by Ted Gottsegen
Born into a large, poverty stricken family, Benny began playing the
clarinet at an early age. He was associated with the Austin High School Gang, having gone to school with drummer Dave Tough. By the time he was
twelve, Goodman appeared onstage imitating famous bandleader/clarinetist
Ted Lewis. It was at this concert that Ben Pollack heard the young
clarinetist and Benny was soon playing in Pollacks band. Goodmans
first recordings were made with the Pollack group in 1926, and give a
strong example of Bennys influences at the time including Jimmie Noone,
who was then with Doc Cook and His Dreamland Orchestra and Leon Roppolo
of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. During this period Goodman recorded his
first sides as a leader with members of the Pollack band including one
1928 date which features the only known recording of Benny on alto and
Following the musical migration out of Chicago and into New York, Goodman became a very successful and popular free-lancer, joining the likes of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey in New York studios. In 1934 Benny
put together his first big band, featuring Bunny Berigan on trumpet,
Jess Stacey on piano and Gene Krupa on drums. With the addition of some
excellent, sophisticated arrangements by Fletcher Henderson, the Swing
Era was born.
Goodman spent the next fifty years recording and touring with various
groups big and small, including some very successful trips to Russia and
the Far East. He also played many concerts on a classical format that
received mixed reviews.
Known by musicians for his stand-offish and “cheap” nature, many sidemen had a love/hate relationship with Goodman. Many musicians claimed that Benny was dishonest when it came time to pay off the band and many more recalled the Goodman “ray”, the dirtiest of looks received when a mistake was made. That aside, its clear that without Goodman the “Swing Era” would have been nowhere near as strong when it came, if it came at all.
After his death, the Yale University library received the bulk of
Goodmans personal collection including many private never-before-heard
recordings and rare unpublished photos.
Thanks to Richard Unger for the recordings on this page.