Benny Goodman. The Famous Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert

Jon Hancock. Prancing Fish Publishing. 218 pp.

ISBN 978-09562404-0-8 | £24:99

Goodman Picture

"I never expected to get into Carnegie Hall - honest I didn't, I never expected to get into the front door, let alone come in through the back door the way all the really great artists have." So said Gene Krupa, writing in Metronome magazine the day after playing the drums in the famous recording with Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall on 16th January 1938.

Reputed to be the best selling live jazz record ever, the Carnegie Hall recording is still much talked about, having remained continuously in the catalogue since its release in 1950. Featuring Buck Clayton, Count Basie, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Lester Young, with Goodman's great orchestra at the height of its considerable success, the concert has gone down in history as one of the greatest ever.

Hancock has given us an enthusiastic, lively account, in enormous detail, written with love. Without it becoming the least bit dull we are given first-hand reports, and dozens of wonderful photos. Here is information about microphone types and placements, minutiae about when the chairs were moved on stage, who was in the audience (Robert Mitchum, for one, apparently), and the loss and rediscovery of the acetates in the years after the concert. And the nice story that BG's daughter Rachel found the discs in a cupboard in the Goodman apartment 200 East 66th Street, while playing hide-and-seek, is forever scotched.

Rachel herself, now Rachel Edelson Goodman - and probably no longer playing hide and seek - contributes a valuable foreword, The Quest for the Perfect Reed, wherein she reveals herself as a writer of ability. Making music with her great clarinettist father she suffered 'under the rain of his impatience'. Edelson believes that fame trapped her father in the 'costly bargain made between the world's adulation and the artist's self expectations'. A schooled pianist good enough to have accompanied Benny in performing the Brahms F minor sonata for clarinet and piano (it has a notoriously tricky piano part), Rachel is described on the web as an 'English instructor'. I would like to read more of her writing.

Hancock tells us that Sing, Sing, Sing began life as Sing, Bing, Sing, that Bei Mir Bistu Shain had its lyrics changed from Yiddish to German (Shain became Schoen), and that Ravi Shankar (Shan-Kar) was dancing in a Carnegie Hall concert the following night. Gene Krupa and the Indian drummer Vishnudas Shiralay, with whom Shankar worked, held each other in mutual respect.

Small lapses (which could have been picked up by a good sub-editor) occur where Hancock writes of 'Bee-Bop' (p 12), calls Chicago's Ravinia Park 'Rayinia Park' (p 178), uses capitals to begin words such as jazz, swing and press, and writes of the 'atrabilious atmosphere' of Carnegie Hall (p 33). Atrabilious means gloomy or morose, bad-tempered or irritable. I was in Carnegie Hall to hear André Previn's 80th birthday celebrations days before writing these words. The atmosphere inside Carnegie Hall I found to be couth, combed and kempt, not at all gloomy.

Printed in a clear font, on glossy paper, with a good index, the book is an essential read for everyone interested in the history of jazz.

John Robert Brown

First published in Jazz Journal, July 2009, reproduced by kind permission. Reproduction forbidden.
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