“Lonely Moments” – Music of Mary Lou Williams – Benny Goodman (1947); and Dutch Jazz Orchestra (2005)

“Lonely Moments”

Composed and arranged by Mary Lou Williams.

Recorded by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra for Capitol in Hollywood on January 18, 1947.

Benny Goodman, clarinet, directing: Zeke Zarchy, Nate Kazebier, Mannie Klein and Joe Triscari, trumpets; Lou McGarity, Tommy Pederson and Ed Kusby, trombones; Gus Bivona and Heinie Beau, alto saxophones; Babe Russin and Jack Chaney, tenor saxophones; Chuck Gentry, baritone saxophone; Jess Stacy, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Larry Breen, bass; Sammy Weiss, drums.

The story:

Benny Goodman moved his wife, Alice Hammond, and their two young daughters, Rachel and Benjie, from their home in Connecticut to Los Angeles at the end of 1946. They took up residence in the beautiful house Benny and Alice had bought a couple of years earlier in Westwood Village, but had spent very little time in. The primary reason Goodman made the move to California when he did is that the sponsored radio show on NBC he and his band were being featured on, which starred the comedian/pianist Victor Borge, moved from New York to Hollywood in mid-December.(1) That show would run until June 30, 1947.

On a personal level, this was one of the most enjoyable times of Benny Goodman’s life. The work on the radio show was not demanding. “Much of the half hour broadcast was taken up by Borge’s comedy and the guest star of the week, and Benny’s portion of the show required him only to run through a couple of numbers. He practiced his clarinet several hours a day, but still had plenty of time to laze about the house, putter in the garden, and be a father to Rachel and Benjie. ‘This is what I’ve dreamed of for years’ he said.” (2)

But on a professional level, things were less satisfying. Goodman, like all of the other big-name bandleaders who remained on the home front during World War II (his chronic back problems kept him out of military service), made a lot of money in the years 1942-1945 doing musical work of all kinds for top-dollar pay. The booming wartime economy, coupled with a relative shortage of marquee-level bands, enabled BG to work as much as he wanted. Entertainment-starved audiences flocked to see the King of Swing wherever and whenever he performed. But as the war progressed, and really for the first time in Benny’s career, critical opinion of the music he was presenting began to turn negative. In a few instances, the criticism was so savagely negative as to be absurd. It is unclear what effect this criticism had on BG. Paradoxically, despite the criticism, he continued doing great business wherever he appeared through 1945 and well into 1946. Goodman’s boffo box office ended in late 1946.

Benny Goodman’s home in the Westwood Village section of Los Angeles. In December of 1946, he moved into this house for the first time. Previously, he had stayed there very little, even though he had owned the house since 1943.

For whatever reasons, during his late World War II and immediate postwar successes, Benny in a seemingly relentless fashion, hired and fired musicians at an extreme rate. The inevitable result of this was to destabilize his band, as the musicians in the band at any given time were constantly trying to get used to each other. He also grappled with trying to produce musically satisfying recordings after he resumed making records for Columbia after the AFM union recording ban ended for Columbia in November of 1944. His relationship with Columbia became strained as a result and was exacerbated when Woody Herman became Columbia’s top-selling band as 1945 progressed. He was also embroiled in various disagreements with his long-time booking agent, Music Corporation of America. An uneasy truce was reached with MCA which allowed Goodman to book his own engagements, but still pay MCA commissions for those engagements.

Benny’s attempted solution for his band’s musical problems was to take his music backwards. In early May of 1945, he paid Fletcher Henderson $2,000.00 to write and deliver fifteen new arrangements over the following three months.(3) These arrangements were added to the many other Henderson arrangements already in the Goodman book, many that were by then over ten years old. BG appeared at the Paramount Theater in Manhattan, scene of many previous triumphs, in an engagement that ran from February 27 to April 16, 1946. Once again, he did tremendous business. The name Benny Goodman was still very strong at the box office. But critical reaction to the music BG presented during that engagement in some instances was negative. In the May 1946 issue of Metronome, Barry Ulanov’s review of the Paramount presentation, called Oh, Benny, Oh! included the following: “(Benny Goodman’s) appearance at the Paramount would have been sensational in 1935. As late as 1941, it would have been interesting. But by 1946, it was a good deal less than either of these qualities.” (4)

I suspect that Benny’s attitude about all of this through much of 1946 was: Why are these critics being so negative? Everywhere I go with this band, audiences love what we are doing. If he shed any figurative tears over this, it would have been while he was making frequent, large bank deposits. BG’s strategy in dealing with career challenges had always been to soldier on in times of crisis, and basically to ride the pony until it stops, especially if paying audiences were still showing up. The pony was moving slower and slower as 1946 wound down.

In January of 1947, Benny Goodman’s contract with Columbia Records came to an end. Both he and Columbia felt that it was time for a change after seven years. Benny, now in California, negotiated a contract with L.A. based Capitol Records. He did this directly, by working out the terms with one of Capitol’s co-founders/co-owners, Johnny Mercer. Goodman and Mercer had by then known each other for over ten years. (Above right: a view of the turreted foyer and circular staircase in Benny Goodman’s home in Los Angeles.)

In addition to compensation that was competitive with other top names on the label, it appears that Capitol gave Goodman considerable latitude in choosing the material that was to be recorded. Benny was active in making recordings for Capitol all through 1947, sometimes with a big band, sometimes with various sized small groups, sometimes with a vocalist. The music he made was almost exclusively in the pop/swing mode. There was very little, if any bop, in these performances. Nevertheless, it seems that indirect pressures were beginning to be felt then by BG which would lead him toward bop. But his relationship with bop, ambivalent though it would be, would not really start until mid-1948.

The music:

It appears that after the Victor Borge/Benny Goodman radio show moved to Hollywood in mid-December 1946 from New York, Benny broke up what had been his standing band through that year. The musicians who made this recording of “Lonely Moments” with Benny Goodman in Hollywood on January 18, 1947, with the exception of trumpeter Nate Kazebier and trombonist Lou McGarity, were men who had settled permanently in Los Angeles after World War II, and began working there as free-lances. Trumpeter Mannie Klein, well-known to Benny from their work together as free-lance musicians in New York in the early 1930s, had moved to Hollywood in the late 1930s and established himself there as a music contractor, in addition to maintaining his excellence as a trumpeter. It is likely that Goodman contacted Klein in advance of this recording date to gather the musicians that would be needed, many of whom had previously worked for BG. Their job was to read the arrangements and play them perfectly after minimal rehearsal, then to record them with Benny. That is exactly what they did.

Jazz historian Loren Schoenberg has written about the music itself: “The major and minor modes are freely exchanged on ‘Lonely Moments,’ which may be responsible for Benny’s rather odd note halfway through the last eight bars of his first chorus. …Mary Lou Williams’s arrangement deftly blends elements of the new (allusions to (Dizzy) Gillespie with the muted trumpet bridge) and the old, (tom-toms and clarinet a la ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’) into a context where Goodman felt quite comfortable. …The ensemble shines throughout, especially in the fugue-like passage that is so reminiscent of (arranger) Bill Finegan’s 1941 treatment of ‘The Song of the Volga Boatmen’ for Glenn Miller.” (5)

I will add a few observations about this music. The first chorus, which has the band playing through Ms. Williams’s melody and establishing a shadowy film-noirish late 1940s mood, is effective to orient the listener to her basic musical ideas. The fanfare-like interlude sets up BG’s entry on clarinet for the second chorus, and he is clearly in fine form, with his sound being beautifully captured by Capitol’s audio engineers. He glides through the first sixteen bars in quintessential Goodman fashion, meaning he swings. Then comes the bridge. Benny’s playing in this sequence is rather peculiar, especially rhythmically. The way he bounces along through several bars is not particularly swinging. I wonder if he was for whatever reason put off by the harmonic construction of the bridge. In the eight bars after the bridge, he returns to a more swinging presentation, including the strange note Mr. Schoenberg referred to. (Above right: Benny Goodman in 1945.)

The next chorus begins with BG doing his clarinet/tom-tom thing, during which he is clearly comfortable and inspired. Much of this solo is played in the juicy lower register of his clarinet, an aural delight. Then the fugue-like sequence begins. It is a marvelous contrast and is beautifully performed by the ensemble, including the dissonances toward the end. The finale is a brief return to the eerie sounds that opened this performance.

This recording would be one of the most interesting ones Benny would make for Capitol.



“Lonely Moments”

Composed and arranged by Mary Lou Williams.

Recorded by the Dutch Jazz Orchestra on March 11 and 12, 2005 for Challenge Records in Hilversum, The Netherlands.

John Ruocco, clarinet, directing: Jan Oosthof, Ruud Breuls, Erik Veldkamp, Peter van Soest, Mike Booth, trumpets; Hansjorg Fink, Andy Bruce, Dave Rothschild, Martin van den Berg, trombones; Albert Beltman, Hans Meijdam, Ab Schaap, Simon Rigter, Nils van Haften, reeds; Rob van Bavel, piano; Martijn van Iterson, guitar; Jan Voogd, bass; Eric Ineke, drums.

The music:

This performance of “Lonely Moments” is a fascinating transformation from the arrangement that was recorded by Benny Goodman. First, the tempo is faster, and that changes the character of the music. Whereas the BG original has an eerie late 1940s film-noirish feeling about it, this version swings brightly and unabashedly from the fanfare opening through the finale. Second, the presence of the colorful boppish backgrounds, (especially in the bridge part of the first chorus then in the transition into the second chorus, then as backgrounds for the guitar solo), that were apparently in the original Mary Lou Williams arrangement, but were modified or deleted either by Benny, or for him by Ms. Williams. Here they are present in all their glory, being played by the trumpets in Harmon mutes. Third, there is a guitar solo in place of Goodman’s first clarinet solo, played here be Martijn van Iterson, which fits quite nicely into this spirited recasting of the original. The abbreviated clarinet/tom-tom passage is played by John Ruocco on clarinet.

A gathering of musicians at Mary Lou Williams’s apartment – 1947. L-R: Dizzy Gillespie, Mary Lou Williams, Tadd Dameron, Hank Jones, Milt Orent, Dixie Bailey and Jack Teagarden. This photo was taken by William P. Gottlieb.

We are told in the liner notes for the CD from which this recording was taken (6) that “Lonely Moments” was composed by Mary Lou Williams in 1943, but that the arrangement recorded by the Dutch Jazz Orchestra was written in 1947. By 1947, Mary Lou Williams’s exposure to and familiarity with the bebop idiom, was rather extensive. For several years through the mid-1940s, she conducted a musical salon in her Harlem apartment, and frequent visitors included bop pioneers Thelonious Monk, Tadd Dameron, Hank Jones and especially Dizzy Gillespie. (Jack Teagarden was also present on occasion. He was curious about bop, and about Ms. Williams personally.) Mary Lou Williams became a close friend of Gillespie, and of his wife Lorraine. In the 1940s, she and Dizzy Gillespie spoke the same musical language.

This performance is a wonderful example of how great music from the swing era, when played by knowledgeable, sensitive musicians, can have new life.

The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) This radio show started out in New York on July 1, 1946 as an unsponsored half hour program called The Benny Goodman Music Festival. Starting on July 29, 1946 a deal was struck for the Mobil Oil Company to sponsor the show. The program continued in that fashion until September 9, when the show was revamped, with the Danish pianist/humorist Victor Borge as the star and Benny Goodman and His Orchestra being featured. The new show began being broadcast from Hollywood. Goodman had to move his entire band from New York to Hollywood, except for a few musicians who elected to remain in Manhattan. Benny likely accepted this demotion because it came with a guarantee of 44 weeks of work, that being the number of shows Borge was contracted to perform for NBC. The Borge/Goodman show emanated from Hollywood until the end of October, when it returned to New York. It then returned to Hollywood for good on December 16, 1946. These details come from The Record of  Legend …Benny Goodman by D. Russell Connor (1984), 182-190.

(2) Swing, Swing, Swing …The Life and Times of Benny Goodman by Ross Firestone (1993), 337.

(3) Ibid. 327.

(4) Ibid. 331.

(5) Liner notes for Benny Goodman – Undercurrent Blues by Loren Schoenberg (1995), Capitol CD 7243-8-32086-2-3, 2.

(6) Challenge Records CR73251 (2005), The Lady Who Swings the Band …Rediscovered Music of Mary Lou Williams – The Dutch Jazz Orchestra. Liner notes by Walter van de Leur.

Here is a link to a post here at swingandbeyond.com that celebrates arranger Bill Finegan’s fugue-like writing for Glenn Miller on “The Song of the Volga Boatmen,” and for Tommy Dorsey on “The Keel Row”: https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/08/11/in-finegans-wake-part-2-counterpoint-counterpoint-song-of-the-volga-boatmen-1941-and-the-keel-row-1952/

And here is a link to a spirited recording Benny made right after World War II concluded, one of his best for Columbia: https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/02/16/rattle-and-roll-1945-benny-goodman/

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  1. I was born in 1947 from an Operatic Mother who started me singing at 6 years old. You could say that Swing, Big Bands and the Great Vocalists of that era were born into in my DNA. Mike Zirpolo has once again wrote a great look into those “Golden Swing Years” of 1935-through the1950’s and beyond. The detail Mike’s presents is amazing and fair to all the players. Thank You!

  2. Though in hiring and then promptly firing talented musicians in the late to post-war years, Benny was following an established pattern of blaming those under his employ for his dissatisfaction with his own records when perhaps he should have been looking inward, I still have to feel sorry for the King of Swing, who seems to have been bewildered and mystified suddenly to find himself floundering. While I can certainly understand the basis for music papers’ criticism of Benny’s ’45-’46 work, I (though admittedly no professional critic) have always very much enjoyed this period for the band. Do its records display an awareness of new trends? No! It’s Goodman returning to his comfort zone, Fletcher Henderson and Edgar Sampson arrangements, after the, in my opinion, not entirely successful Sauter period just prior to the war. I think Benny — naively and/or arrogantly — saw no reason why the sound that had brought him acclaim in ’35 would not go over equally well ten years later. When it didn’t, it seems that in his mind it had to be attributable to his musicians’ deficiencies rather than his difficulty in adapting. I do think it’s true that listening today to pop and/or jazz history gives us a different perspective from that of the listener to history in the making Today, I can absolutely love Benny’s ’45 “You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me,” with the beautiful Henderson chart, because though I do appreciate some bop too, I generally prefer swing. If I had been a young listener in that same period, however, I might have been wondering why Benny (and TD and others — not Goodman alone) wasn’t hip like the Herman or Eckstine bands.

    Though, as noted, “Lonely Moments” represents Benny’s introduction to/of bop (or, really, the bop influence), which would turn out to be a fraught relationship, I think it displays the leader as the most comfortable he would ever be with the style — and I think we can thank Mary Lou Williams for that. She had known Benny for ten years by this time and, I believe, gained in writing and arranging here and there for the band a keen understanding of how to create a familiar musical environment while nudging the by then a bit outdated clarinetist and bandleader into the present. As we hear, the sidemen assembled for this date — despite being associated primarily with the Swing Era , and though not provided solo space — display not only thorough professionalism but also a feel for the music. Even the tinklings of the great Stacy, certainly a traditionalist, don’t sound disconsonant with the decidedly noir and modern atmosphere that Mary fashioned. For me, the most pleasing texture in the ensemble, though, is the ever-reliable Chuck Gentry’s bari sax. Mary’s chart allowed Benny — besides the arrangement itself, with its Goodman-friendly elements — to be the star, the role in which he had been most comfortable for over a decade by that time, as well as to get his feet wet with the trends that he, in his trademark myopia, had missed. Yes, there is that “what???” moment in his first chorus — after which Artie Shaw, ever dubious of BG’s harmonic surety or sophistication, would have said, “I rest my case.” — but still he displays characteristic nimbleness and that unmistakable tone.

    In ADVENTURES IN THE KINGDOM OF SWING, Danny Bank concisely illustrated Goodman’s incomprehension, essentially, of his musicians’ enthusiasm for bop. Benny was always a hot player, and it seems to me that not just bop’s expanded harmonies but also its cool demeanor always threw him. With “Lonely Moments,” I think Mary clearly succeeded in making Benny not feel so lonely and allowed him to establish footing, if tentative, on this terrain. I always feel that the real stars of Benny’s eventual bop-influenced outfits were others — Wardell Gray, Fats Navarro, Red Norvo, Billy Bauer, MLW herself — which speaks to the leader’s rare inability to play with full confidence and ease, despite clearly trying gamely. The fact that he generously shared space with the young, brilliant Stan Hasselgård, a fellow clarinetist, shows that Benny wanted to try to assimilate the vocabulary and rhythmic elements of bop, but he, like al of us, had his limitations.

    Finally, as I’ve always believed the first four notes of Mary’s “Lonely Moments” to anticipate the opening four of Walter Schumann’s theme for DRAGNET, a police drama, I have to wish wistfully that someone at, say, RKO had approached Mary about writing for some of the crime and anti-hero films (not yet labeled “film noir”) that had become so popular in the war years. The great “Out of the Past” uses the Allie Wrubel-Nathaniel Shilkret “The First Time I Saw You” (from 1937, and recorded by the Berigan band, among others) in its opening credits and later in the film. Would not, say, Mary’s beautiful and haunting “Ghost of Love” or “Cloudy,” from as far back as her Kirk band days, have been more appropriate for the ambiance of the film? Mary’s professional opportunities were receding to some degree in the post-WWII period, and it’s intriguing to imagine her lending her great skill and feeling to a cinematic environment like crime drama scoring, for which her stimulating musical ideas would have been so well suited.

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