12 March 2009

King of Swing

One of the many fascinating characters in the history of American music is Benny Goodman, dubbed "The King of Swing" by his bandmate Gene Krupa. My friend John B, who turns 87 next week, was the first person to properly introduce me to this music. The re-issued CD of Goodman's famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert was the vehicle, and coupled with John's enthusiastic reminisces of his youth in the Swing Era, I was hooked. Last night my lovely bride and I watched the 1956 Hollywood biopic The Benny Goodman Story with Steve Allen in the title role. Goodman himself plays all the clarinet parts, but many of his old bandmates (like Krupa) make appearances, Harry James and Lionel Hampton in particular. These movies are generally uninspiring, but this one is helped along by the abundance of great jazz performances. It never hurts to cast the stunningly beautiful Donna Reed as the love interest. Goodman's career was helped, like many others, by the enterprising John H. Hammond (played in the film by Herbert Anderson). Ms. Reed plays Hammonds sister, Alice, who actually marries Benny Goodman in real life. Alice and John were the grandchildren of Cornelius Vanderbilt. (Hammonds' son, John P. Hammond, is well-known and accomplished contemporary blues guitarist and singer.) Only in America can the son of immigrants marry the grand-daughter of one of the wealthiest men in history!

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