BENNY GOODMAN AND THE SWING ERA by James Lincoln Collier

BENNY GOODMAN AND THE SWING ERA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

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 Grof‚, 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.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1989
ISBN: 0195052781
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press