Benny Goodman was only 10 when he first picked up a clarinet. Only a year or so later he was doing Ted Lewis imitations for pocket money. At 14 he was in a band that featured the legendary Bix Beiderbecke.
By the time he was 16 he was recognized as a “comer” as far away as the west coast and was asked to join a California-based band led by another Chicago boy, Ben Pollack. By 1934 he was seasoned enough to be ready for his first big break.
He heard that Billy Rose needed a band for his new theatre restaurant, the Music Hall, and he got together a group of musicians who shared his enthusiasm for jazz. They auditioned and got the job.
Then Benny heard that NBC was looking for three bands to rotate on a new Saturday night broadcast to be called “Let’s Dance,” a phrase that has been associated with the Goodman band ever since. One band on the show was to be sweet, one Latin, and the third hot.
The Goodman band was hot enough to get the job, but not hot enough to satisfy Benny. He brought in Gene Krupa on drums. Fletcher Henderson began writing the arrangements – arrangements that still sound fresh more than a half century later.
And the band rehearsed endlessly to achieve the precise tempos, section playing and phrasing that ushered in a new era in American music. At the age of 28 Benny Goodman had reached what seemed to be the pinnacle of success.
The new radio program, “The Camel Caravan,” was scheduled in prime time, and the whole nation listened not only to the band itself but to the intelligent commentary by some of the most influential critics of the day, including Clifton Fadiman and Robert Benchley.
In 1938, he made his first classical recording with Budapest String Quartet. In 1939, he moved from Victor to Columbia record label and performed a second Carnegie Hall concert.
Benny had classical recordings of ‘Contrasts’ with Bela Bartok and Joseph Szigeti, which Bela dedicated to Goodman. He came up with all-star band in RKO’s ‘Syncopation’ in 1942.
New Benny Goodman Quintet was released in Billy Rose stage show ‘The Seven Lively Arts,’ also featuring Beatrice Lillie and Bert Lahr. In 1947, he left the big band group and started working mainly with small groups.
In 1948, he came in RKO-Samuel Goldwyn film titled as ‘A Song Is Born’’ with Charlie Barnet, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Lionel Hampton and many others. He made classical recordings with American Art Quartet along with Leonard Bernstein.
He recorded the soundtrack for Universal International film biography titled as ‘The Benny Goodman Story’ in 1955, featuring Steve Allen. In 1975, he performed Copland Clarinet Concerto in San Salvador, with the composer of Brazil Symphony. Gene Krupa gave Benny Goodman the title of ‘the King of Swing’.
During his professional life, he worked with great people such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Mildred Bailey, Bix Beiderbecke, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Bessie Smith and many more.