soundstreamsunday: “Sing Sing Sing” by Benny Goodman

Goodman_1938bThe Benny Goodman Orchestra’s performance at Carnegie Hall in January 1938 has a place in history as the coming out party for jazz, a legitimizing of an art form within the fortress of American (read: white/European) highbrow music. Ripe for irony? Yes. But when we recall this was the era of “race” records, and that jazz in the white American psyche was still an odd conflation of jump-and-jive black culture, blackface minstrelsy, and the carefully staged musical numbers of Hollywood sophisticates, Goodman and company’s triumph was quite real. Bringing an integrated group of musicians that included the best of its day to Carnegie Hall, blowing the collective Depression-era Jim Crow “high culture” hive-mind…. remarkable. This music is fierce, sometimes nasty, less a nod to propriety than a tuxedo-ed finger in the eye, dashing racial and artistic division by sheer force of celebratory musicality. “Sing Sing Sing,” a Goodman Orchestra signature tune written by Louis Prima, was the band’s finale, clocking in at over 12 minutes, and thus recorded, using the technology of the time, on acetate discs using a relay of multiple turntables (while the concert was almost instantly legendary, the recordings wouldn’t be made available for over a decade: see http://www.jitterbuzz.com/carcon.html for the whole fascinating story). The centerpiece of the song is Gene Krupa’s drumming, fading in and out of the mix — which was performed by the musicians rather than by the engineers — and ultimately making him jazz (and, by association, rock) drumming’s first real star. Lithe, articulate solos by Goodman, Harry James, and Jess Stacy shift dynamics, riding over Krupa’s pounding, roiling the waves sent up by the Orchestra. Even if you haven’t heard this song, you’ve heard it. But…get lost in it.

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