“Get Happy” (1954) Benny Goodman – 40,000 views later – swingandbeyond.com passes a milestone

The story: Back in early 2016, I was about to launch this blog. Over several decades I had accumulated a lot of recorded music, books, images and articles about the musicians who made the music, and thoughts about why this thing called swing is so special. I had arrived at an age where it became apparent that if I was going to share whatever I had learned about this wonderful music, I was going to have do it while I still could. It was obvious that the best way to do that was to create a blog where I could publish pieces that would include the stories, the music, relevant images that focus on a particular recording and the artists who made that recording, and then open the subject for comments from the people who visit the blog.

My main objective was to provide a forum where people could visit and check out the music, stories and images from the swing era (and beyond), and comment, so that we could learn from each other. To me, that part is the most important aspect of the blog. I continue to be delighted and amazed at the knowledge so many people have about the music, musicians and history of the swing era. Their willingness to share what they know is a big part of what makes swingandbeyond.com what is is. Many thanks!

The first post was published in March 2016, presenting Duke Ellington’s perfect recording of Billy Strayhorn’s perfect arrangement of “Take the ‘A’ Train.” Since then, 115 posts have been published. Many hundreds of comments have been made by visitors. We have learned and will continue to learn from each other, and the music itself has and will continue to provide people with joy. Swingandbeyond.com has become a repository of knowledge and information about the music and musicians of the swing era.

It might be of interest to the visitors of swingandbeyond.com which posts have drawn the most visits. Here are the top ten posts as of August 15, 2018:

1.”Take the ‘A’ Train” (1941) Duke Ellington – 965; 2. “Sing, Sing, Sing” (1937) Benny Goodman – 883; 3.”Rattle and Roll” (1945) Benny Goodman – 875; 4.”Begin the Beguine” (1938) Artie Shaw – 857; 5. “Red Top” (1945) Woody Herman – 814; 6. “King Porter Stomp” (1935) Benny Goodman – 796; 7.”I Can’t Get Started” (1937) Bunny Berigan – 774; 8.”These Foolish Things” (1945) Artie Shaw – 766; 9. “Snowfall” (1941) Claude Thornhill – 761; 10. Mosaic Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie and Lester Young Sessions -745.

Thanks to all the folks who have visited and continue to visit swingandbeyond.com, and welcome to the ever-increasing number of new visitors who have discovered this ongoing celebration of swing.

The best way to celebrate passing the milestone of 40,000 visits to swingandbeyond.com is to do it with music. Here is a particularly exuberant recording, Benny Goodman’s “Get Happy” from 1954.

“Get Happy”

Composed by Harold Arlen; arranged by Mel Powell.(*)

Recorded by Benny Goodman for Capitol on November 8, 1954 in New York.

Benny Goodman, clarinet, directing: Charlie Shavers, trumpet; Mel Powell, piano; George Duvivier, bass; Jo Jones, drums.

The story: By the early 1950s, largely because of the success of the LP recordings of Benny Goodman’s famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert being issued by Columbia Records, followed-up by an another successful Columbia LP set of off-the-air recordings by the Goodman band and small groups from the late 1930s, there seemed to be a distinctly nostalgic air surrounding Benny Goodman. Benny himself was delighted by this development, though bemused at his audience’s rush to the past. After flirting (very cautiously and ultimately unsuccessfully) with bebop in the late 1940s, and touring rather unsuccessfully with various bop-oriented (at least in part) big bands at the end of the 1940s, Goodman was at a crossroads in his career. As Count Basie once noted, in order to play bop successfully, one had to have a bop soul. Benny Goodman did not have a bop soul. Swing was the jazz idiom where he was most comfortable, and most creative.

In early 1953, during what in retrospect was recognized as the golden age of package tours which featured a number of top-rank performers presented on one bill, Benny accepted the opportunity to tour in a package with him leading a swing band, and Louis Armstrong leading his All-Stars. The story of the preparations for this tour, and the small part of it on which Goodman performed in April of 1953, is told most memorably by John Hammond in his “autobiography,” John Hammond – On the Record, at pages 312-322. Benny asked Hammond to be his personal manager on this tour. Hammond, unwisely, accepted. By 1953, Hammond had known Benny Goodman for twenty years, and had been his brother-in-law for over ten years. Their relationship had always been uneasy. This tour, from Goodman’s standpoint, started badly, and ended for him when he collapsed (supposedly) in Boston, only a few days into the scheduled play dates. Acrimonious exchanges between the brothers-in-law resulted in Hammond being fired by Goodman. There were hard feelings on both sides.

It is unclear what the nature of Benny Goodman’s illness was, but whatever it was, he did almost no performing for the balance of 1953. The only known BG music made for the remainder of that year was his contribution (using the pseudonym Ben David), to the background music for a documentary film called “The Lonely Night,” which deals with disturbed personalities and their treatment. The music, which is for clarinet, piano, bass and drums, plus a string quartet, was written by Mel Powell, and was recorded in late 1953-early 1954.

Goodman evidently signed a new one-year contract to make recordings for Capitol early in 1954. In late January, he made his first session for Capitol under this new contract, using only a piano (Powell), and a drummer. He then did some sporadic performing through 1954 with various small jazz groups. He made no other recordings for Capitol until November, when he then made enough recordings with various small groups and a big band to fill out what was eventually issued on LP as BG in Hi-Fi.

Charlie Shavers in the 1950s – In addition to be a brilliant all-around trumpeter, Shavers was also a fine arranger.

The music: This is a sizzling up-tempo performance which showcases Goodman, trumpeter Charlie Shavers and pianist Mel Powell playing fluently in the swing/jazz idiom. The rhythmic intro launches Shavers into his melody statement. Shavers plays with a cup mute, and lots of technique. Goodman follows with a bright sounding clarinet solo that is yet another example of why he was called “The King of Swing.” Note how pianist Mel Powell keeps his accompaniment simple and swinging for Benny. BG preferred it that way.

When Powell steps into the solo spotlight, his playing, though rhythmically intense, moves into more complex harmonic territory. Powell was a marvelous jazz musician, but he gradually drifted away from jazz into the world of music education and long-form “classical” music. He did return to jazz late in life however.

Shavers returns for some more tasty cup muted trumpet jazz before the tight ensemble swings this performance to a close. (Charlie Shavers in the 1950s, pictured above left. In addition to being a superb all-around trumpeter, he was a talented arranger.)

Although this is to some extent  a “head” arrangement that was put together (or cut-up) in the studio by the musicians, there is nevertheless a distinct echo in the ensemble passages of the arrangements that Charlie Shavers wrote for the John Kirby Sextet in the late 1930s and early 1940s.(The instrumentation is the same except the Kirby band also had an alto saxophone.) This suggests that Shavers probably brought a sketch to the studio that the musicians used as a road map.(*)

(*) Trombonist/cornetist/arranger Dan Barrett has contacted me. His skilled ears picked up some clues that this arrangement/sketch may have been written by Mel Powell. Here is a link to the post that presents his adaptation Charlie Shavers’s “Dawn on the Desert,” as well as Shavers’s original work.


The recording presented in this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

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