Speaker About me, I understand it's not like a long I know it's like remember from your talking about it last night, it's important if just understand that.

Speaker One of my very earliest memories of my father was lying on a bed next to him and I was very little.

Speaker And I remember just looking at this enormous chest go up and down with each breath. And I thinking back on it, I think it's a really good visual metaphor for who he was as a person. Not only would all that breath create the music and the energy and all that he became and was much before it was before I was even born. But there it was right next to me. That was where I fit next to him, just as this tiny child next to him. And I don't think I'll ever conceive.

Speaker Of the magnitude of his fame, really, in a way.

Speaker And I remember going to Germany visiting a friend in 1970, and this came back to me as. As an example, I'd gone over to visit East Berlin and she couldn't accompany me. I didn't speak any German and I got and I said, oh, my God, what if I just get lost over here? Nobody knows I'm here. Nothing. So I got back in the four hours, made my visit, and I was feeling fairly nervous. And the officials were there asking for passports and I had my passport. They look at the name Benji Goodman. No words just.

Speaker If my father was so happy and I couldn't believe it afterwards, that there wasn't touched for it environment and I could just say he's my father.

Speaker And that was amazing.

Speaker So it was always a reference point growing up, I think.

Speaker Could sweet talk. Talk about your mother next door. Do you want to follow up on that theme of sort of living with the planet? No. That I could.

Speaker I think that my mother's 35 year marriage to him was something that. Left a deep impression on him and was very important to him. I remember when she died. Going into the apartment and seeming so well so we could just talk to everyone.

Speaker OK.

Speaker OK. Yes. OK. I remember shortly after my mother died coming to see him for a drink. And it was probably before a concert or something or not even. And he seemed so alone, except there was the clarinet next to him. And I thought. That's it. That's where that's his biggest companion and the loss of my mother was just really evident there. And also how the clarinet was his real best friend. She always gloated over the fact that they've stayed married all those years in an age where divorce was so popular and compared to Artie Shaw, who'd been married for a time. And their characters really balanced each other, complemented each other where daddy was known for being inarticulate.

Speaker My mother had a real love of words and could always tell a terrific story. And Daddy would often give her the floor at the dinner table to describe a musical event or what it was like to really, really like to play in front of the king of Thailand. She's also very unpretentious.

Speaker You also told me that a lot of his interests as a mature man stem from her, that she was able to bring out different sides of him, that his interest in visual arts.

Speaker That's right. Yes. He she always loved going to park Binay and seeing what she could make, whereby she could make. And I remember she came back with a Renoir once in a Dufy. And this was turned out to be a passion for my father also. He loved going to museums and collecting art. And of course, it was, I think through her cultivated background that this came and she shared and it would a good example of him being opening horizons to him instead of just the music and having more.

Speaker Was that tough it for you as a kid? I mean, you told me the compositions, actually. I mean, I don't want to misquote you.

Speaker You said something like, I get my question, I'll be there. I caught up with whatever the idea of promising you. What do I talk to them about? So that's true.

Speaker Yeah. Well, you know, Earle, is that I. That would be.

Speaker To when I was very young, and especially since I saw Rachel being encouraged in piano and playing, I used to think, oh gosh, I don't know what I'm supposed to talk to up to my father at the table. I. Is it only music? And although I felt a real bond with him, I think my earlier years maybe were. It was kind of a mystery what you what you talk but later on. Probably threw his support of me being a visual artist. I got much more confidence as well as I think he was a much less. Kind of abstracted person, and he was very available.

Speaker Do you think that something did change in his character as he got older, that he did become less abstract, abstracted, less wrapped up just in the music? Was it was that your mother's influence or was it just.

Speaker I'm sure it was. I'm sure he couldn't help but think more of what had the human element come in more because she was such a humanist and.

Speaker So in.

Speaker I think that for me, OK. I got my face cut from the lens. You can start again with it. He couldn't she couldn't have helped her, too.

Speaker Well, I'm I'm going to retrack because I don't think so. What I want to say.

Speaker Okay, I could say, you know, what came into my life.

Speaker You know, with that, maybe we should jump to a very concise way you put it last night was that he's a man of gestures, not words. And and maybe that that would be a lead in for the story about Rachel getting married. And it's an art show, OK? And you need to put in quite as many details. OK, Jesse, let's talk right now. Why do I want. Yeah. OK. The idea that this.

Speaker I think that my father really didn't live in the world of words at all. The way my mother did, and he couldn't really describe things that happened. It was he was definitely a person of gesture. Once it was very moving for me when my sister was getting married and I was in high school and she was going to have a great big home wedding with my mother planning a big garden and get all this attention. And I was very envious. And I came home for the weekend and daddy greeted me and said, Oh, Come encouraged me to come into the studio to see some new Hi-Fi equipment. Kill your eye. Not the musical daughter. What's he talking about? I'll be polite. And I got there and I opened the door and plastering the walls. Were my paintings beautifully framed that Sarah piteously gotten out of my closet. And so Rachel's wedding would be a one man show. For me, it was just a fabulous gesture.

Speaker Another thing you tried to get both parents is that they called you a new quality that they both had. They didn't care what other people thought, this sense of being inconsiderate. But in terms of not worry about being conventional, is there something you wanted?

Speaker Well, no, not so much. No.

Speaker I think that feeling of knowing what you were doing was right and not paying attention to reviews or thing. I remember seeing my father get a bad review and he just was totally oblivious to it. He thought it was great cause certain it wasn't going to change his mind about it. And I think it had a lot to do with. The field you're in, I know for me, painting is the kind of the only arena where I don't feel swayed by people's opinion or care. You know, it's really my decision. I'm not going to take anybody else's advice. And I think that's where that's something I gleaned from his reaction to reviews or my mother's.

Speaker Let's talk about his drive that he was driven, that he was always practicing any memories. You have any stories? That was a word you used was. He really had to drive.

Speaker I think it was more. It's OK. OK. I guess I'll give an example again of one coming back from a concert in Central Park. It was Mozart. He had performed to probably 20000 people. And we walked in the door and it was late Overman past midnight. He came through the door, barely took off his coat, opened the clarinet case and went through the entire piece again just to make sure he could do the next door apart the way he really heard it.

Speaker I was dumbfounded. I would have thought it was it just showed me. It's not for the fame that he was there. It's not for the money. It's not for the audience because he came home and did it just to himself.

Speaker I think it was amazing.

Speaker You remember the scales being played all the time in the house. This was sort of a constant. And Rachel talks about him looking for the read all the time, trying to find the right read any of those memories?

Speaker Yes, I. He was forever looking through those boxes for reeds and playing the scales, and it was an area where he would ask your advice and you'd come in and he'd say, oh, tell me, what do you think the difference between these three reads? Which one do you like best? And quickly? He'd play each and I'd give my opinion. And he once told me that it was very important for him to know what Mr. Average thought. And he really listened to their opinion. And sometimes taxi coming back after a concert.

Speaker The.

Speaker Okay. Okay. Uh, Praxedis.

Speaker I do remember often coming upon my father wherever, practicing he would practice anywhere and no special rule and sometimes a studio butt in his room or in the living room or in between sets of the ballgame you take out in practice. But he'd ask us which one which read we like better.

Speaker What did we like best? Even when I was quite young. Yes, that question. And he'd more or less listen and. He once told me that it was very important for him to know what Mr. Average thought, and as an artist, I should always ask just Joe, whoever what they thought of the picture. It was a very valid reaction.

Speaker And I remember taking cabs with him late at night and after a show and cab driver would be listening to some kind of modern music and he'd inquire and say, Why do you like this musician or do you think he's good for this reason in the cab would get all enthusiastic and that he would never disclose who he was? I thought it was great.

Speaker You wanted to tell a story going back to the gestures about after your mother died. And that's the dining room. Well, I think.

Speaker Yeah. No, that's good. No, no, I'm going to energy sort of thing you mentioned you think of the energy. I think.

Speaker One thing that always impressed me about my father was his sense of energy. I saw it more as when he was much older, when I after my mother had died. But even when were a little he was always saying, let's get cracking in, even moving his hands together. And it would kind of energize everybody. You had to get moving anyway. But he was a real early bird. I think people often thought, oh, the glamorous life. He must have slept till noon every day. I think it's a false myth that people think of famous people as kind of globally, that movie star life, that he was always up at 5:00 and he'd often wake me up as even as a kid saying, well, let's go for a walk or let's go do something. And he'd practice and listen to a favorite recording and call his friends, wake them up and do his back exercises, swim all before 9:00 often.

Speaker And I think that same sense of energy he brought anything he decided to do. I mean, I think he was incredibly energetic about trying to be relaxed and do a lot of breath and yoga exercises to get himself to that place where breath would flow the easiest. And he'd try and show me some of them. And I remember it was quite wonderful. And he. Even it seemed like you even take naps energetically, like I have five minutes, I'm going to go to sleep now and then I'll be able to play more later.

Speaker You remember anything that he told you we were saying last night, you did remember something about his father. Do you remember that his father saying or that his father was was interested in music and that was whether it was from so taking things that he'd heard in that synagogue, like a cantor at home or whatever. Remember that he told you about his father?

Speaker I remember him talking about his father and what was such a love, really, in his voice and saying that. I think you'd even play opera singers to him on the phonograph or things like that, it was. I think it was the classical music that he brought to them. And it wasn't until I went to my niece's bus mitzvah and heard a canter, a wonderful one, that I realized how much of that Jewish heritage came to jazz, maybe unconsciously, even for. It was really kind of moving and rocking. Listen to.

Speaker I'm sort of jumping around. OK. All right. How about watches? So there's three watches.

Speaker Oh, maybe it was my own experience of being a visual artist and trying to draw connections to what it was. If there was any similarity between playing music, I often used to think, well, he has the words whenever I have to get a picture. But more than that, I think it's that kind of time altering experience that it puts you in if you're really working on something you love. And I think it must be even more so with playing music. When he was hitting those incredible amounts of notes into this tiny amount of time. Now, he probably wouldn't see it this way. It's more my impression that he was always surrounded by clocks and watches. And I remember him having a beautiful watch on and I have a watch and there'd be at least three clocks around it. And he's got the time. And it all be within, you know, two or one minute. But it seemed kind of symbolic of where he lived all the time.

Speaker Was he, like, worried about time, like times catching up with him when he was going to run out of time or that he wanted to be sure there was a sense of being responsible and being on time?

Speaker Well, he was always on time. I mean, he would very unforgiving for being on prompt, but. I think it was sort of. It was more like the global idea of what time was, or maybe that's what I felt. He didn't really play to a metronome ever. It was it was inner. So talk a little bit about the health and the aspect. Yes.

Speaker As I said before, when I think of him, it's more with this enormous chest and the breath. And I really thought about the incredible energy, of course, in his hands. But one time when I was living at home, we.

Speaker We're going somewhere. Any questions? Fingers in the car door. Actually, in the garage door and my mother was there and she really freaked at the blood and that that's right.

Speaker Benji will drive me to the emergency room. He'd actually taught me how to drive. And we got in the car and he held his own hand. And when I got there, the classic thing happened that all the doctors and nurses rushed to get his autograph. And they were thrilled that there he was in person and he got attended to and he never made a big deal of ailment. And you never knew what he. Incredible pain. He could have been in awe. Obviously, the implications of something that were vast. But all he said on the way back was, you know, Benji, let's stop it, the Jewish delicatessen, and have a good corned beef. And Ryan Pickle. And that was the gesture that would make everything all right.

Speaker It was a wonderful move to produce this movie. Corned beef.

Speaker Really, really set it to record. Yeah. Yeah. He often said he would kill for corned beef if we could just have it.

Speaker What did he say about retiring?

Speaker Become something else.

Speaker Okay. He said that he would all.

Speaker As I said, you know, he went. He was such a physical person and he was always working so diligently on his health. And you just didn't have a clue how much she was always in pain because he just never would have any self-pity or never say anything about it. And he was incredibly stoic. And I remember him once talking to a singer on the phone who said she had a cold and she couldn't come to audition. And he. I can convince, in addition, because you have a cold. You know, that's doesn't it would never occur to him, you know, and they didn't expect it of her and.

Speaker Someone to try.

Speaker Oh, yes. And later, I guess a feature of us growing up, the harder part of it was that on the one hand, they were there much more. My parents were there much more than.

Speaker Lot of people. But there was some times when. It was quite lonely and you didn't know the help very much that were there, but it's sort of a detail. But one woman who worked for my parents, Dorothy Gordon, who since I was child up to when my father died and in fact took his dog, who had been my mother's dog, kind of as a legacy.

Speaker And she said that daddy would say to her, again, I think he confided a lot in her as much as anybody.

Speaker He had real friends with ordinary people who lived around him. And she said he was said all, they're never gonna get me off that stage. You'll have to wrap me up in a straight jacket and take me off screaming.

Speaker You really love performing.

Speaker We asked you last time about dancing and you had some nice things to say about how he talked, about how much he loved the dancers when they were swing dancers, and that if he could have been had to be anybody other than Benny Goodman, he would be Fred Astaire.

Speaker He.

Speaker I know that the dancing was always very important to daddy and that last PBS program, Benny, was really essential that there be a dance floor. I think.

Speaker He loved watching them dance to his music, and he used to say to me, oh, you know, but I really would love to have known how to dance if I could have been Fred Astaire and he'd do a little Two-Step.

Speaker I'm sure I would do. Okay. And don't mention the PBS. Oh, that's right. OK. Oh, ok. OK.

Speaker Dancing was always really important to my father's music. I carry many of the places he played the Rainbow Grill or.

Speaker Out in the tree. It was a trade center. There would often be dancing.

Speaker I mean, I always remember seeing people dance to his music and he used to tell me that if she can come back like, well, call thirty, thirty, one thirty or shoot somebody at my friends outside, but she'll know she might be outside.

Speaker What.

Speaker Was just trying to think, if I can remember the name of that Trade Center, but I guess it doesn't matter. It does matter. OK, ok, ok. OK. OK.

Speaker Growing up and we often went to concerts of my father, and especially during the summer, we'd often just tag along the whole time and go night after night after night. And there were often dancers and I remember him really getting excited and playing, watching the dancers playing a little longer. And he himself once told me that he would have loved to have been Fred Astaire. And he did a little sidestep. Describe it.

Speaker I guess I'd like to end with that gesture of the chairs. That's that's great.

Speaker That's terrific. One just slightly on the UN and the more problematic side you mentioned in our phone conversation, there was this issue of the sense of his overpowering ego being a tough thing to to deal live with all the time. And I mean, I just thought I might tie this in with if we did get a shot of you and the big mural. Now, if you wanted to talk about what it was a growing up with him being a kid with this, again, the big overpowering ego and the sense of his will and his way. And, you know, did you have a sense of wanting to get away from that, to get away from music for all the good things that he had, that there was still the sense of wanting to live your own life? But I don't want to put words in your words. I'm just drawing on sort of threads of things you said, but then tied together over you.

Speaker I think one.

Speaker Vision I had to always deal with was the person who was my father and then the person who was the star or.

Speaker Who brought all that music, and I would think that my life was ordinary and dad would take me to my first movie, but in fact that first movie had a cartoon with him playing in those Fantasia air.

Speaker Whatever I thought was ordinary, wasn't being on the Ed Murrow show and saying to audiences that I was an artist, it only whatever.

Speaker I was 10 years old. I think it's this reference point of that's omnipresent. Living in North Beach. I do my groceries and there's a 12 foot portrait of him. Part of a wall wall mural. And so I can just look up and say hello. But it kind of puts him up there in the heavens as an influence and. I think in a good sense, he could really supported me as an artist and.

Speaker Gave me something I wanted to do. I always knew that was what I wanted to do. But the same time he has his ego kind of did.

Speaker Spill into other arenas and could make you feel quite pretty worthless if he was saying. You're talking about a subject. And he became the expert. Even though it was in his field. I think it's actually a problem that all daughters have with their fathers. And in his case, what was really interesting afterwards thinking back was possibly it was all just a challenge that he felt he had to say to spark you up, to make you stand on your own two feet and fight, which he had to do all his life, not pay attention to those reviews. Just keep going. And again, I think he was such a person of real gestures that it wasn't really in the word of world of words that you're can. My connection with him was after my mother died in nineteen seventy eight, when we were all crushed by the news. We're sitting around the table, the four of us. And there were only three sit seats now. And my father got up from his place at the end of his end of the table and moved around and sat in my mother's seat. And it was said so much he didn't have to say anything else. He never moved from my mother's seat for the next eight years.

Speaker On top told one more time that part I said, okay.

Speaker I figured this out a lot, I guess. Okay.

Speaker Okay, so let's skip the introduction or put it out. When my mother died. Yeah. Okay. Okay.

Speaker When my mother died in 1978, we were all crushed by the news. And shortly after we were sitting at the dining room table where there were the force seats that we always filled. Now there were only three settings. And my father did so gracefully, got up from his place at his end of the table, the place that he'd had since my childhood, and moved around that big table and sat at my mother's seat. And it said so much, it said she's gone, but I'll try my best.

Speaker Yes. I think we're done. The.

Speaker You said that the threat that.

Speaker Once I was with my girlfriend sitting in a sofa talking about what we're going to do with our lives and. Daddy was there half listening, and he looked over his head. I know what's a big hassle, really the most important thing is finding something you really, really want to do. Then you go out and see else who else is doing it and then you do a better as it moves.

Speaker That's, as always, that simple. Yes. I think that when when you do you want to do something creative.

Speaker You said yourself some advice, some general people.

Speaker In some ways he didn't put it.

Speaker It gave you the feeling that every creative person had as much trouble. He didn't have it any easier than anybody else. Every day was a new day to.

Speaker Prove yourself. Really? And he'd look down and once we're in the study and there's this beautiful play of light on the rug, and he said, Oh, Benji, why don't you draw that? And I said, that's about the hardest thing you could do. I'd love to read it all Rembrandt did. And he was always pushing and saying it's not easy. You know, you just always have to do with it and encouraging you to stay with it.

Speaker Oh, just maybe to try one more time. OK.

Speaker In the beginning, I had one more reference for it, but I don't know whether this again, it was sort of finding yourself a relationship to him once we were going to a concert in Salem. My husband and I and I was lost and my husband freaked because I just stop at the gas station. I said, oh, could you please tell me where Benny Goodman is playing is acquiescing. It's like saying, where's my daddy? And there are no find yourself.

Speaker Okay. The first one and tying the thing. I don't agree guys right away understand the connection that it's the chest. It's say it's the huge chest because he's a wind player. Right. OK, and second, that here, my little girl next to this huge guy, that's sort of my father is always there.

Speaker This big machine happening. You know, I can get the clarinet and of the connection.

Speaker One of my earliest memories was being a very little girl lying in a bed next to my father and seeing is enormous chest go up and down with each breath. And I think it's a really good visual metaphor for who he was. This chest, that rhythm of the breath that was so important to a win player. That's why every breath he took was really down there from the diaphragm and enlarge his chest with every breath was going. It was why he could play the instrument so well, why he brought his music all over the world.

Speaker And. There I was next to him. Just that's it. That's where we met child and father, and it's probably a fact that I'll never really get over in a good sense.

Speaker I think that's the basis. This was anything else, you know, because.

Speaker My mother had an incredibly affirmative philosophy of life and. She was really interested in the human dimension and she could make anybody feel really important. Growing up, she always encouraged me to feel good about myself. And I think really it was such a wonderful legacy from both of them, because it's impossible for me not to wake up knowing that I can pull through and continue. And my mother gave me that sense, a basis of belief, really, that life's worth it. And my father gave me the message that I know what I have to do.

Speaker OK, that that to my father again, my father gave me.

Speaker The knowledge that I'm a painter, an artist, and that's what I'm gonna do. And stay with it.

Speaker Thanks for watching, Marvel.

Benji Goodman
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Benji Goodman, Benny Goodman: Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 11 Mar. 1993,
(1993, March 11). Benji Goodman, Benny Goodman: Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Benji Goodman, Benny Goodman: Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). March 11, 1993. Accessed January 22, 2022


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