Wednesday, June 5, 2013

CD Review: Benny Goodman * The Complete 1937 Madhattan Room Broadcasts

Once upon a time, there was a six disc box set of Benny Goodman's 1937 broadcasts from the Madhattan Room of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City, available at your local Borders Books & Music. Now Borders is defunct, and the old boxes (put out by Viper's Nest Records in 1995) have been scattered to the winds--the only way to get your hands on them is to piece the set together one volume at a time. For those willing to hunt through Amazon or eBay, though, it's worth it.

These recordings give a rare glimpse of Benny's greatest band after hours. Unlike the prime time "Camel Caravan" broadcasts, with their carefully timed numbers, commercial plugs, and shtick (entertaining though much of it was), these broadcasts were unsponsored ("sustaining" radio) and the arrangements didn't need to be clipped for commercials. They routinely broadcast around midnight and give the feel of the band stretching out and winding down for the night. It can be difficult for contemporary musicians to imagine, especially in this day and age when gigs barely exist, but bands like Goodman and Shaw routinely worked six or seven days a week, with five to seven shows per day. To reach the midnight hour, with one last whirl through the arrangement book, was a nightly achievement.

This set documents twelve complete half-hour broadcasts that ran from October 13, 1937 through December--the lead up to the 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert. Harry James, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, Jess Stacy, and Martha Tilton are all here, with the usual high quality results.

Of particular interest are the many charts played over the airwaves that never made it into the recording studio. A partial list:

Whispers in the Dark
I'd Like to See Some Mo' of Samoa
Roses in December (Trio Version)
So Many Memories
Moonlight on the Highway
Stardust on the Moon
Am I Blue?
In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree
Everybody Loves My Baby
In the Still of the Night
All of Me

But for me the star of the show is the relaxed, after hours vibe. Unlike the heady, raucous BG-mania that rocks so many live recordings of the band in this era, there is minimal crowd noise. There are some special moments of audience involvement too, that wouldn't likely have happened on a Camel Caravan Broadcast. During the October 23 broadcast, for instance, there were a bunch of college students on the dance floor during a trio version of "Where or When." The young men began spontaneously singing the words to their dates. Benny kept playing the melody along with them, the chorus swelling slightly, until we can hear the young ladies gently joining in by the end, an octave higher. The tenderness, spontaneity, and warm enthusiasm of the applause that bursts out afterwards is for me the epitome of what this music is about, and why it is so important to preserve.

Because of the relaxed nature of these air checks, there are several fade outs of closing numbers, and a good deal of repeated material (a forty second "Let's Dance", for example, leads off most broadcasts). While the band lacks the pinpoint precision and some of the killer attitude that it displays on other live sets of this era, these stand out for their contrast. The liner notes by David Weiner are informative and detailed. As of this writing, these might very well be out of print. Get 'em while you can.  Four Good Reeds.    

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Real good review, backgrounds etc. Makes me wanna go find the discs. Great anecdote about the dancing dates singing along with "Where or When".