Speaker You were telling me before about the first time you got in.

Speaker Well. How I really got into. Benny Goodman. A musician by the name of Joe Marsella played clarinet at the Hickory House and 50 Second Street. We became great friends and I thought he was a darn good clarinet player. And he said to me, Schnitz, you haven't heard anything until you hear this guy, Benny Goodman. I never heard of Benny Goodman. So I said, how do I get to hear him? He says. On radio, you'll get him late at night on his what they call remotes. I think this shock broadcast came from the coast. So I tuned in the radio one night and I was lucky enough to hear this. Benny Goodman, fabulous clarinet player. Fabulous. Well, that was the beginning of. My love for Benny Goodman.

Speaker Can you tell us a bit about how you were? Did you tell me about you hung out well. Oh, you want me to go back?

Speaker Yes. I was at the time this is going to be 1936, so that would make me 15 years old. I was an autograph collector and I hung around Manhattan living in Brooklyn. Manhattan was my street, especially 50 Second Street.

Speaker I would.

Speaker Hit the 21 Club to get autographs. That was closer to Fifth Avenue. So after collecting autographs, I would walk towards Broadway and I heard this music coming out of the Hickory house. I said, Gee, this is fabulous stuff, Dixieland. I never heard anything like that. And I stood outside there listening to the music. Well, I would make make it my business to go by there two or three times a week. One cold winter night, this fella comes out and he says, hey, kid, you're going to get sick out there. It's cold. And he brings me inside to this. Hickory House, Hickory House had a tremendous reputation for good food and good Dixieland. And that's how I met Joe Marsella. And he had some great musicians working with him. And then I said, he said to me, You think I'm good? Where do you hear this guy? Benny Goodman, this is Benny Goodman. What the heck is Benny Goodman? I never heard of him. He says, well, you're going to hear of him. You listen to the radio at night, late at night. You get these remotes coming from California. Well, I was lucky enough one night. To listen to this, Benny Goodman. And sure enough, I heard the greatest. I thought at the time the greatest kind of player was playing swing swing. Was was the thing then. But I had never met or heard of the good in a band because they were out in the coast.

Speaker Can you tell about when you heard that they were coming to New York and you're playing well?

Speaker And also it was that he had the standpoint of your friends.

Speaker Well, what happened was. I had a bunch of kids hanging out with me, I called them Schmitz's characters. If I asked him to jump off the roof, they would jump off the roof. They would do anything for me. Well, when Benny Goodman opened that, the PAMA. Of course, that was our Wednesday morning Axworthy shows would open at the Parama. I got my friends to stand in line because we would stand in line at 11:00 o'clock at night, the show The Doors then open to 9:00 a.m. So I wasn't going to wait all night. Well, we had we had a trick. We paid one admission at that time. It was 25 cents. And the first kid would get in. He would open a side door for the rest of us. And that's how we got into the Parama. This went on for years. They never caught us. They had to two doors that we could have gotten in one. I'm forty third street or not forty fourth street. Well, we got in and of course you had to sit through a crummy movie at that time. If you had a band like Goodman, you didn't have a good movie. We had a secure movie. And then of course the band.

Speaker Would come up, come up, come up today. We wouldn't. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Speaker Well, we're sitting in the audience. A bunch of us. Oh, God.

Speaker 40, 50 of us at the time. And of course, Goodman helped us. Him coming up, playing Let's Dance. That was enough. That was enough. And the band really was that morning. They were exceptionally good. He had a great band and. The kids were sitting with me and I said to them, come on, get up there and dance. I pushed them out there. After all, I was their leader, whatever I said they did. And it started the kids started the dance, the band. They didn't know what was happening. Benny Goodman was amazed. He cracked up. He was watching us more than he was paying attention to the band. Well, the kids danced. And before you know it, other people started to dance. He sides my characters. And of course, I got credit for starting at that time, the ride of the century. But thanks to Benny Goodman and that great band, his. They are the ones that really started it. And, of course, that's the beginning of my career because I became a celebrity after that shifts in its character soon after that. People were looking pub, public relations men were looking for me to do publicity stunts for their bands or singers or whatever. That was around town at the time. And I was on a couple of radio shows at that time, we the People was a big show came from CBS Playhouse number three. In fact, that's where the Letterman show was going to come from.

Speaker From that theater.

Speaker And I got a few Write-Ups. Wrote about me. True magazine wrote about me.

Speaker And you also you got to be friends. I was out there was a place and you were like.

Speaker I was called the mayor of Forty Fourth Street. That was my. They gave me a title, the mayor of 40 first because he could always find me there if you needed me for anything. If you went backstage at the Paramount, which is on West Forty Fourth Street, you would find Schnitz there. And that was my hangout. I had no office. That was it.

Speaker And his family was like musicians in Vegas, and you got to know they come back to be girls.

Speaker I got to know a lot of the musicians in the band. At that time, you had Chris Griffin.

Speaker Harry James.

Speaker Gene Krupa. Jeff Stacey. All the musicians. I got to know pretty well hanging out with them. We became good friends. And I know my place. I never, you know, did anything out of the way of oh, I was probably one of the first delinquents or dropouts that ever lived. I knew my place with musicians. And then luckily. Thanks to Jonnie Williams, who was with Raymond Scott's quintet. His son. I guess you heard of John Williams from The Boston Pops. Anyway, John Williams said, Hey, Schnitz, either you go to school or you go to work. I said, Johnny, I'm not going back to school. He says, OK, then you're going to go to work. You're going to work for me. At that time, John Williams had to be the biz's musician in Manhattan. He did all the radio shows that Cates might show Lucky Strike Henry Aldridge. He had a show for every day to a week and I would take care of his drums, set him up for him.

Speaker It's like that.

Speaker I would do things like that. That's one of how I got into knowing a lot more musicians.

Speaker You told me that before. I guess one of the neat things that he played for most people, you know, there was only college kids or older couples can go to a hotel.

Speaker Well, we could never afford to go to the hotel to see Benny. We played either a hotel, New York. He played the Pennsylvania hotel, played the Waldorf. We couldn't afford that.

Speaker The only place we could really afford to see him was at the Paramount for 25 cents, you know.

Speaker So that was that was our outlet in buying his records.

Speaker Of course, when they were really intended to record coming out, they would go to record store and tell about the world record stores at that time.

Speaker We had a place on Broadway between forty fifth and forty six. It was I think it was called the Gayety Castigated. Burlesque was next to it. You would be able to go inside there and listen to records, take a few records. They had booths you go in and listen to. He didn't even have to buy them. They would let you play a few records. And that's where we got interested in with that of buying records stuff.

Speaker Again, that that first day when you went there or yesterday will understand exactly what it was like for a band playing in the theater.

Speaker You describe what the setup was and how the band. Well, out of this this was trapped or this elevated platform. And then you also when we talked about before, you described that at the end of that last show when he played the goodbye.

Speaker Yeah, well, it was during, uh, of course, the shows began at the Paramount. The stage is elevated, maybe. Oh, I would say five or six feet, at least, maybe higher. So a good idea was not to sit up front cos you would see nothing but Benny Goodman feet or musicians feet. You'd have to sit back at least seven to 10 rows to get to see the show. We would sit there for one show. Wasn't really enough for us. We'd sit there for three or four shows. They could never get rid of us. Then there was no way they could chase is as far as food. Thank God for somebody, musicians and people like Benny Goodman. They would bring food out to the kids. I was one of the kids, so I was lucky to get some food. At the time now the band with the shows would last or maybe 45 minutes. They usually had a comic or a singer or something like that. We were only interested in the band and the closing theme. Many was one of the few bandleaders that had two themes. He opened up with that stance and he closed with Goodbye and Goodbye was a very sad song. I think Gordon Jenkins wrote it and his music was very sad and we felt sad, too, when the band was going down. And of course, we'd come back for the second show.

Speaker We we stayed for a second two shows. Three shows.

Speaker Describe before what happened when Kroupa left the band.

Speaker There was a time. One thing about Benny Goodman. He had good sense in hiring musicians. Of course, he had the greatest arrangers which helped their ranges. I felt. Made the band. So many had to hire good musicians to play that kind of music. He hired James Kroupa, whoever he hired. In due time, all they had to do was tour the country once and they were able to go out on their own. Informed her own bill, which happened with Kroupa and James at that time. A lot of people thought that the Goodman band was more or less fading out. Well, Penny had more sense when Cooper left. He got himself a good drum, I think it was Nick for two, came in to play drums. You had to be good to play with good men, let's face it, because if you started a beat temple, you had to end that way and just staceyann piano. And I always thought in my mind when James left. He had Ziggy Elman and Chris Griffin. I thought Chris was the most underrated trumpet to play in the world. Because I thought he was fantastic. He never got the publicity. The James guy. But he was really something something great.

Speaker And you told about the war coming and you got drive the battery. You join me in just the whole scene change and you just everything for it. Yeah. When you came back, how was it?

Speaker Well. Of course, I worked with the musicians after I was doing Public Eye after working as a band boy.

Speaker I started the publicity work making money for a change. By the way, the Goodmans stunt. I never got a nickel for. I never. I did it for the love of Goodman. After that, though, I started to make money doing these publicity stunts. I did it for everyone. Not Sinatra. He didn't need anybody anyhow. I did that until forty two. Of course, the war was a full full blast. I joined the service and I was in the service from 1942 to the end of 45. When I came back. Things were completely different. The big bands were very few that we were able to exist. The cost, I guess, to carry a band, so forth. They went into small combinations and singers started to beat a thing like Peggy Lee was on her own. Sinatra and the Everly Brothers. And there was no room for me as far as you know, with the bands. So I could have gone to California when Mark Warner and the hit parade went to California. I had an offer to go with him to California and I decided not to go to the coast.

Speaker Did you describe to me when you came back to New York one time after the war and you came down to those old spots and walked around were too hot?

Speaker Yeah, well, coming back, of course, walking the street, of course. My street was forty Fourth Street. Shubert Alley. Forty Fifth Street. It wasn't the same. It did it. I can't I can't explain it. It just wasn't there anymore. Even 50 Second Street changed the way they used to have bands like Campisi, Fats Waller with play and stuff like that. They became like strip joints. They were, you know, girlie shows. There was no more good jazz. It seemed to leave us. I think it went to Europe because I think it got more popular. I think even today, I think jazz is more popular in Europe than it is here in the States.

Speaker Right.

Speaker You said you'd jump back to about any autograph seekers where you were you were.

Speaker But one thing I learned, like when I was working in this.

Speaker As far as autographs, Benny Goodman never refused anyone for an autograph, but I b I was more like a celebrity at the time. It was very hard for me to ask anyone for an autograph. And when I worked on Kaitsu Mature with Johnny Williams, we had big celebrities there every week. I would never walk up to them and ask him for an autograph in the studio. I knew my place and that's why I was able to do what I did for so many years.

Speaker Can you describe a little bit more about what the scene was like? Backstage was like kids today. It's hard to believe. They think music is all happening, like being on bands like the Beatles and they weren't going to get dates with the guys off.

Speaker They would BS at that. Musicians were celebrities. It wasn't only the band leader, it was the musicians. If you played with any named band, it could have been declared Miliband. The Goodman Band, whatever band they were, musicians were celebrities backstage. It was always fans, girls waiting for these musicians, waiting for them to come out. And, you know, they were there was something at that time. Musicians were celebrities, too. You know, it's a different story today.

Speaker Anything about you mentioned Chris Griffin just facing any specific stories to tell about them, we've both set them off.

Speaker Well, the story I can tell you about Chris after he left. Benny Goodman after.

Speaker Yeah, after Chris. Partly after Chris left. Benny Goodman. He went into radio. He was good enough to do radio shows. He he did. I did a lot of work for Raymond Scott and. At that time, whoever had radio shows, he did a few of them, and he was doing very well. One night. His wife was to give birth. And we had just finished doing a radio show to remember the show, it was. Anyway, he said, What are you doing, Schmitt's? I said nothing. Gone home. Come back to Brooklyn. He says, You want to keep me company. My wife is going to give birth. Would you mind sitting with me and waiting? I said, why not? I have nothing else to do. And I sat with him all night.

Speaker Well.

Speaker He thought that was very nice and he paid me back. Chris, I tell you how he did that. I don't know if he remembers this story, but I used to run dances in Brooklyn on Saturday nights. And I asked him if he would come and jam with with my band. He said, Fusion, it's anything. I got him to Mandela and a drummer by the name of Johnny Blouse. At that time, these three guys were there were celebrities. The comment to Brooklyn and to do this for me for nothing, you know, was really something only because I. I would do anything for them. I guess I loved musicians, so Chris is one of my favorites. Great. Yeah, he's a great guy. Tit's Mandela. What can I say? Can't say enough about its tits. Was one of the busiest saxophone players in town doing radio work. This is after he left Goodman. He the first time and I don't know what made him go back to Goodman to give up all this money to go. Would Goodman maybe his promises or what? I don't know what it was something to work with. Goodman was there to work with. Goodman was a challenge. You had to be good. And if you could report with Goodman, he was the easiest guy to work for. I've heard them say that many a time.

Speaker Of course, we called Benny the King. We the kids never called him Benny Goodman. We call them Biji or the King. Musicians were only allowed to call him Benny. So, too, to any musician that worked with Goodman, it was a challenge to work for him.

Speaker You know, we had to travel. You had to work hard. You had a lot of things to do because Goodman always had a radio show. He always worked at a hotel.

Speaker He I mean, he was booked every week of the year. So. And he paid well. And he featured a I think Benny Goodman was the first bandleader to feature musicians, put their name on a marquee like Gene Krupa.

Speaker He did it to Chris after a while. Harry James. And then, as I said, if you toured the country once with Goodman the second time around, you had your own band. And that's what all musicians want, their own band.

Speaker They got 10 and they talked about dancing.

Speaker OK.

Speaker OK. When we were kids, it was swing it. We call it jazz. It was swing. You were able to dance to the music. You not only listened to it, but you able to dance. Then with the progressive jazz, you couldn't even keep a beat. It had no melody, as far as I'm concerned. And of course, it's a different type of music. Some are good, some are bad, but will swing. Everything was good. It was good listening and it was good dancing. You could dance to it. You could dance to a band. You could hold a girl and dance with her. Today, you can't do that.

Speaker All right. All right.

Speaker Okay. I said in them days you could dance with the girl. You could hold a girl in your arms and dance with the jitterbug with whatever you want to call it. You can't do that today. You can hardly keep a beat to the same music today. There's a big difference.

Speaker Tell your friends in the band about that. Inspiring. I guess there's many girls that come running down all the dancing. Yeah. The dance.

Speaker Or when they played at a hotel or a dance or something, there would be hundreds of people just listening to the band. You were able to listen to it and enjoy it. It was a big, big difference from what the music we have today. The kids were completely different. They were there. I don't know. Maybe it's the drug scene that got them into it that we never knew from drugs or pot or marijuana. It was a thing, you know, that we never heard of. We got.

Irving Davidson
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Irving Davidson, Benny Goodman: Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 02 Mar. 1993,
(1993, March 02). Irving Davidson, Benny Goodman: Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Irving Davidson, Benny Goodman: Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). March 02, 1993. Accessed June 30, 2022


PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.