Who knew as early as January 16th that 1938 would see Hitler invade Austria, Japan declare war on China, or General Franco declare victory in the Spanish Civil War? There was nothing in the stars to indicate the arrival later that year of Superman, Bugs Bunny, and the first use of a seeing-eye dog. Nor perhaps did anyone realize the Fair Labor Standards Act would get rid of child labor that year and make the 40-hour work week the national standard throughout the United States.
Those were all history-making events. But so was Benny Goodman's appearance at Carnegie Hall on January 16th of that year. Already famous as the "King of Swing," even he had not conquered the legendary hall, which was then home to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the leadership of the renowned Arturo Toscanini. When the idea was first brought to him several months earlier, Goodman laughed out loud. It was unthinkable that the august venue of classical music might also find an audience for jazz. Although often referred to as "America's classical music," jazz was nevertheless seen as low brow and undignified.
When he succeeded in bringing jazz to Carnegie Hall that year, Goodman broke down the barrier between the classes - and also between the races - for a while at least.
The concert was a raging, history-making success. Goodman's orchestra included Gene Krupa, Count Basie, Lester Young, Harry James, Johnny Hodges, and Lionel Hampton. Many of them are easily identifiable in the video clip below, which serves up the exceptional Goodman hit, "Sing, Sing, Sing," inter-cut with still images that reveal the life of the time. It all seems archaic now, but the music in this clip steps outside of time to become something memorable. It may be jazz, but it's undeniably classic. Which is why it's worth revisiting 80 years later.
For more on this check out this story from NPR's "All Things Considered: How Benny Goodman Orchestrated the Most Important Concert in Jazz History. Be sure to follow the links within the story to learn more.
I like big books, and I cannot lie. My background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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