On the night of January 16, 1938, American music was changed forever when Benny Goodman and his cohorts-Harry James, Count Basie, Teddy Wilson, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Cootie Williams, Bobby Hackett and many others-brought jazz to the rarefied concert setting of Carnegie Hall for the first time. Originally released on LP in 1950 and out of print for several years, this legendary night is presented on this 2-CD set in its entirety for the first time , with many unreleased tracks!
In jazz, live recordings not only document an artist or group’s sound in its purest form but, in rare cases, herald the arrival of a musical genre. That’s the case with this invaluable, two-CD collection that captures clarinetist Benny Goodman’s historic 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, which exemplified the so-called “swing era.” Originally released in 1950, it contains rare commentary from Goodman and music from the entire event, which was a unique mix of formality and spontaneity. Goodman’s perfect intonation and lyrical improvisation front the big band here, featuring the smooth solos of trumpeter Harry James, the percussive power of Gene Krupa–jumping the blues on “Don’t Be That Way”–and the Fletcher Henderson- arranged “Sometimes I’m Happy” and “One O’Clock Jump.” Another segment of the evening, called “Twenty Years of Jazz,” takes Goodman to New Orleans with a lickety-split reading of “Sensation Rag” and “When My Baby Smiles at Me.” A spirited jam session follows with Count Basie on the keys, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophonists Johnny Hodges, Lester Young, and Harry Carney, along with trumpeter Buck Clayton. Goodman hangs tough with the crew on a rollicking read of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose.” The spotlight turns to Goodman’s color-line breaking small combos. His trio with Krupa and the elegant, fleet-fingered Teddy Wilson on piano delivers a harmonically delicious version of “Body & Soul” that would give Coleman Hawkins’s version a run for its money. When vibraphonist Lionel Hampton gets into the mix and makes it a quartet, the standards “Avalon,” “The Man I Love,” and “I Got Rhythm,” as well as “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” are transformed into timeless vehicles of improvisation. The big band returns with growling grandeur on Irving Berlin’s optimistic “Blue Skies” and the British Isle balladry of “Loch Lomond,” with the majestic vocals of Martha Tilton. One listen to Goodman and company’s rockhouse romp on “Sing, Sing, Sing” will testify to the success of this event, which still reverberates today. –Eugene Holley Jr.