Benny Goodman

American jazz clarinettist, band leader and composer (born 1909 in Chicago - died 1986 in New York)

Benny Goodman made swing respectable. A fervent advocate of the big band, he eschewed racial segregation and employed both black and white musicians in his band. His music is built around finely-worked orchestral arrangements more than exuberant improvisations.

Benjamin David "Benny" Goodman was the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants. At the age of 10, he started learning the clarinet at the Kehelah Jacob Synagogue. His teacher was Franz Schoepp, a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Determined to follow in the footsteps of Sydney Bechet and Johnny Dodds, he started playing professionally when he was 14. When his father died the following year, he was able to help support his family. In 1925, he joined the Ben Pollack Orchestra and left for California. In 1929, he moved to New York, where he began a career as a soloist and band leader. He performed with several bands and started to make recordings. In 1934, he formed his own big band and signed a one-year contract with the National Broadcasting Corporation to play live during the show Let's Dance. Band members at the time included Benny Carter, Harry James, Bud Freeman, Charlie Christian, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. He chose Fletcher Henderson to do the musical arrangements and John Hammond (whose sister, Alice, he married in 1942) as manager. Benny Goodman was one of the first white band leaders to hire black musicians during the racial segregation era. When his contract with the NBC came to an end in 1935, he set out on a tour at the head of his big band. It was only when they reached Los Angeles that they started to be well received; they played in the Palomar Ballroom for two months. It was the beginning of the swing era. The tour took off and the band met with an enthusiastic reception again at the Congress Hotel in Chicago.

On 16 January 1938, Benny Goodman gave a legendary concert: he was the first jazzman to perform in New York's Carnegie Hall. He gave the event greater scope and importance by calling in musicians such as Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Teddy Wilson, Jess Stacy, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa and especially Duke Ellington and Count Basie.  For the world of jazz, he had become, in Gene Krupa's words, the "King of Swing". In 1947, he disbanded his big band and, from then on, played either solo or in small ensembles. He also started playing the classical repertoire, either in concerts or on recordings. In the 1960s, he did tours abroad as a jazz ambassador for the US State Cultural Department Exchange Program: South America in 1961, the USSR in 1962 (he was the first American to perform in the Soviet Union) and Japan in 1964. On 17 January 1978, he celebrated the 40th anniversary of his legendary Carnegie Hall concert. Benny Goodman died on 13 June 1986.

Six landmark dates in the life of Benny Goodman:
• 1923: became a professional musician
• 1934: formed his big band
* 1938*: gave a legendary concert at New York's Carnegie Hall
• 1947: disbanded his big band
• 1962: first American artist to perform in the USSR
• 1978: celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Carnegie Hall concert

Six key recordings by Benny Goodman:
• 1935: Sing, Sing, Sing
• 1938: Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert
• 1939: Featuring Charlie Christian • 1950: Sextet
• 1956: Concerto for Clarinet by Mozart
• 1959: In Stockholm 1959

Official website:

Biography compiled from Radio France documentation