Speaker We are we're in it. Oh, good, good. I was about nine years old. I had been playing a quiet just about eight years old. I seem to like the clarinet. And I became a I studied I became a member of the Junior Symphony Orchestra, the symphony club. And I was, in those terms, fast becoming what we call the legitimate clarinet player as opposed to jazz, which was illegitimate, you know. And I heard Benny Goodman actually I first heard Johnny Mintz with the Tommy Dorsey band who played jazz, and I liked the idea. But Benny Goodman, the way he played was so striking. And I was a so-called legitimate clarinet player, but I heard Benny play. And he had so much control of the instrument, so much fire in his playing and the sound that he had. I was taken immediately by and I said, that's what I have to do. I will study some symphonic approach, I'll study the instrument. I later really realize that you really can't play jazz well, especially with this instrument. This agami pipe will get you, you know. So you have to study legitimately first before you can even play jazz well. And of course, Benny has such great control. And the way he was playing his jazz on it just struck me. I said I had I got to do this. And I think every clarinet plays probably pretty much would tell you the same thing.

Speaker Or was it intimidating to think that he was so good? How could you ever get up to that level of. Of course. Of course. Much of my questions won't be there. So if I ask a question, put my question back in your answer. Right. Right. Or just in whatever way.

Speaker Sure. Oh, absolutely. It's it's always intimidating to hear something that's overwhelming like that. And even in my career, as I began to play and I began to become more confident playing jazz and then eventually won the downbeat and Metronome pulls over Benny Goodman. Eventually, you know, my gosh, I had I felt fairly secure. And even then. When I was scheduled to play the record instance with Art Tatum. And and or Charlie Parker. Even though I was that secure and I was intimidated, again, you see, because they were so they were so great, then they were close to genius. I felt about myself. I've read about myself and the genius of the Clannad here and there, which is nonsense. I was always highly talented. But not genius. But Art Tatum and Charlie Parker were genius and Benny Benny was highly talented, not genius even already. I liked Artie later better. No, I felt Artie Shaw was more advanced way ahead of his time and he became actually my favorite clarinetist. But then he was a guy that influenced everybody or made everyone decide to be a jazz clarinet player. Everyone that I know.

Speaker And this wasn't greeted with the greatest reception. I decided to do this with you when you were 10 years old and know as well.

Speaker Let's see, my dad kind of like big bands and jazz me. My dad was a blind piano tuner, but he was the first to bring our Tatum records. Benny Goodman records at home. We had one of those old windup recordings, you know, players. But my grandfather didn't like the idea of the idea of me and my teachers. They didn't like me wanting to play jazz. They had had mine that I would go to Curtis Institute and become a symphonic clarinet player. Later on, my grandfather than loved Benny Goodman. And then when I adopted the bee bop style of playing, he didn't like that at all. And he couldn't understand it. And then when I would come home, visit my grandfather, he'd say to me, You hear, Benny, go to one. What are you doing? Don't make no sense.

Speaker You know, the first time you met the very first time.

Speaker Now, that's a good I can't remember the first time. It's the first thing you did. But one of the one of the times was was at a rehearsal. Benny had a rehearsal, one of these bands and. I'm trying to think of a link. I know a lot of the guys had been displaced. I had been playing. With Johnnie Scott Davis first, then Gene Krupa, and then womanize with Gene Group as Van. A couple of the guys knew some of the guys and Benny's band and it kind of the players in the band is kind of all kind of filtered around the exchange. One band after another, you know, they join in and. The first time out or one of the first times I met Benny. I was so excited to meet him. And someone said, you know, Elbaneh. He was while he was walking with his client. As usual, very this here's Buddy de Franco. And he looked up and stared at me like like he wasn't sure. But he who really? Buddy who was his. Yeah. And he just looked at me, shook his hand and he shook my hand, walked right by me. No reaction. That is strange. That is strange. I'm already in the business and playing getting some kind of notice. You know, he doesn't know where I am next few times then we kind of got warm and warmer. And then we began to talk about clarinets, which is what he knew mostly about clarinet. That was his whole life. The clarinet. And he liked to talk. Which talks about what? Yeah. Reeds, mouthpieces, the clarinet, the make, the fingerings, everything imaginable. And. He he wanted to know from everyone that played what they did, how they did it, not only the jazz players, but the symphonic players as well. Then he was ill in the hospital and I called him in the hospital and. From that point on, it seemed like he was warmer and every time we met, we spent a little time together. There was one time at the 500 Club where he opened. I went to see his opening and. And. He came after his set. He came down and there were some people next to us who idolized me. The older two older guys and two young guys, they idolized Benny. And they were talking about how great, how great, how great. And so I said to Benny, you know, he said, Hey, buddy, how you doing? Like my Bible. I said, Benny, these these people idolize you. They'd love to meet you. And he walked right by them. They had their hands out. He walked right by them. I couldn't believe it. And then I heard a lot of stories about many from that point on. But I realized after awhile that it had nothing to do with him being mean or nasty. His mind was on. Probably read.

Speaker What about this thing with rage, is that unusual? I'm a clarinet player.

Speaker No. Most kind of play.

Speaker Yeah. Right.

Speaker What would you like, a glass of water? You OK?

Speaker Yeah. I'll tell you. I'm okay with you. Yeah, good idea. Let's cut. Yeah. Well, every clarinet player goes to that mouthpiece and reads also what most younger players don't realize. From one year to the next year, countenance is different. Your oral cavity is different. Your makeup is different. And you're hearing changes. And so you change. You change your equipment to compensate or to at least go along with what you hear. And Benny was constantly changing. But then I realized most clarinet players are. Singing for the perfect read, the magic read and the perfect mouthpiece and the clarinet is going to be that won't fail you. And it's a tricky instrument. It is probably one of the most difficult to play and especially play jazz. That's why Benny was so was so great. He was really the first clarinetist to spell it out and to make the clarinet that important as a jazz instrument, even though there were quite a few clarinet players around at the same time.

Speaker I got ahead of myself. The first time you heard him in person was when you were a kid.

Speaker You went to the Earl Hero Theater in Philadelphia. My brother Nisko there all the time here, the big bands, and we would be prepared to stay for the five or six shows because, you know, you could leave after one show. You couldn't leave the theater, you couldn't get back in. We wanted to hear as much as we could. And we get as far down front as we could.

Speaker And.

Speaker I would listen to the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Six shows that they were needed or five shows. For two and three days, just absorbing everything good and also analyzing with many did and how he ZOMBA Sure. How he played the clarinet, he fingered a great fingering technique. And there again, Benny had what? Between legitimate ambrish, sure, which is E or U as in between that and a saxophone armbrister which is all. Sam, we used to call a semi legitimate ambrish here, but that's how he got that effect, the jazz effect, as opposed to Artie who played this way with a clarinet. And it was like saxophone. Saxophone. Umbra. Sure. But that's the sound he wanted. At any rate, I used to spend that much time watching him, watching. And also, I noticed that Benny would walk from one part of the stage to another, play a little bit. And he'd play another solo here. He'd play another solidaire. I found out that he was looking for the acoustically the best spot on the stage to play. And I finally realized that's what I would do. And that was long before the high tech mikes and all that.

Speaker He was fanatic about one microphone every place he played on all my talk to. I don't know what that was.

Speaker Most band leaders in those days were because that's all you really need. You see, the dynamics were always done from the band and from the performer. And the band leader wanted to control the dynamics. And as the years went on, the sound guy wound up controlling dynamics and volume and took took the the the power of control away from the players himself. You see, so those guys always wanted one microphone and all and set it and leave it. Tommy Dorsey was the same. I can remember doing a record session with Big Band and strings one mike for the strings section, one mike for the band, one Mike for the vocals. And that was it.

Speaker That was it.

Speaker I don't know if you want to tell the story. So I guess we. I read it in one of the books about.

Speaker Three, because he was on a bench. But but since I was on Dorsey's band, I was familiar with who?

Speaker The Tommy Dorsey story from the song was born when they were doing the movie, when Benny was doing well.

Speaker Then he would always come in and warm up and start playing a little jazz jam session, guys. And Lionel Hampton, whoever else was there, join in. And sometimes he come in a little late. One time, I guess he was late and he walked in and he started playing and. Tommy Dorsey didn't like the idea and walked over the bench and said something about Bennett, you me waiting here a long time for it. Now you come in and play you. And Benny, I guess, answered back, said something, and before you know it, Tommy socked him. You punch him in person. And the next day, Ogden Nash wrote a thing in the paper, it said Everyone gets up on their toes when Tommy Dorsey detailed that rhythm on Benny Goodman knows his front page. At any rate, there again, I don't think Benny was nasty or was trying to hold the picture over there again. He had he wanted to play the clarinet was his focal point in life, you know.

Speaker So what do you think it was that drove the thing that everybody has to say about here's a guy who just relentlessly couldn't stop, even if he had money and fame going. What is it saying about. The driver needs to get make that instrument.

Speaker It's not only this instrument, it's probably almost any. Good jazz player. I think the problem is that your mind is always way ahead of your real ability at any given time and you're playing catch up. What you keep trying to do is. Is facilitate what you're hearing in your head. And you never do catch up and that becomes a game and that becomes a goal. And it also becomes interesting. It makes life worthwhile playing jazz, because at least you say, well, there's something. To look forward to in the older days, it wasn't quite that way. I'm not putting the Dixieland players now, but there are very few players who had that that impetus and drive to go further and further and further once they played. For instance, a certain lick on us in the song at a certain time. They kept it that way. They played it the same way practically until they died. But Benny and Artie and the more progressive thinkers in the jazz field weren't that way. Our Tanum was a good example. Always trying to get to that goal. You know, you're never gonna do it. You know, it's not going to happen, but at least it's worth a try and he gives you that impetus.

Speaker Do you think, though, that it would go back to the you tell me when the camera's off that you would hang out with him just to sort of. You know, when he was rehearsing or in the dressing room backstage? About that?

Speaker Well, a good example was I was just fingering and marvelous fingering technique. And then somber, sir, and his breathing technique. Also, he would rehearse a band and sometimes he would rehearse he the just the horns without the rhythm section. And they had to keep perfect time without that rhythm because too many players relied on the drums fan on base to keep keep them in on the beat, so to speak. But it wouldn't permit that. And there was one recording where he had hired a drummer. Oh, he's. He'll be nameless because there's a well-known drummer that time. For a record date and did like him and send him home and they made two selections without a drummer. And the band was so good that you couldn't tell they didn't have a drummer. And that was Benny's influence. He was that good. He always had an expert, a good band expert band. And he always knew what he was doing with that. When they swing back.

Speaker Get.

Speaker OK, so what's that? Oh, you're an airplane going. Did you catch a plane? A little bit. From from from where? The part of that oh, oh, you. Know. Wasn't said, Katlin.

Speaker Lucy, can't you see mine? You might, because we have someone else talking about did they say what was. Yes. So if you don't mind, I mean, it's we're not taking anything away from set. We're gonna get. No, no. Because he was a be very for the drummer. Yeah. Well, Benihana because it was reputation, you know. Well whether you do or don't. Do what you want to do. Well, that's a good example of how Bernie thought.

Speaker Along with cycleways, another one.

Speaker A good example of how many thought and how he wanted the band to perform. He had hired a drummer and heard a lot about him and I guess he heard him on a recording. And hired a guard for a record date, I guess, who said Katlin? I mean, that's what I or I'm told. But at the on a regular day didn't like him. So he sent him away and they did. The next couple selections without a drummer. And what was amazing was when you listen to it, you're not aware that there was no drummer in the band. That was how good Benny was with his rehearsal techniques and his operating of the band. There again, I think that wasn't a nasty thing that Benny did in real terms. I hate to keep defending the guy, but I know you know how he feels. If it could be the best drummer, the best pianist, the best player in the world. But if it didn't fit what you were doing that time, you'd ruin a record session, you say. And I think it also depends on how you let a guy go. Benny had some abrasive ways. Do you think you know. But he had his mind was on other things, on his own, his instrument and music. Also, if you know or and you can have a band of all stars and they could sound the lowest.

Speaker It's happened time and time again. So. It didn't say Catlett was happened to be one of the greatest drummers of that era. I think I remember being just a kid with Johnny's got Davis Band in Chicago. Going to a place called the well, anyway. A downstairs place with stuff, Smith said Catlett and Jimmy Jones great rhythm section and stuff would let Dotel, mom, Rosa and myself sit in with them, especially during the last centers of. And working with Jimmy Jones and Sid Catlett. That was the first glimpse of swing I. I felt. Before that, I'd been I'd been reiterating Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. When I said it was, said Catlett, the drums, and Jimmy Jones, who was a forerunner of the modern jazz jazz piano players about the same time as Art Tatum. That was the first glimpse of swing that entered my body. In other words, that got into me.

Speaker That's sort about Benny and Bieber. What? You know, what do you. If you any conversations or just what do you see pictures today? Because when he tried to wear a beret and you had about band for. Well. Well it was when it was a phenomenon. How did it hit him.

Speaker I don't know. I it's hard to say or because I, I was in the polls coming up up as a clarinetists and I think I was numbers two in the metronome polls then he was one then he could make an all star session, metronome record session. So I, I was his substitute.

Speaker But I was the new Bob Clarinettist and I idolized, of course, Charlie Parker, and I was determined to play the clarinet the way Byrd did. Ahead, the alto and.

Speaker It got so strong, the idea of Bob got so strong, waves of musicians were trying to play be bop or jumping in on this new craze, that it really intimidated. They got the older guys. There was no question about it. And Benny as well say. Even Ari was somewhat intuitive, I believe, by that bebop thing. So to began to hire be by players in their van and then sometimes wanted to play bebop. Well, it would be like saying to a symphonic clarinet player and playing for 25, 30 years. Here's a Benny Goodman style. Just go in there and try and play it. You know, it's something you had to really be a part of and learn and feel. And Benny was wanted to probably get in and get to know. But his hearing would let him. He was a diatonic here, listener and player and fact, I remember at a rehearsal where he said the Victor Feldman was a modern, great modern pianist.

Speaker Those are wrong chords. They weren't wrong. They were just more advanced. That was Benny's thinking.

Speaker Any of the other guys in the band that particularly stand out in your mind musically or that you would have stories to tell to make them more vivid either, you know, from earlier years group or those eight?

Speaker Gene Krupa was another. Forerunner of. And also a guy who made the drone, the jazz drums and a drum solo. Very important in modern music. Before they refined drummers, them guys playing solos. But Jeanne, like Benny Goodman, put Jeanne, put the drums on the map in the Swinger and made people listen. And he was also the first. I think real swing drummer as such. With the exception of count bases banned Joe Jones, you know. The Duke Ellington Band or in the Lunsford band with Jimmy Crawford. Those guys, but Jeanne made it popular. The fact that you had a terrible black and white situation where the black players were held down, there was no question about that. You know, they they the. So so Gene Krupa has had the spotlight, so to speak. So he was able to bring the drums as an important jazzes, but he was he was responsible for that.

Speaker Given what you were saying about the bad black white situation and the fact that black musicians couldn't get the spotlight, what was your sense of venues? Was he was he appreciated, among other musicians, for the fact that he gave Teddy and Lionel a chance to play with a white band?

Speaker Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think to my question won't be there to put it in your own words. Yeah. That I.

Speaker Yeah, I think all of us. Owe a debt of gratitude to Benny for integrating his band the way he did. Benny was colorblind and we were all lucky that he was. Because. We got to really learn more about the best of the jazz players, and in essence, we got to learn about the creators, the real creators of jazz, because. When you if you would say to me. Who's your. Who's your favorite jazz? I'd have to say Charlie Parker. Art Tatum. First. Even though I heard Beneš first, I heard Tommy Dorsey's band first, I heard all the bands first. I would have to say. Charlie Parker, Art Tatum. They both were not. In fact, even today, they're not that well known. But not that well known, but they were the guys. Who were the real creators of jazz? Now, Benny was a creator of jazz, also on the clan as a clarinetist. What jazz was before.

Speaker Benny, actually, you see talk little bit about two aspects to that.

Speaker Yeah, there are two facets that I. That I could glean from Benny and this whole experience. One is the commercial aspect. He made swing music commercial and the songs like Sing, Sing, Sing and the Angels Sing. That was the commercial aspect to me of Benny. But for me, the real musical aspects of Benny. We'd be about nineteen forty two or forty one when he had any sort of riding for his band. And he did clarinet. Alan King and Benny rides again. With a great, great band. That, to me, was was among the greatest jazz contributions ever, ever. Although it wasn't as as popular as the other, you know, commercialized me. So I got those two.

Speaker What was it about the great the really the sort of stuff that really turns you on. You think about his playing or the band. You were happy.

Speaker He played better to me then at that point than he ever did and I ever did afterward. Somehow it inspired him to reach further with harmonically and he soared. He literally soared with a clarinet on that clarinet. Okay. All again and Benny rise again.

Speaker If your I was worried that you took you so much. Jeanne, put the drums on the map. Tell again about. Yeah. If any, the clarinet put.

Speaker Yes, he did. Benny Goodman put the idea of jazz clarinet on the map. He made it a popular jazz instrument. Even other were fine jazz, but not his stature. Not as good as Benny, but he. He made it a commercial thing. He he made people youngsters think about playing jazz clarinet just like he did me when I heard Vanny, I said, that's what I want to do.

Buddy DeFranco
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-6688g8g24s, cpb-aacip-504-wh2d796529
"Buddy DeFranco, Benny Goodman: Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 12 Mar. 1993,
(1993, March 12). Buddy DeFranco, Benny Goodman: Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Buddy DeFranco, Benny Goodman: Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). March 12, 1993. Accessed July 06, 2022


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