The Ripening of “Cherry”
Composed by Don Redman; arranged by Jimmy Mundy.
Recorded by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra from a CBS radio sustaining broadcast October 27,1937, Madhattan Room, Hotel Pennsylvania, New York City.
Benny Goodman, clarinet, directing: Harry James, first trumpet; Ziggy Elman, Chris Griffin, trumpets; Red Ballard and Vernon Brown, trombones; Hymie Shertzer, first alto saxophone; George Koenig, alto saxophone; Vido Musso and Arthur Rollini, tenor saxophones; Jess Stacy, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Harry Goodman, bass; Gene Krupa, drums.
Recorded by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra for Columbia on March 27, 1941 in New York City.
Benny Goodman, clarinet, directing: Charles M. “Cootie” Williams, first trumpet; Billy Butterfield, Jimmy Maxwell, Irving Goodman, trumpets; Lou McGarity and Robert “Cutty” Cutshall, trombones; Les Robinson, first alto saxophone; Arcuiso “Gus” Bivona, alto saxophone; Pete Mondello and Georgie Auld, tenor saxophones; Lloyd “Skip” Martin, baritone saxophone; Johnny Guarneri, piano; Mike Bryan, guitar; Arthur Bernstein, bass; Dave Tough, drums.
The story: “Cherry” was composed in 1928 by Don Redman. Redman was one of the pioneers, indeed one of the first developers in the 1920s of the art of infusing the elements of jazz into the written arrangements played by dance bands. His role in the development of what eventually through the 1930s became swing was large. Redman was a schooled musician who brought all of what he learned about music in school to his writing of arrangements for dance bands. Many of the musicians in the bands for which Redman wrote were jazz musicians, who were themselves slowly working their way toward a better understanding of what swing was, and how to do it more effectively in their playing. His process of perfecting what would swing in written music was just as experimental as the process followed by jazz instrumentalists who were trying to make their improvised solos swing. A lot of trial and error and cross-pollination among musicians was involved, and the process of developing and refining the elements of swing took a long time. By the mid-1930s, we can hear from recordings made then that swing had developed considerably from say 1930. But more development would continue through the late 1930s and into the early 1940s.
I think that many recordings indicate quite clearly that some (though not many) individual jazz musicians in the early to mid-1930s were reaching a place with their playing where they had unlocked the magical mystery of swing. Far fewer bands then could be said to be swinging very effectively or consistently.
In this post, I present two recordings by Benny Goodman of what is the same arrangement of “Cherry.” (Actually, it is the same for two choruses; the third chorus of the later arrangement has been retooled to present a BG clarinet solo, Inexplicably, the arrangement Jimmy Mundy brought to BG in 1937 did not have a place in it for a Goodman clarinet solo.)
The first is an off-the-air performance from 1937, made by one of best bands of the swing era–the Harry James/Gene Krupa Goodman band that appeared on its own sponsored radio show (The Camel Caravan), and in Hollywood feature films (The Big Broadcast of 1937 and Hollywood Hotel), and created great excitement in the Paramount Theater in Manhattan. This is the band that made “Sing, Sing, Sing” a highlight of the swing idiom. It was a band that could and did swing. (At left, L-R: Harry James, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman.)
The music: When listening to both of these performances, one is immediately struck by the ensemble unity and verve demonstrated by both ensembles. Goodman rehearsed all of his bands intensely, concentrated on details, and went over things repeatedly. Listeners came to expect highly polished and exciting performances from the Goodman band.
But beneath that surface polish, one can clearly discern what was going on in the music swing-wise. The 1937 band did swing in this performance. But listen to how the saxophone section, faultlessly led by Hymie Shertzer, plays the numerous soli passages written for them by Jimmy Mundy. Their phrasing, especially in the second chorus, while impeccable in the technical sense, is somewhat stilted as a result of the at times almost staccato way they play. (Curiously, the brass, led by Harry James, employ all of the devices of swing phrasing. As a result, they swing strongly.) I am not criticizing the musicians in the saxophone section because I am certain that they are playing the music as it was written. The point I want to make is that certain performance conventions that were accepted in the 1937 world of swing were passe’ shortly thereafter.
The word staccato in Italian means “detached,” and is indicated in written music by placing a dot below the note or series of notes to be played in that fashion. In other words, there is some space (in the 1937 performance) between the very same notes that when played by the saxophones in the 1941 recording, are played in a smooth, fluid, connected manner where there is no space between the notes. The movement away from staccato phrasing was a definite advancement in the development of swing. Music that is played with up-and down, vertical, staccato rhythm seldom swings. Music that is played with a more horizontal, flowing rhythm swings much more readily and deeply. Tenor saxophone legend Lester Young’s playing is the quintessential example of this flowing swing rhythm. (The Benny Goodman band of 1937 is pictured above. It is the same band as heard on the 1937 recording of “Cherry” presented here, except this photo was taken shortly before trombonist Vernon Brown replaced Murray McEachern. L-R: Jess Stacy, Gene Krupa, Harry Goodman [who is partially hidden by his brother Benny’s shadow]; front row: Vido Musso, Hymie Shertzer, Arthur Rollini, George Koenig; middle row: Allan Reuss,Murray McEachern, Red Ballard; back row: Harry James, Chris Griffin, Ziggy Elman.)
The second recording is a 1941 studio performance of “Cherry” made by a Goodman band consisting of an entirely different personnel. This band was also chocked full of superb swing musicians, sharpshooters who could read and play anything, play it beautifully, and make it swing mightily. Key performers on this recording are lead alto saxophonist Les Robinson, trumpeter Cootie Williams, who plays a brief, biting solo and leads the brass, and BG himself, who contributes a fine solo in the final chorus. Of inestimable value in the quest for swing by this 1941 Goodman band was the great drummer, Dave Tough.(The 1941 Benny Goodman band that recorded “Cherry” is pictured above left: L-R: Les Robinson, Irving Goodman,Johnny Guarnieri, Georgie Auld, Helen Forrest; the man with hat may be Pete Mondello; Gus Bivona, BG, Charlie Christian, probably Cutty Cutshall; Cootie Williams, possibly Mike Bryan; Billy Butterfield and Lou McGarity. Forrest and Christian did not perform on “Cherry.” Drummer Dave Tough, trumpeter Jimmy Maxwell and bassist Artie Bernstein are not in this photo)
It is also notable that the superlative five-man saxophone team on the 1941 Goodman recording of “Cherry” was led in brilliant, swinging fashion by Les Robinson, one of the best lead alto players of the swing era. Robinson was trained as a lead alto player one-on-one by Artie Shaw, who before he became a virtuoso clarinetist and bandleader, was one of the top free-lance lead alto players in Manhattan in the early to mid-1930s. Robinson led all of Shaw’s saxophone sections for Artie’s regular, standing bands (as opposed to Shaw’s few ad hoc studio-only bands) before World War II. Consequently, he was a part of many great performances by the various Shaw bands he played in before he joined Benny Goodman. (The BG saxophone section that recorded “Cherry.” L-R: Georgie Auld, Gus Bivona, Les Robinson, Pete Mondello, Skip Martin. They are pictured here on the stage of the Paramount Theater in New York in April of 1941.)
Benny Goodman in 1941 in front of his band in the recording studio. The saxophonists in front of him are Les Robinson (left) and Skip Martin.
After this marvelous performance was recorded, Benny and the band listened to a playback of it in the studio, and everyone was extremely pleased. As the musicians began packing up after the session was over, Goodman went over to Les Robinson and said: “I see that Artie Shaw taught you a lot of bad habits.” “What are you talking about, Benny?” Les said in reply. “The way you played on ‘Cherry.’ You’re trying to make my band sound like Artie Shaw’s band.” “Benny,” an angering Robinson said, “I play the way I play. If you don’t like the way I play, you can have my two-weeks’ notice now. And if that will be too long for you to wait before I leave, I can go right now” “No, no, Pops. Two weeks is OK,” BG said as he retreated. Almost immediately after this, Benny asked Robinson to “stick around” until after the Goodman band completed an important stand at New York’s Paramount Theater, which Robinson did. (I learned of these details in a conversation with Les Robinson in the late 1990s. As he was telling me this story, he was laughing: “I think I was on notice almost the whole time I was with Benny in 1941. The problem was not with my playing, but with my long association with Artie Shaw. For some reason, that rubbed Benny the wrong way.”)
Benny Goodman’s saxophone section in early 1941: L-R: Georgie Auld; Gus Bivona; Les Robinson; Pete Mondello; Skip Martin. The bassist is Arthur Bernstein; the trombonist is Lou McGarity. In the background, trumpeter Jimmy Maxwell. This photo was taken at Manhattan Canter.
Robinson eventually left the Goodman band in early June of 1941, worked with Will Bradley’s band for a few weeks, and then rejoined Shaw, who was organizing a 32-piece orchestra which quickly became one of his greatest. Les got no static from Artie, played splendidly with Shaw’s orchestra, and later went on to a long and successful career in the Hollywood film and recording studios.
These recordings were remastered by Mike Zirpolo. The 1937 aircheck required quite a bit of sonic restoration as well.