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Benny Goodman: 'Ken Burns' Jazz Series: Benny Goodman'


A.B. SPELLMAN, National Endowment for the Arts: It sounds so easy. It sounds so relaxed. But music like that only comes from intense discipline. Murray Horwitz, tell us who's playing and why it's in the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library.

MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: A.B. Spellman is playing possum. I'll tell you why. He knows very well that this is music of one of the most rigorously disciplined of all American musicians — Benny Goodman. The name of the CD is Benny Goodman from the Ken Burns' JAZZ series, and it's in the Basic Jazz Record Library because, well, it's Benny Goodman.


SPELLMAN: Well, yeah, we should say here that we thought that Benny Goodman was already in the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library.

HORWITZ: Right. I still don't know how that happened. I don't know what we did wrong, but in the meantime, this new collection came out and it gives a very good chronological cross-section of Goodman's work from the 1920s to the 1950s.


SPELLMAN: So, it's got all the hits?

HORWITZ: Well, he had a lot of hits. I mean, this was the most popular big band of the swing era for quite a while. And you'll recognize almost every one of those big arrangements, especially the famous "Sing, Sing, Sing," although it is not the Carnegie Hall version.


HORWITZ: But, there are two great things about this CD, A.B. The first is that it's got not only the big band hits, but it features a lot of the great Goodman small groups like the quartet with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, drummer Gene Krupa, and the pianist Teddy Wilson.

SPELLMAN: It better have Charlie Christian on it.

HORWITZ: There's a lot of Charlie Christian, the revolutionary electric guitarist who died all-too young. And you can hear on this record what made him special. He was sort of down-home bluesy and up-to-the-minute modern, all at the same time.


SPELLMAN: Murray, you said that there were two things that made this CD great. What's the other?

HORWITZ: Well, most of the Benny Goodman records you hear are from the 30s. But there is a lot of stuff here from when he was 18 and 19 and 20, and it's just astonishing. And the things from the 1940s and '50s are really satisfying too.

SPELLMAN: All of which tells you why you feel guilty for not recommending his music earlier.

HORWITZ: That's true.

SPELLMAN: It's Benny Goodman, part of the Ken Burns' JAZZ series on the Columbia/Legacy label. For NPR Jazz, I'm A.B. Spellman.

HORWITZ: And, I'm Murray Horwitz.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

A. B. Spellman
Murray Horwitz

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