in a radical revisionary take. From Oran's Gathering Light CD, you can hear "Gambang Suling", a track influenced by his travel in the Far East and Pacific Rim last year.