"...an important part of jazz history and excellent listening by one of the finest clarinet players the world has ever known."
CD1 Florida Sessions 1959
This CD is particularly interesting because Benny is a sideman in someone else’s band; previously this had only happened in the very earlier part of his career. He rose to the occasion in great style and obviously fitted in with the Phillips-Harris Band very well. It must have been a nice change for him not to have the responsibility of being in charge.
Flip Phillips played extremely well as he always did, very much a Lester Young disciple, he had a great sound and a seemingly endless flow of ideas. Benny had invited him to join his band, but Flip was happy where he was. Bill Harris was a stable mate of Flip’s in the Woody Herman Band, the pair were the band's star soloists for some time, but it was their time with JATP that brought them both real fame. It was Flip and Bill who chose the material for this session.
It was no wonder that Benny enjoyed himself so much, because Flip and Bill had organised a nice tight little band with a rhythm that was neat and swinging without ever being overbearing.
This is a band of three equals as far as both soloing and ensemble playing is concerned. I would travel miles to hear anyone who could play like these. They tear into the up-tempo material, but they are equally relaxed on the slower numbers. All the solos are relatively short but of very high quality. Whether they are playing the blues as in Ten Bone or their version of Rosetta which pays small acknowledgement to the original and ends in Charlie Parker’s Yardbird Suite, every track is a winner.
As a lifetime fan of Flip, Bill and Benny, I never expected to hear anything from them all playing together in a small group: the interaction between them is almost telepathic. On Splanky, the Basie favourite by Neal Hefti, Flip and Bill play the brass parts and Benny the part usually played by the saxes, but it works well with just the three-piece front line.
The last number, The Best Thing for You, is one of my favourite tunes; it has unusual harmonies and always provides jazzmen with something of a challenge. Written by Irving Berlin for the 1950 Call Me Madam show, it has stood the test of time well and these guys do it real justice.
Loren Schoenberg’s informative sleeve-note says that throughout this CD, the melody lingers like the taste of a fine wine. I totally agree!
CD2 Hollywood & New York 1958-61
This record has more of BG at his best but this time in different company, I was not aware that he had recorded with André Previn, but I find the tracks where André and Barney Kessel are also featured bring out the best in all concerned. Many of the tracks have arrangements by Bill Stegmeyer and they are also very successful. Two of my favourite musicians, Zoot Sims and Lou McGarity, are also featured. Lou may not be as well known as Zoot, but he was one of the finest trombone players of the era.
Arranger Bill Stegmeyer hailed from the reed section of the Glenn Miller Band; he was also one of the band’s arrangers. In addition he had a successful career as a composer, arranger and MD for many films.
Benny always rose to the challenge whenever he played in a band where there were other outstanding soloists. On this CD there are many and Benny is well up for the challenge.
The big band track (12) is interesting, again the band is packed with top musicians, although few are featured. There is a Ziggy Elman type trumpet solo, but I don’t know which of the section played it, the vocal being from Martha Tilton, a long-time fixture in BG’s bands.
The last two tracks have just Mel Powell and Roy Burnes on piano and drums respectively. They amply demonstrate the amazing rapport between Powell and Goodman; both were in the musical genius bracket. For me it would have sounded even better with a bass player, but I would not want to be critical of Benny Goodman: all his playing is a great joy.
CD3 The Original Benny Goodman Quartet 1963
As far as I know, this was the only time the original quartet got back together, since their recordings in the years 1936 to 1938, when they regularly worked together. It is fortunate that they were all still in good shape and the four days they spent making these tracks produced some sparkling music.
Teddy Wilson’s playing was always immaculate, every chord was correct and he could swing at the drop of a hat! Hamp was always the Mr Excitement of the band, not only for his musical ability but because he was also a super showman. The latter aspect of course does not really come over on record, but his playing gives me a picture in my mind's eye of how he must have been. Krupa was quite subdued for him in the Quartet, but it is a tribute to his quality as a drummer that he could always provide that which was required.
Benny always sounded inspired in this company on the original quartet recordings and the years must have rolled away for him on this record. Here he was some twenty-five years later and it was all happening again!
With reference to my earlier comments about playing without a bass player, Teddy Wilson plays a bass line with his left hand during most of the numbers and he was such a magnificent player that the bass is not so greatly missed.
In jazz history the importance of the BG Quartet is often forgotten and yet the MJQ who are frequently mentioned were to my mind a direct line from here.
These three CDs are an important part of jazz history and also provide excellent listening in an interesting and varied programme by one of the finest clarinet players the world has ever known.
Don Mather, Musicweb-international.com