Benny Goodman At Carnegie Hall - 1938 - Complete

Benny Goodman

Columbia / Legacy Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Of all the musical genres that have failed to get coverage here on "The Daily Vault," one that is kind of surprising to me is that we have done little, if any, reviews of big-band music. Admittedly, there's not a big collection of it in the halls of the Pierce Memorial Archives, nor is it something I listen to on a daily basis. But when I do get in the mood for it, I listen to it with a passion, and hang on to every note of a music style that took popular music of the time and merged it with the birth cries of early American jazz.

One of the most famous bandleaders and performers from the big-band era was Benny Goodman. At the time, Goodman was one of the people who helped to legitimize what was then called "jazz" by bringing it into areas of culture - areas which previously had viewed such music as vulgar forms of expression. Although Goodman died in 1986, his legacy is still felt today, and his music is kept alive with numerous archival recordings.

One of these is Benny Goodman At Carnegie Hall - 1938 - Complete, the first release of the entire show that Goodman and his numerous bands performed on January 16, 1938. (The original, incomplete set was first released in 1950.) To the afficionado of big-band or jazz, this release will be equivalent to the Holy Grail; to anyone else, it's a nice educational piece, though at times it seems like a lot to take in during one sitting.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

To list all the artists who share a stage with Goodman throughout this particular concert could stretch on for a few paragraphs, and trying to keep up with who is joining or leaving the stage for a certain setup requires a scorecard. So let it suffice to say that other notables like Count Basie, Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton all share the spotlight at times. (Krupa turns in a spectacular drum fill early on during "Don't Be That Way," eliciting thunderous applause from the audience.)

The length of some of the pieces almost make me wonder why they would have been included in the concert; both "When My Baby Smiles At Me" and "Shine" don't even clock in at a minute in length. Just when you'd think the audience would really be getting into the groove of the songs - wham! - they end.

The same can't be said for the bulk of this release; Goodman and crew allow enough time to musically stretch their legs throughout the curse of the show. There were some times where I wish the master volume had been boosted up, especially during a good portion of "Sing Sing Sing (With A Swing)", a song which should ring some bells of familiarity with many people. Likewise, tracks such as "I Got Rhythm," "Blue Skies" and "One O' Clock Jump" all allow the listener to share in the pure joy that the music brought.

There are two difficult aspects to Benny Goodman At Carnegie Hall - 1938 - Complete. The first is something that couldn't be helped, and that is the overall sound of the recordings. If anything, I know I should be thankful that we can still hear a concert that was recorded over 60 years ago, but some of the volume drops did tend to interfere with the enjoyment of some pieces. Second, if you don't eat, breathe and sleep this kind of music, you might find two hours' worth a bit hard to sit through at a time. In the end, the investment of time is well worth it, but sometimes I'll even admit it seemed like things would go on forever.

Still, Benny Goodman At Carnegie Hall - 1938 - Complete is an interesting slice of America's musical history - it captures the moment that a previously taboo form of music gained public acceptance. You don't get a chance to hear such moments too often in your life; we should be thankful that such a moment was captured for history.

Rating: B

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia / Legacy Records, and is used for informational purposes only.