“King Porter Stomp” (1935) Benny Goodman
Composed by Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton, arranged by Fletcher Henderson.
Recorded on July 1, 1935 by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra for Victor Records in New York.
Benny Goodman, clarinet, directing: Roland B.”Bunny” Berigan, first and solo trumpet; Ralph Muzzillo and Nate Kazebier, trumpets; Jack Lacey and Sterling “Red” Ballard, trombones; Nuncio “Toots” Mondello, first alto saxophone; Hymie Shertzer, alto saxophone; Arthur Rollini and Dick Clark, tenor saxophones; Frank Froeba, piano; George Van Eps, guitar; Harry Goodman, bass; Gene Krupa, drums.
Despite being one of the greatest records Benny Goodman (pictured below at left) ever made, “King Porter Stomp” will always for me be associated as much with trumpeter Bunny Berigan as it is with Goodman. Berigan’s electric presence in this performance, both as soloist and first trumpeter, has much to do with the intense swing we hear.
As arranged by Fletcher Henderson, “King Porter Stomp” swings from beginning to end, and provides a perfect showcase for the jazz solos that are an integral part of this classic performance. Here is what musician/historian Gunther Schuller said about Berigan’s playing on this recording: “Certainly Berigan’s solos on “King Porter Stomp” must count as among his very finest creative achievements. His performance here represents the mature Berigan in full opulent flowering. …(It) exemplifies his unerring sense of form, (and) a virtually infallible clarity of statement. His two solos, one muted, the other open, are miniature compositions which many a writing-down composer would be envious of having created, even after days of work. This structural logic transmits itself to the listener in the absolute authoritativeness of his playing. The ingredients in both solos are really quite simple: great melodic beauty combined with logic and structural balance. Every note, every motivic cell, every phrase leads logically to the next with a Mozartian classic inevitability. And each phrase, whether heard in two-bar or eight-bar segments, has its own balanced structuring and symmetry. …But that is not all. As always, there is Berigan’s incomparable – and irrepressible – swing. On every given Berigan recording he usually outswings everybody else. …His sense of swing was an innate talent, a given talent, a feeling beyond study or calculation, one that he heard in the playing of both Beiderbecke and Armstrong, but which he synthesized into his own personal rhythmic idiom.”(The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz – 1930-1945, by Gunther Schuller, Oxford University Press, (1989), pages 468-469.) (Berigan is pictured at right.)
Berigan plays the joyous introductory trumpet passage using a straight mute. Following Berigan, the saxes, ably led by Toots Mondello’s singing alto, take over for sixteen bars that swing very convincingly, considering that this recording was made in 1935, when swing itself was in the process of becoming more rhythmically fluid. Benny Goodman then plays an excellent full chorus jazz solo on his clarinet. Listen for the backgrounds fashioned by arranger Fletcher Henderson employing the two trombones. (There will be much more about Fletcher Henderson’s contribution to the delelopment of swing in future posts at Swingandbeyond.)The great jazz writer Richard M. Sudhalter described what happens next: “Pow! goes Berigan, pealing out a single massive high concert D-flat to fill his first bar. Charleston beat in bar two, an octave down. Pow again, for a two-bar figure built from the top down. Then again, this time a four bar summation, bringing the chorus to a mid-point. Then two more terse two-bar phrases, each beginning on that same top D-flat, and another four-bar comment to close things out. It’s both forceful jazz, simply and logically constructed, and superior trumpet playing. For a trumpet player to begin a solo on this kind of fortissimo high note, then use it as a structural pivot, returning to it five times in sixteen bars without strain, without a hint of effect for its own sake, is notable by any standard.” (Lost Chords…White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945, by Richard M. Sudhalter (1999) Oxford University Press, page 500.) Also notable is drummer Gene Krupa’s rocking back-beat behind Berigan’s solo.
Trombonist Jack Lacey, had the unenviable task of following both Goodman and Berigan’s jazz solos, but acquits himself well in his improvised solo, showing mastery of his instrument, a bit of imagination, and solid swing.
The Berigan-led rideout which provides the romping conclusion to this bracing performance is a prime demonstration of how his first trumpet playing could ignite a band. His power and rhythmic thrust vaults the band onto a higher more exciting musical plane. This is what is meant by hot music. It is also a prime example of swing.
The photo above was taken of the Goodman band while they played at Elitch’s Gardens in Denver, in July of 1935, shortly after “King Porter Stomp” was recorded. Those in the picture are from L-R: front: pianist Jess Stacy; tenor saxophonist Dick Clark; lead alto saxophonist Hymie Shertzer; drummer Gene Krupa; trombonist Jack Lacey; trumpeter Bunny Berigan; alto saxophonist Bill DePew; tenor saxophonist Arthur Rollini; trumpeter Ralph Muzzillo; trombonist Red Ballard.back: bassist Harry Goodman; vocalist/trombonist Joe Harris; vocalist Helen Ward; Benny Goodman; trumpeter Nate Kazebier.