Benny Goodman was only 28 years old when he reached the pinnacle of his career, bringing his big band to Carnegie Hall in January 1938.
Joseph Szigeti, who took an interest in jazz and admired Goodman’s playing for its expressiveness and technical proficiency, was present at that tremendously successful historic concert. That same year, he suggested the idea to Goodman to underwrite a commission for a short concert piece by Bela Bartók for clarinet, violin, and piano, with virtuoso candenzas in the vein of the violin rhapsodies.
Bartók completed the piece in September 1938, and Goodman returned to Carnegie Hall a year after his famous jazz concert with the premiere of two movements of Bartók’s work. The reviews of the sound recording of Contrasts, made during the composer’s visit to the United States in the spring of 1940, were unequivocal in their praise of Goodman’s performance.
This according to “Bartók: Kontrasztok, Benny Goodman és a szabad előadásmód” by Vera Lampert (Magyar zene: Zenetudományi folyóirat LIII/1 [február 2015] pp. 48–65).
Today would have been Goodman’s 110th birthday! Above and below, the 1940 session.
In 1948 Benny Goodman invited the Danish jazz violinist Svend Asmussen to consider coming to the U.S. to play in his band. Asmussen agreed, but he soon discovered that the U.S. Musicians Union had other ideas.
To play in Goodman’s band musicians had to be union members; but the union required foreigners to live in the U.S. for one year and have a sponsor to pay them before they could join. As Asmussen recalled, “That means you had to spend a year in America without playing or making any money.”
The two finally had a chance to perform together in Copenhagen in 1981; it was Goodman’s last recorded live performance.
This according to “Svend Asmussen: Phenomenal jazz fiddler” by Richard J. Brooks (Fiddler magazine XII/1 (Spring 2005) pp. 4–12).
Today is Asmussen’s 100th birthday! Above and below, history in the making.
In a 1956 interview, Billie Holiday recalled her first recording session, with Benny Goodman’s band in 1933:
“I got there, and I was afraid to sing in the mike…I was scared to death of it.”
The pianist, Buck Washington, leveraged the fact that the two of them were black, while most of the band members were white: “You’re not going to let these people think you’re a square, are you? Come on, sing it!”
When asked what she thinks of that recording now, she replied “I get a big bang out of Your mother’s son-in-law. It sounds like I’m doing comedy—my voice sounds so high and funny!”
This radio interview is transcribed as “The Willis Conover interview” in The Billie Holiday companion: Seven decades of commentary (New York: G. Schirmer. 1997, pp. 62–70).
Today is Holiday’s 100th birthday! Above, Holiday in the studio in 1936; below, that first recording.