Benny Goodman and the Swing Era

Benny Goodman and the Swing Era

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The Swing Era was that magic moment in America when the popular music of the nation became virtually identical with the great new music of the period--jazz. The man most responsible for bringing this memorable music to popularity was the so-called "King of Swing"--Benny Goodman. In this controversial and widely acclaimed book, James Lincoln Collier tells the story of Goodman's life as seen through the music and social world of the years of the Great Depression in the 1930s and beyond. Born of poor Jewish immigrant parents in Chicago in 1910, Benny Goodman's career was a rags-to-riches story brought to life. When he was ten years old he joined the local synagogue band with two of his brothers, and because he was the smallest of the three was given a clarinet. Proving to be a natural clarinetist, Goodman left home at fifteen to join the famous Ben Pollack orchestra. His clarinet playing became legendary before he was twenty, and he was one of the most sought-after jazzmen for radio shows and orchestras that needed a talented player on short notice. Collier brilliantly recreates the colorful popular music world of the 1920s and 1930s, when the music industry was just expanding, radio was the great source of musical entertainment, and swing bands that had emerged out of the growth of jazz in the 1920s were first finding national audiences. He chronicles the rise and success of Goodman and his band against the social milieu and popular music of the time. Goodman's success was built largely on the arrangements of the brilliant black musician, Fletcher Henderson. He was the first leader to hire black musicians for a white band--Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton--and a number of major musical figures got their start in the band, among them Gene Krupa, Harry Janes, and Peggy lee. Collier also deals in detail with Goodman's simultaneous career as a classical musician. Benny Goodman was a brilliant musician but an enigmatic man. Collier's biography captures this elusive personality with great insight and understanding. Collier perceptively analyzes dozens of Goodman's significant recordings and makes the reader hear them afresh. Benny Goodman and the Swing Era is a major work about jazz and one of its most significant figures.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 416 pages
  • 134.62 x 200.66 x 25.4mm | 408.23g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 16 pp half-tones
  • 0195067762
  • 9780195067767

Review Text

Noted jazz critic Collier adds to his impressive production of biographies (Louis Armstrong: An American Genius; Duke Ellington) with this study of legendary clarinetist Benny Goodman, which includes as well a portrait of the swing era. While this is as complete a bio of Goodman as we are likely to see, the author often punctuates his story with mini portraits of various musical influences (Dixieland, the big band, be-bop) and personal influences on Goodman (Ted Lewis, Doc Berendsohn, Jimmie Noone, Jimmy Dorsey, Pee Wee Russell, Fud Livingston, Jimmy Lytell, Volly DeFault, Don Murray), as well as of important fugures in the creation of the modern dance orchestra (Art Hickman, Ferder Grofe, Paul Whiteman). Collier takes the story back to Goodman's origins as the son of a poor Jewish immigrant family in Chicago, seeing a major influence in Goodman's observing his admired father laboring hard at debilitating and demeaning work. He thus grew up determined to rescue himself and his father (who, nevertheless, died young). Goodman's parents made the propitious choice of clarinet for young Benny, and by the time he was 15, he had so taken to the instrument that he was outearning his father and all of his older brothers. Collier also chronicles and provides critiques of most of Goodman's recordings and concerts (including the famous January 1938 Carnegie Hall concert that brought modern jazz to that hallowed hall for the first time: Goodman's initial reaction to the idea was, "Are you out of your mind? What the hell would we do there?"). Meanwhile, Collier makes no bones about the fact that he considers big-band swing music to be "the finest kind of popular music we have seen in centuries," a contention that, in itself, elevates Goodman to the highest ranks of popular icons in America. A fine addition to musical autobiography, more studied than Stanley Baron's Benny: King of Swing (1979) and obviously more complete than Goodman's half-century-old The Kingdom of Swing. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About James Lincoln Collier

About the Author James Lincoln Collier is the author of over forty books, which have been published in twelve languages, including Russian: he is the only American writer on jazz to have official acceptance in the U.S.S.R. His books on music include biographies of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, The Making of Jazz and Practical Music Theory, used in many schools. His articles on music have also appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Village Voice, Wall Street Journal, and many others. He contributed major articles to the New Grove Dictionary of American Music and to Grove's Dictionary of Jazz. Collier has worked as a jazz musician around New York for many years, and has played with groups in a dozen nations around the world.show more

Rating details

18 ratings
3.77 out of 5 stars
5 22% (4)
4 39% (7)
3 33% (6)
2 6% (1)
1 0% (0)
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