“You’re Giving Me a Song and a Dance”
Composed by Marty Symes and Milton Ager; probably arranged by Jimmy Mundy.
Recorded by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra for Victor on October 7,1936 in New York.
Benny Goodman, clarinet, directing: Rubin “Zeke” Zarchy, first trumpet; Gordon “Chris” Griffin and Harry A. “Ziggy” Elman, trumpets; Sterling “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. Helen Ward, vocal.
The story of the personal relationship between Benny Goodman and Helen Ward in the years 1935 and 1936 is told in the post here at swingandbeyond.com on their great recording of “Between the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea.” (1)
Despite their on-again-off-again and emotionally up and down personal association, Benny and Helen, with considerable help from the Goodman band and their arrangers, usually made good music together. The recording presented with this post was made in the final days Helen was with Benny’s band. During that time, the band was consolidating its position as one of the best swing bands on the scene. They had only recently returned to New York from summertime touring and making a feature film (The Big Broadcast of 1937) for Paramount in Hollywood. They had also landed a weekly sponsored network radio show, The Camel Caravan, which provided them with a steady income while they were in New York.
The final piece of the puzzle insofar as managing the band’s work and income, was provided when Benny’s management team secured a lengthy location engagement for them at the Madhattan Room of Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City. That gig started in early October of 1936 and would continue through April of 1937. The key to that engagement was not money. No hotel could pay a big band enough money to offset all of its expenses on a ongoing basis. It was the regular sustaining broadcasts over the CBS radio network that came with that gig. The promotional value of those broadcasts created intense demand for the Goodman band.
On March 3, 1937, Benny Goodman and his band opened a stand at the Paramount Theater on Times Square in Manhattan.(2) That engagement validated the thinking of Goodman’s management team, principally the people at Music Corporation of America (MCA), Benny’s booking agency. They knew the power of radio to build a band’s popularity. Not only were all of the seats of the Paramount filled for Goodman’s five shows a day, the young people who filled those seats were almost riotous in their demonstrations of delight at everything Benny and his band did onstage.(Above right: Benny Goodman – handling hysteria at the Paramount Theater as the hydraulic stage extension is lowered after a show. Notice how he is holding his clarinet. Did he have to use it as a club to keep his crazed fans at bay?)
Among the many wild demonstrations that swing fans engaged in at the Paramount Theater was frenetic dancing in the aisles. Although Benny Goodman was baffled and dismayed by this behavior, he never called his hysterical fans “morons” as Artie Shaw later would.
And there could not have been a more dramatic way for the Goodman band to be presented to those ecstatic audiences: the stage extension, which made the main stage of the theater larger in front, toward the audience, could be raised and lowered hydraulically. In the relative silence immediately before the band was to be presented, that hydraulic stage extension was in its lowered position. On it was the entire set-up for Benny and his band. The musicians could enter and exit the stage extension through doors beneath the main stage. Once they were all on the lowered stage extension, it began to be raised. At that moment, Benny gave the downbeat for the band to swing into their opening theme, “Let’s Dance.” Deliriously ecstatic applause, cheers and whistling erupted. The so-called “Paramount Riots” that had accompanied the appearance of Benny Goodman and his band at the Paramount Theater created headlines and feature stories in newspapers and mainstream magazines from coast-to coast. The subject was swing. The swing era as a pop culture phenomenon had arrived.
Helen Ward was a very popular member of the Goodman band. She was particularly popular with the young men who gathered around the bandstand to hear (and see) the music up-close. One of those young men was the writer George T. Simon. His recollections of Helen are revealing: “For me, and, I presume, and for many others who gathered around the Goodman bandstand, Helen was an especially stimulating singer, visually as well as vocally. Her style embodied a warm, sensuous jazz beat, and her body moved in a very sexy manner. She had, in addition to her physical attributes, a fine ear, and could also play pretty good piano.” (3)
The introduction spots the Goodman reed quartet establishing the mood of the performance, which is one of quietude and reflection, with an undercurrent of intimacy. This is late-night music. The tempo Benny set for this performance is perfect for dancing. Three of the four members of the BG saxophone section had played together for some fifteen months under the glowing lead alto of Hymie Shertzer. The new arrival was tenor saxophonist Vido Musso, who had joined only a few months before this recording was made. Vido’s main role with the Goodman band was to play explosive, swinging jazz solos. In this performance, he not only fits into the saxophone section well (he was helped immeasurably with playing in the section and reading music by Art Rollini, one of the best section players of the swing era), he also plays a melodic solo, something quite out of character for him.
This version of “You’re Giving Me a Song and a Dance” is also unusual for a Benny Goodman recording in that it does not contain a BG clarinet solo per se. I use the words “per se” because Benny’s playing on this recording is confined to some choice obbligato notes at various places behind Helen Ward’s vocal. The instrumental solos are in the first chorus and are played by by lead trumpeter Zeke Zarchy, who plays the three eight bar main melody expositions, adding little decorations here and there. Zarchy’s playing is warmly melodic, with his trumpet sound being muted by a softly buzzing straight mute. As mentioned above, tenor saxophonist Vido Musso, plays the eight bar bridge absolutely straight. (Above right: lead trumpeter Zeke Zarchy.)
Ms. Ward’s vocal, which tells the story of romantic regret, is the epitome of what George Simon characterized as having “… a warm, sensuous jazz beat,” in addition to being very expressive. Listen for her delightful “Oh …” at the end of the secondary bridge melody, which inspires Benny to play some fluttering clarinet notes behind her as she begins the final eight bars of her chorus.
Benny Goodman and his band at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey – Labor Day weekend 1936. L-R: Chris Griffin, Ziggy Elman, Gene Krupa, Red Ballard, Hymie Shertzer, Bill De Pew, Helen Ward, BG, Murray McEachern, Zeke Zarchy, Vido Musso, Art Rollini, Harry Goodman and Jess Stacy. Guitarist Allan Reuss is not in this photo.
The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(2) From the New York Times, July 12, 1998: The Paramount Building is still at 1501 Broadway, but what happened to the theater?
“The lavish theater, a palace of popular entertainment during the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, was set within the ziggurat-shaped Paramount Building and entered through a tall arch near the northwest corner at West 43d Street and Broadway. It was demolished in 1965 and replaced by offices, but the location of the entrance is marked by the broken window pattern on the fifth floor of the Broadway facade.
The 3,900-seat auditorium was 10 stories tall, and included three balconies and a covelike promenade beneath the ceiling for visitors to view the audience below. The barrel-vaulted lobby, modeled on the chapel at Versailles, was 50 feet high and 150 feet long, decorated in black and gold marble with a ceiling mural of the Sun King. Designed by C. W. and George L. Rapp, Chicago architects, the theater opened along with the Paramount Building in 1926.
The defining spectacles of popular musical stardom — mobs of screaming teen-agers, cordons of police officers, bewildered onlookers — were to some extent invented beneath the spectacular bow-shaped Paramount marquee on Broadway. The ”Paramount Riot” occurred in March 1937, when 21,000 thronged the theater to see Benny Goodman’s band perform there for the first time. After stints with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra made his first solo appearance at the Paramount in 1942, and the ”Columbus Day Riot,” his most famous Paramount appearance, was in 1944, when 30,000 bobby-soxers jammed the doors.
When they weren’t screaming or fainting, visitors to the Paramount could visit a labyrinth of sumptuous staircases, foyers and period rooms, or take their seats escorted by ushers in crisp uniforms. Movie screenings featured elaborate musical programs between shows, provided by a staff that included musicians, music librarians, a vocal coach, two musical directors and a concertmaster, as well as George Wright at the Mighty Wurlitzer.”
(3) The Big Bands, by George T. Simon (1967), 208.