ghost of miles

Benny Goodman's "Mean To Me"

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Interesting post by Loren Schoenberg to the Facebook Benny Goodman Appreciation Society page--Loren's given me permission to share it here:

There are only two Goodman versions of what sounds very much like a Jimmy Mundy arrangement of MEAN TO ME, both coming from late 1936. You'll hear both of them here - the first (slower and more groovy) played at the Manhattan Room on 11/25/36, and the second (faster and smoother) originating on the 12/8/36 Camel Caravan broadcast.

Hearing them this morning caught me by surprise. There was something in the air, something new in the swing they achieved. The band's beat has loosened up from where they were only a few months back, and there's a new unanimity between the arrangement and the soloists and the kind of swing that the great majority of white bands (and to a lesser degree, the black ones as well) rarely approached. Add to that the originality of the conception - this could be no other band than Goodman's - and you have the makings of a vital evolution of the big band era. Not Henderson, not Hines, neither Dorsey, Haymes, Calloway, nor Mills Blue Rhythm achieved this marriage of blend, technical polish, or swing (remember the musicologist's caveat - from the recordings we know). Only Ellington and Lunceford could be talked about in the same league, in their sui genesis idioms.

Let's pause for moment just before Harry James joined the band in January, 1937. Yes, it's been correctly noted that his was the missing piece of the equation that set the Goodman band off into its unparalleled year of brilliance. But let's remember the components that made that explosion possible, without which James would have been unable to ignite the fuse.
First and foremost there was Gene Krupa, who for this listener was reaching his zenith as an ensemble drummer. He was playing INSIDE the band, for the band most of the time, not on top of or in front of it. Indeed, it was the coming of James into the band that fed Krupa's exhibitionism (to be clear, a natural tendency for him that existed side by side with his sincere desire to be the best he could at all times), or so it seems to me. Throughout 1937 the band evolved into one of the greatest jazz ensembles of all time, before tipping over into a tendency to let flash and volume win out at times over taste. Krupa was correct in realizing that his desires as a musician couldn't be expressed playing in someone else's band. Hear him on the first Mean to Me, especially - it’s a textbook example of superior big band drumming, with its steady changes of texture and timbre. There are flowing hi-hats, press rolls, breaks, possibly some ride cymbal work, plus the usual clicks and clacks and fills. Throughout the second version, Krupa takes advantage of the brighter tempo to tighten things up, with clipped hi-hat accents behind BG, and fewer fills.


Secondly, there was Ziggy Elman, who found his own voice after James' arrival by incorporating a large schmear of yiddishkeit into his already blaring style. Elman was also a superb lead trumpeter, who raised the volume level of the brass section way beyond what was the norm at the time. This I learned from Zeke Zarchy, who came into the band to play first trumpet shortly before Elman arrived. James was a more brilliant soloist and a nonpareil virtuoso, whose technical skills far eclipsed his section mates, but in terms of sheer mass, couldn't match Elman, so it fell to Chris Griffin to hold things together and somehow regulate his section-mates through his clear and determined efforts to strike a sonic blend.


Also playing a role in the band's evolution towards brilliance was Vido Musso. He was the first member of the band to lack the basic professional and harmonic skills that had been the norm for both the ensemble and solo players in the band. The stories of Musso's learning to become a competent sight-reader are the stuff of legend (along with his Anglo-Italianate malapropisms - think of him as a jazz Sam Goldwyn), alongside his equally intuitive reaching for chord tones in his early solos, and you have something new, something inspiring for a band of players who knew chords and who read around corners like the back of their hands.


What is so interesting to contemplate is what might have happened if James had not joined the band, for clearly they were already onto something extraordinary. Probably best to stop the hypotheticals there; we might as well ask what we'd be listening to now if Benny had been handed a shofar at the Kehelah Jacob Synagogue!

 

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Are these from the Savory Collection? 

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11 hours ago, medjuck said:

Are these from the Savory Collection? 

Not sure.  I can't recall--are you a member of that FB Goodman group?  If not, you should be!  Loren's always posting interesting recordings + commentary there.

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there was a bg camel Caravan in 1936? i think they start in the summer of 1937 with the swing School?

 

Keep boppin´

marcel

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That band could swing like hell one set, and then not the next. I gotta think that some of the variables might have been what all was being consumed by band members at any given time (the so-called "collective buzz"), and even more importantly, what was going on in the room with the dancers at any given moment. If you get good dancers wanting a deep groove, you wnat to givve it to them.

And sometimes, shit just happens all of a sudden, like check this out, pretty ok anyway, but then something happens on the way out, around the 2:50 mark, all of a sudden shit just loosens up to a whole other level. Why? Hell, you'd had to have been there when it happened to know for sure, and maybe even if you were, you wouldn't. sometimes stuff just happens and if you get aware of it, it stops, Sometimes.

 

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