Benny Goodman—the “King of Swing”—presented his landmark debut concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938. Now eight decades later, on January 11–13, 2018 in Rose Theater, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis (JLCO) reimagines this historic event under the guidance of music director and JLCO reedman Victor Goines, with special guest clarinetists Anat Cohen, Janelle Reichman, Ken Peplowski, and JLCO multi-instrumentalist Ted Nash.
Longtime JLCO alumnus Goines explains the great contributions of the “King of Swing”: “Benny Goodman’s impact and presence in the music has always been extraordinary. Whenever there is a great opportunity to celebrate him, that’s the foremost important thing for us to do. From a musical point of view, when we have the chance to celebrate a concert like the 1938 debut in Carnegie Hall, it allows us the opportunity to remind people of the impact it had for not just Benny Goodman, but for jazz and all the participants of that concert. It legitimatized the music. Goodman not only used his orchestra, but also brought in guests including Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Bobby Hackett, Cootie Williams, Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges, Freddie Green, and Count Basie. This is a celebration to refresh and remind people of the music of that time.”
The concert will consist entirely of pieces from the historic performance, including those made famous by Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Fats Waller, Louis Prima, and more. Audiences can expect new and classic arrangements, burning solos, and a new take on the mid-concert jam session that went down in history. This concert pays tribute to one of the first major public performances of a racially integrated group, one that is considered a milestone in the acceptance of jazz as America’s classical music. “From a swing dance point of view, Goodman’s music was something for the people, primarily for dance,” says Goines. “The virtuosity of the band would have been great on any concert stage, but his band was primarily a jazz band, and people came out to be part of that particular performance.
“The jazz clarinet was part of the New Orleans frontline, along with the trumpet and trombone, that has always had a virtuosic type of position in the music. Obviously, in New Orleans music the trumpet was the lead instrument, but thanks to people like Sidney Bechet, Benny Goodman, Alphonse Picou, ‘Big Eye’ Louie Nelson, and Artie Shaw, the clarinet has more prominence in the band, not just something accompanying the trumpet or saxophone section.”
Guest clarinets on the program include Anat Cohen, who the Jazz Journalists Association has voted Clarinetist of the Year nine years in a row and who has topped both the Critics and Readers Polls in the clarinet category in DownBeat magazine every year since 2011, including winning the Readers Poll in 2017; clarinetist Janelle Reichman, who has performed with Doc Severinsen, Les Paul, Dave Liebman, Donny Caslin, Ann Hampton Callaway, and Sherrie Maricle with the DIVA Orchestra; Ken Peplowski, an old friend of Jazz at Lincoln Center—having brought his “licorice stick” to Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola regularly—and a member of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra under the direction of Buddy Morrow; and Ted Nash, a critical and contributing JLCO multi-instrumentalist and 2017 Grammy Award winner. Billboard magazine writes, “Excellence in jazz is all about the freedom to musically explore with an open mind and heart to ultimately find one’s voice… Ted Nash achieves that plateau of performance.”
As a seasoned veteran, original member of the JLCO, and lifelong friend with Wynton Marsalis, Goines embraces his fellow musicians as a family. “I’ve been in the band now for 24 years, and it’s been an extraordinary opportunity to be blessed with this band, because we have been to some of the most incredible places in the world, playing the most challenging and demanding music from some of the greatest repertoire ever. This includes the historic music of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Louis Armstrong, in addition to the opportunity to perform our own music. It’s very rare that you get to play with 14 other people who are very, very serious about what they do and able to articulate almost anything that is brought to them to be performed. We would love to get better. This band motivates you to continue to improve.
“Being on the road has been great. It’s like a university experience of allowing you to learn by meeting people. That has been one of the greatest benefits of all, I think. I learned more about myself through people. The road has been fantastic. The challenge of it is that we spend more time together with the band than we do with our families. Nothing is perfect. It’s the trade-off that lets us do what we do. The family that is the band is important, and the family keeps growing as we play with musicians from Pakistan to Cuba. It’s a great thing.”
Come celebrate and relive the landmark concert in Benny Goodman: King of Swing in Rose Theater, with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and special guests who will bring the swing.
Scott H. Thompson is an internationally published writer and jazz publicist.