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10/27/09

A Benny Goodman Footnote...



When Stereo Review asked me to write a sidebar for the Goodman article, I decided to focus on the historic 1938 Carnegie Hall concert and how it emerged from a closet 12 years later. I should point out that a subsequent boxed set was produced for Columbia by a local NY college station disc jockey, Phil Schaap, who all but destroyed the material in the process. He reintroduced surface noise, added every scrap of extraneous sound from the audience, etc. This Columbia set remains as an example of what not to do when preparing a reissue, so I highly recommend that you avoid it.

Here is a May, 2014 panel discussion where the Schaap vandalism is brought up.

Fortunately, the concert eventually landed in the capable hands of Swedish mastering engineer Björn Almstedt. His work is heard on the Jasmine label's 2-CD set (pictured on the left) and it is superb. Almstedt's focus was on the music and not on coughs and sneezes from the second balcony, so, for the first time, this great concert really comes alive.

As an aside, I should tell you that the article prompted a letter from the State Department, Remember, this was in the days of the Soviet Union. The two countries, although an Iron Curtain separated them, figuratively, had a PR exchange going. Each country published a slick magazine for distribution in the other. It was propaganda, of course, but our highly touted free press wasn't quite as free as we might have imagined. The State Department wanted permission to reprint my Goodman article in their aimed-at-USSR magazine. They would pay me $100 and they sent me a print-out to show me what it would look like when it hit Moscow.

Turned out that they had made some minor, but to me, significant edits. The one that has stayed with me is the elimination of the word "ghetto." I forget what their substitute term was, but I objected, on principle. Somehow it gave me satisfaction to send their letter/contract back with two words boldly stamped across it: PERMISSION DENIED


Here is the sidebar from Stereo Review:


How the 1938 Carnegie Hall Recordings
Came Out of the Closet

When Benny Goodman is asked to look back on his illustrious career, one date inevitably leaps to prominence in his mind: January 16, 1938, the night he somewhat apprehensively brought jazz to Carnegie Hall. “It was dreamed up by a publicity man,” he recalls, “and I suppose it would have been more or less forgotten by now―perhaps just a footnote―if it hadn’t been for the recordings; they gave it all an added importance.”

The recordings, a historic document of what is considered by many to be the most significant, and certainly the most famous, jazz concert ever held, were but a casual by-product of the concert, and we have Albert Marx to thank for them. Marx, a booking agent married to vocalist Helen Ward, ordered the recordings made without Goodman’s knowledge. “I had no idea we were being recorded,” says Goodman, “but I ran into Albert a day or two after the concert and he told me he had done this. Then he asked me if I would like to have a copy, and at first I said, ‘Oh gosh, my closets are just filled with airchecks, and I don’t want any more of those.’ But, on second thought, I decided it might be fun to listen to, to look back on someday.”
No one seems to know what happened to Marx’s original copies of the concert recordings, but acetate discs are quickly worn down to a mere hiss, so it is likely that they simply wore away. Fortunately, Goodman did not play his copies, but rather added them to his abundant collection of airchecks. It is amazing that they survived the next twelve years at all, he admits. “They just kicked around, from my office to my apartment, back and forth in a couple of tin boxes. Then I sublet my Park Avenue apartment to my sister-in-law, Rachel Breck, who later called me and said she’d found this tin box of what she called records. She said she thought they might be valuable to me, and suggested that I come and pick them up if I was interested, because her son might get hold of them. So that’s what I did.
I called a few friends of mine―I believe John Hammond was there, and my attorney―because I thought it might be a lark to listen to these, and we went up to a studio called Reeves. By this time we had tape, so when the technician began playing the acetates and I heard how good they sounded, I told him to stop immediately and put them on tape, because we might get only one playing out of them.”

The decision to release the recordings was not made there and then, as one might have expected. “I kept the tapes for some time,” Goodman recalls, “kept them in my hot little hands, so to speak. Then I played them for Ted Wallerstein, who had been with Victor when they signed me in 1935 but had since gone over to Columbia, and he was quite flabbergasted, so he decided to put them right out.”

The album was released in 1950, and it was a huge commercial success, a bestseller that is said to have passed the million mark years ago and has not been missing from the Columbia catalog in over thirty years. The uncloseted concert also generated new interest in many of the old Goodman stars, and, indeed. in Goodman himself. Did it surprise him to find his twelve-year-old concert so enthusiastically received? “Not really,” says Goodman. “I wasn’t too sure we would go over big that night, but I knew before we finished that we had a hit on our hands. And the recordings are pretty good, don’t you think?”

1 comment:

  1. For an excerpt from "Don't Be That Way," click here: http://youtu.be/EsagYZ3gAxk?t=1h43m8s. Audio expert Seth Winner tells the story of the disks and what Phil Schaap did to them.

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