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Benny Goodman

Updated on February 6, 2011

1909-1986

Benny Goodman was an American clarinetist and jazz leader, known as the "king of swing".

Equally accomplished as a jazz performer and as a classical musician, he appeared as soloist with the Budapest String Quartet and major symphony orchestras. Benjamin David Goodman was born in Chicago on May 30, 1909, and learned to play the clarinet as a boy. His principal teacher was Franz Schoepp of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

His family was large and not well off, and he began to' play professionally at an early age, at first with bands on Lake Michigan excursion boats. In 1926 he joined Ben Pollack's jazz band, which performed at the Venice Ballroom in Los Angeles. He also recorded with this group. In 1929 he went to' New York, where he played in theaters and with jazz groups.

In 1933, Goodman formed his own jazz orchestra, and in the following year he achieved a national reputation when he began to appear with his orchestra on an NBC radio series called Let's Dance.

In April 1935 he started a nationwide tour that culminated in a sensational success in Los Angeles. From then on, he was the "king of swing".

For the next 10 years, Benny Goodman and his orchestra enjoyed tremendous popularity. He engaged many of the finest musicians in jazz history, among them Buck Clayton, Roy Eldridge, and Stan Getz, and he employed the best arrangers, notably Fletcher Henderson. His own extraordinary clarinet playing also contributed to the success of the orchestra. He conducted jazz concerts in Carnegie Hall in New York, Symphony Hall in Boston, and the Hollywood Bowl. The orchestra was disbanded in 1944.

Goodman also made jazz history with various small groups (trios to sextets) that he formed from time to time between 1935 and 1955. In 1955, Goodman organized another full orchestra, with which he toured in the Far East. He appeared at the Brussels World Fair and made a tour of Europe (1958-1959) and in 1962 went to Russia as part of a cultural exchange program.

In 1939, Goodman published an autobiographical volume, The Kingdom of Swing, written with Inring Kolodin. In 1955 he recorded the sound track for The Benny Goodman Story.

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