Benny Goodman, c. 1939.
Courtesy of the Frank Driggs Collection.
Born May 30, 1909, in Chicago, IL
Died June 13, 1986, in New York City
“Nothing less than perfection would do,” Benny Goodman once said of his long band-leading career. “I lived that music, and expected everybody else to live it, too.” His exacting standards paid off.
A virtuosic master on the clarinet and a taskmaster on the bandstand, he was also a student of music who never let a day go by without practicing. “I’ve always wanted to know what made music,” he said. “How you do it and why it sounds good.”
He started out as a child prodigy in Chicago’s Northside Jewish ghetto, became a successful sideman and studio musician, then struck out on his own, determined to find a national audience for what he called “genuine jazz.” With the help of manager and talent scout John Hammond and arrangements by Fletcher Henderson and others, he established an orchestra in 1934 that introduced big band jazz to the larger American public – and helped to usher in the swing era.
Along the way, Goodman popularized the clarinet as a solo instrument, became a respected classical soloist, organized a series of hard-swinging small ensembles, and helped establish jazz in America’s concert halls. “Benny built himself a band playing musician’s music,” explained his drummer, Gene Krupa. And at a time when even the stage was racially segregated, his ongoing desire to perfect that music led him to bring to it great African-American musicians, including pianist Teddy Wilson and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. "If a guy's got it, let him give it,” Goodman said. “I'm selling music, not prejudice."
Learn more: www.bennygoodman.com
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