Tales from the Kingdom of Swing -Tale Number Two: “Hey Eugene, take the gum out of your mouth!”
The swing era was not only a time when wonderful music was being made, it was a time when interesting personalities were very often at the center of the music making. One of the most interesting and colorful personalities of the swing era was Benny Goodman. Although Benny Goodman, also known as “BG,” and The King of Swing, a monicker attached to him by his booking agent, Music Corporation of America (MCA), was unquestionably one of the greatest musicians of the swing era, his development in other areas, particularly interpersonal relations, was sometimes seemingly far less advanced. Goodman has been called many things. Egocentric, self-absorbed, insensitive, and arrogant are words that have frequently been used to describe his behavior. Nevertheless, In my study of Benny Goodman, I have found that most people who have recalled his foibles have done so without rancor. Their attitude about him was/is basically, yes Benny’s behavior was sometimes irritating; yes he was often obtuse; certainly he was almost always oblivious to the feelings of others. But he was such a superb musician that these faults could be overlooked. Usually after relating a story about BG that could involved someone’s feelings being hurt, the story-teller said something like “I was extremely aggravated by him doing/saying that… but that was just Benny.”
Benny Goodman was notoriously bad about remembering peoples’ names. Whenever he couldn’t remember someone’s name, he would invariably call that person “Pops,” no matter if he was a man or she was a woman. He once convulsed his band with laughter when in the 1940s his lovely wife Alice Hammond, (sister of jazz producer and impresario John Hammond), who had come into the room where where the Goodman band was playing, walked up to a ringside table and sat down. Benny, who was busy leading the band, didn’t see her at first. When he finally did, he said rather blankly to her, “Oh, hi Pops.” (Above right: Alice Hammond, the smiling dark haired woman in the center, waits to get into Carnegie Hall on January 16, 1938 with other swing fans to see and hear Benny Goodman. She and Benny married in 1942.)
Other family members were not immune. This story about BG comes from the wonderful trumpeter Gordon “Chris” Griffin, who was a part of the great trumpet section of Bennys late 1930s band, which also included Harry James and Ziggy Elman. (Those three trumpeters are pictured at left: L-R Griffin, Elman, James. with BG – 1937) His book of reminiscences Sittin’ In with Chris Griffin with Warren W. Vache’ (2005) Scarecrow Press, page 48, is my source:
“Whenever one of the trumpet players would leave the band–whoever it might be–Benny would bring in his brother Irving, who was a great guy and fine trumpet player. We could never understand why he didn’t continue to use Irving on a permanent basis, but he just used him until he could get the person he had in mind. During one such period, Irving was sitting in his chair between numbers chewing gum. Now Benny had a thing about gum-chewers. He could barely tolerate the way Gene Krupa used to chew a wad, but with Gene it was a part of his public image. Besides he was a great drummer and rated special treatment. Irving was in another category, just another brother, and Benny grew up surrounded by them. (Goodman was one of twelve children.) His brother Harry played bass in the band, and his brother Eugene (helped out with a number of tasks with the band).
Benny Goodman and several of his brothers – early 1930s: L-R: Louis, Irving, BG, Eugene, Freddie. The boy in front is Jerome, the youngest of the Goodman sons. Jerome was killed in World War II.
Indeed, the Goodman band “…was run almost like a family business. (Benny’s) older brother Harry played bass (in the band). Younger brother Eugene drove the instrument truck, Sister Ethel managed the band’s payroll in New York. From time to time, Irving and Freddy filled in on trumpet.” (1)
Perhaps a bit of clarification is needed to expand on this quotation. Freddy Goodman was never a professional level trumpet player. Irving Goodman definitely was, and had a long and successful musical career quite apart from his brother Benny. Harry Goodman was a journeyman bass player, who spent many years starting in the mid-1920s in drummer Ben Pollack’s pre-swing era band, before he joined Benny’s fledgling band in 1934. He and two other musicians who worked in the Pollack band, trombonist/arranger Glenn Miller and saxophonist Gil Rodin also learned a great deal about the music business while they were with Pollack. (Everyone who knows anything about swing knows how Miller put that practical knowledge to use in his own band. Fewer people know about the role Rodin played in the Bob Crosby band from 1935 until 1942. Rodin was the de facto leader and musical director of that very successful band.)
Although there has been almost nothing written about Harry Goodman’s role in the Benny Goodman band, various clues exist that suggest that his role was substantially larger than just being the band’s bassist. In addition to calling upon Harry’s business acumen and good judgment, it is quite possible that when Benny was starting his band, he needed assistance in a number of other ways, paramount of which was financial. Based on the fact that the sidemen in the Goodman band in the mid and late 1930s were paid with checks bearing the legend The Goodman Brothers Orchestra, it is not unreasonable to infer that Harry bought into the Goodman band early-on. Also, we know that when Harry finally left the band in the spring of 1939, he never performed again as a bassist. Instead, he began operating various business enterprises, including a restaurant in Manhattan, and a music publishing firm, both of which required substantial sums of money to get started. This suggests that Harry’s interest in the Goodman band may have been bought out by Benny at that time. (Above right: Harry Goodman – late 1930s as a member of the Benny Goodman band. It is likely that his role in the band was much larger than as just a bass player.)
The Benny Goodman band shown in a publicity still for the Paramount feature film “Big Broadcast of 1937.” This photo was taken in early August of 1936 in Hollywood. L-R front: Dick Clark, Hymie Shertzer, Bill DePew, Arthur Rollini; second row: Eugene Goodman, Murray McEachern, Red Ballard, Chris Griffin; back row: Harry Goodman, Jess Stacy, Gene Krupa, BG, Pee Wee Erwin, Allan Reuss. Shortly before this picture was taken Benny and trumpeter Nate Kazebier had a heated argument which resulted in Kazebier being fired. Benny’s brother Gene Goodman, not a musician, who was the band’s equipment manager/truck driver was suited up, handed a trumpet, and included in this picture.
Back to Chris Griffin’s story: “So brother Benny, standing in front of the band, glared at brother Irving who was back in the trumpet section, and growled: ‘Hey Eugene, take the gum out of your mouth!’ Irving paid no attention to this, so Benny repeated his order and Irving still ignored him. Things were getting a little tense, so I said to Irving who was sitting next to me in the trumpet section, ‘Hey Irving, big brother is calling you.’ ‘To hell with him,’ Irving said calmly, ‘if he doesn’t know his own brother’s name by now, I’m not going to help him out.'”
At the time the recording of “Never Should Have Told You” presented in this post was made, Irving Goodman had been summoned by his brothers Benny and Harry to replace lead trumpeter Zeke Zarchy, who had left the Goodman band to play with Art Shaw’s new band, which opened at the French Casino in Manhattan on October 10, 1936. Irving had been working quite contentedly in Charlie Barnet’s band, but Benny was able to pay him more than Barnet, so he made the switch. It was understood between Irving, Benny and Harry that Irving’s employment in the BG band would be temporary. This suited Irving just fine. (See below.) Benny was looking for another trumpeter who would be able to play jazz solos, as well as a good part of the first trumpet book. So Irving settled into the Goodman trumpet section, and began helping his brothers find another trumpet player.
As was so often the case during the swing era, temporary jobs had a way of continuing indefinitely. So it was with Irving Goodman’s employment. Weeks went by, trumpeters auditioned for the Goodman band, but none were hired.
“Irving always preferred keeping himself away from the long shadow cast by his well-intentioned but sometimes overbearing brother. He eventually engineered his release by selling Benny on (a young, unknown trumpet player), Harry James. ‘I’d heard Harry playing on some Ben Pollack records, and kept telling Benny about him. I finally convinced him, and Harry came into the band in January’ (of 1937).'” (2) Soon after that, Irving joined Bunny Berigan’s new band, where he remained for two years, and learned invaluable lessons about trumpet-playing, the band business, and life. (Above right – Irving Goodman on the stage of the Paramount Theater in New York with Bunny Berigan – December 1937.)
Benny Goodman surrounded by friends and family – 1937. L-R: Socialite and swing insider Helen Oakley; music publisher Jack Bregman; Benny’s mother Dora Goodman; BG, and Benny’s sister Ethel.
At the time this was going on (late 1936), Irving Goodman, who was twenty-two years old, was still living with the younger Goodman children in the home of the matriarch of the clan, Dora Goodman, in the Jackson Heights section of Queens. Dora was the glue that kept the Goodman family together after her husband was killed in Chicago in the mid-1920s in an automobile accident. She received constant monetary help from her sons Harry and Benny, both of whom were successful dance band musicians through the late 1920s and into the 1930s. She moved to New York from Chicago in the early 1930s after Benny had established his base of operations there working in the radio and recording studios.
This recording was made at the very end of 1936 by the Benny Goodman band that had evolved throughout that year into a marvelously well-balanced and cohesive ensemble. Many knowledgeable commentators have observed that the ensemble blend and unity of performance of this band was remarkable. Despite the presence in the band of extroverted musicians like trumpeter Ziggy Elman, tenor saxophonist Vido Musso, and especially, drummer Gene Krupa, Benny exerted strong control on them, and the band as a whole. This often resulted in wonderfully balanced musical performances that still swung most effectively. The arrival of Harry James soon after this recording was made would alter the basic character of the Goodman band.
When this recording was made, Benny Goodman and his band were in the middle of a long run at the Madhattan Room of Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City. Helen Ward, who had been Benny’s girl singer from almost the beginning of the band’s existence, effectively left the band toward the end of October 1936, though she did return on a few occasions after that from late November through early December of 1936 to help Benny out. BG cast about for a singer to replace Helen, but this process proved to be a long one with several fits and starts, that did not end until Benny hired Martha Tilton in August of 1937.
The first singer who was used intermittently was Margaret McCrae (shown above right in late1936 at CBS), a young woman who had been working successfully at CBS radio on various shows including Manhattan Merry-Go-Round, usually with CBS conductor Mark Warnow. It appears that Ms. McCrae appeared with the Goodman band first on the October 31, 1936 sustaining broadcast over CBS from the Madhattan Room of Hotel Pennsylvania. Subsequently, she appeared with them on broadcasts from that venue on November 4,6,11, and 12. On Benny’s Victor recording session of November 5, 1936, he used Ella Fitzgerald. Ms. McCrae did not appear on any of BG’s weekly CBS Camel Caravan shows while she was working with the Goodman band. Helen Ward returned to appear on the December 8 Camel show. Helen also appeared on a couple of sustaining broadcasts of the Goodman band from the Madhattan Room on November 25 and December 2. Helen also participated in the Victor recording session the Goodman band made on December 9. According to Russ Connor, “Helen left the Goodman band on December 18 to marry Albert Marx, her second husband.” (3) Margaret McCrae’s last known appearance with the Goodman band was on the sustaining CBS broadcast from the Madhattan Room on December 31, 1936 into January 1, 1937. After that, Frances Hunt was used as the girl singer for the Goodman band.
“Never Should Have Told You”
Composed by Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin; arranged by Jimmy Mundy.
Recorded by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra for Victor on December 30, 1936 in New York.
Benny Goodman, clarinet, directing: Ziggy Elman, first trumpet; Chris Griffin and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Red Ballard and Murray McEachern, trombones; Hymie Shertzer, first alto saxophone; Bill DePew, alto saxophone; Arthur Rollini and Vido Musso, tenor saxophones; Jess Stacy, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Harry Goodman, bass; Gene Krupa, drums. Margaret McCrae, vocal.
“Never Should Have Told You” was a mid-1930s pop tune composed by Tin Pan Alley songwriters Dave Franklin and Cliff Friend. They are best known for the song “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down,” which became the theme song for the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes cartoon series. One of their lesser-known collaborations was “Never Should Have Told You.” It was featured in the 1937 Max Fleischer cartoon featuring The Bouncing Ball, and a performance by pianist and sweet music bandleader Nat Brandywynne.
The Benny Goodman performance as one would expect, is rather muscular, but at the same time beautifully performed swing-styled dance music, skillfully arranged by Jimmy Mundy. The annunciatory four-bar introduction spots the brass quintet on open horns at first played without any rhythm accompaniment, then with a mellow bit of rhythm. The first sixteen bars of the first chorus show off the unity and blend of the four man saxophone section under the glowing lead alto of Hymie Shertzer, playing the main melody, with warm emphases provided by the open brass, led by Ziggy Elman. BG plays the bridge, gently swinging the secondary melody. The saxophones return to finish the first chorus. (Above left: Ziggy Elman and Irving Goodman, fall 1936.)
By the time this recording was made, three quarters of the saxophone section had been together for well over a year. The fourth man, Vido Musso, who had arrived in August of 1936, was an explosive jazz improviser on tenor saxophone, but a less than good reader of music. The man who took charge of Vido’s reading assistance was his fellow tenor saxophonist Art Rollini, one of the most impeccable section players of the swing era, and a more than capable jazz soloist. As we can hear in this recording, Vido fit into the saxophone section beautifully.
The band then plays the modulation which takes the key up a bit for the vocal chorus. Margaret McCrae sings the melody well, on pitch and with good voice quality. She obviously knew what she was doing as a singer, that is why she had been hired and worked successfully at CBS. I doubt if her employment by the Goodman band was ever intended to be anything other than temporary. She returned to CBS after 1937 began, but soon thereafter disappeared from the scene. (Ms. McCrae is shown in another photo at right.)
The story continues: When this recording was made, Benny Goodman and his band were in the middle of a long run at the Madhattan Room of Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City. As was mentioned above, as 1937 began, Frances Hunt was used as the girl singer in the Goodman band. Also in early January 1937, trumpeter Harry James joined the band. Below is a memento from the February-March 1937 time period, a menu from the Madhattan Room of Hotel Pennsylvania signed by everyone in the band then, including Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson.(4)
The recording presented in this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
(1) Swing, Swing, Swing …The Life and Times of Benny Goodman, by Ross Firestone (1993), 171.
(2) Ibid. 190.
(3) The details of the various female vocalists used by Benny Goodman from late October 1936 through January 1, 1937 come from Benny Goodman …The Record of a Legend (1984), by D. Russell Connor, 74-75. The details concerning Margaret McCrae come from Swing Era Scrapbook …The Teenage Diaries and Radio Logs of Bob Inman 1936-1938 (2005), compiled by Ken Vail, 46-98.
(4) This is the kind of menu that figures in a story involving Benny Goodman and Helen Ward that took place in October of 1936, when Helen told Benny that she was leaving his band. That story can be found here:
Here is more music and information about Benny Goodman’s 1930s band: