Benny Goodman Orchestra • Big Bands Live

Jazzhaus 101732
Two 180-gram LPs



by Guy Lemcoe | April  23, 2015

eaders of the The Audio Beat will know the name Benny Goodman. He was often identified as a virtuoso clarinetist and leader of popular and successful swing-styled dance bands and small groups, but he was equally at home with small jazz groups, symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles. Over the years countless well-known musicians and singers performed in one or another of his orchestras. Among them were Helen Forrest, Teddy Wilson, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, and Harry James.

Here we have a superlative set of recordings featuring the Benny Goodman Orchestra captured live in concert at the Stadthalle in Freiburg, Germany. It was stop seven of twenty on Goodman’s European tour of 1959. Other venues included Paris, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Basil and Vienna. Fronting a band featuring veteran players Red Norvo on vibes, Bill Harris on trombone, Flip Phillips on sax, Russ Freeman on piano, a young Jack Sheldon on trumpet and singer Anita O’Day, Goodman was determined to please the two thousand jazz fans in the audience.

Jazzhaus, a relatively new label featuring a number of audio and video jazz programs taken from live radio and television recordings from the archives of Südwestrundfunk Stuttgart, Baden-Baden and Mainz in southwest Germany, counts among its archives about 1600 audio and more than 350 television recordings of major modern jazz artists, almost all having never been released before. The renowned author and jazz historian Joachim-Ernst Berendt, who helped found the Sudwestfunk (SWF) radio network after WWII, produced these fine-sounding monaural recordings. This is another in the Jazzhaus Big Bands Live series. The two flat-edged, hefty, flat and pristine LPs are housed in a nice gatefold jacket with vintage photos and performance notes. As is customary with Jazzhaus, there is an enclosed card with a code for an MP3 download of the album, including two additional songs, "Rachel’s Dream" and "Raze the Riff."

The music is sophisticated swing from start to finish with overtones of New Orleans jazz. Starting with a Goodman signature song, "Airmail Special," to the concluding "Bei mir bist du scheen" (ironic in that 20 years earlier the song’s Yiddish roots were uncovered and it was subsequently banned throughout Nazi Germany), the orchestra and small group cover the gamut of swing from absolutely mellow small-club meanderings on "Body and Soul" to raucous mainstream swing on "Ten-Bone." (Inexplicably, a snippet of Goodman’s theme song, "Let’s Dance," heard on the CD, is missing from the LP.) Throughout the concert, the handpicked musicians and female vocalist demonstrate why they were chosen for this gig.

Highlights include "Airmail Special" with Goodman, Norvo, Phillips, Harris and Sheldon flexing their muscles. Later, Anita O’Day takes over "Honeysuckle Rose," her voice radiating over Red Wootten’s walking bass. She also owns "Come Rain or Come Shine" with lovely backing by the group. Two of my favorite tracks, "Body and Soul" and "Memories of You," are quietly austere small-group Goodman, oozing class, like dinner in Manhattan. Another fave is "Breakfast Feud," a relaxed swinger with nice solos all around. In contrast, "Ten-Bone" is a down-‘n'-dirty raucous swinger featuring pulsing solos by Barry Harris and Flip Phillips. "Medley" wraps up the event with a selection of seven bona fide classics: "Don’t Be That Way," "Stompin’ At the Savoy," "Sunny Side of the Street," "In a Mellow Tone," " Moonglow," "Sing, Sing, Sing," and the aforementioned "Bei mir bist du scheen."

Benny Goodman and Anita O’Day fans will have to have this record. Others should buy it to experience late-'50s swing captured in superb live sound. Along with the thousands of concert attendees whose enthusiasm is captured on the tapes, you too will be thrilled.

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