Transcript:

Speaker Forgetting about this business of multiple microphones, he said, look, all all we need is one microphone like we had at Carnegie Hall, and he finally persuaded me to hang one microphone fairly close to where he was standing on a little platform and fit the orchestra around the base, up close and so forth, so that we might have a shot at recording that way. So we did a rehearsal. Take Benny listen to it and said, forget it, go back to the other way. So at less I got that off off my back because Benny kept talking about that for about a year and I kept telling him, Benny, it won't work. How do you know you haven't tried it? So we tried it.

Speaker You want that story as a too too technical because that recording going on.

Speaker But he was a top position on both saxophone and clarinet, of course, but especially saxophone. That's what they needed more than anything else. The clarinet was just four short solos. And the other thing was that Benny being a terrific reader and and having a great deal of depth of knowledge about popular music was an ideal pit musician for Broadway shows. And I finally realized after recording them for a few years that the reason Benny knew all these obscure tunes, which turned out to be great but I had never heard of them, was that they were these third or fourth best known songs in shows that he had played, many of which were flops. But nevertheless, he he knew more about odd Gershwin, Cole Porter than subhumans and so forth than anybody ever met.

Speaker Let's go back to the beginning and talk about you first on the radio. It was like being a teenager, whatever way.

Speaker Sure. Well, it really started with the radio and the fact that in the summers we had a house in Greenwood Lake about 50 miles outside New York was very nice. Then today, forget it, I'm sorry to say. And our neighbors, the Caulfield's had a girl, the oldest of of three who was my age, and her boyfriends included some young musicians who had a high school band in Teaneck, New Jersey. And they turned me on to the Castle Omaha Orchestra, which preceded Goodman in popularity. And from there, I began to find out that there was a lot of interesting stuff on the radio that I had known about. That's how I first heard Fats Waller and Fletcher Henderson, which was an odd thing because he didn't have many broadcasts. But I remember his name and bought a record of his. Oh, I can't remember when, but it was called hotter than l apostrophe e l l and I didn't dare show it to my parents because this kind of thing was not allowed in my home. So Fats and Fletcher and the Carcinoma Orchestra were my introduction to what became swing music, and then Benny Goodman, of course, exploded with the camel caravan broadcasts. And eventually I got to meet him because of being in the lucky position of editing Horace Mann School newspaper and giving myself the assignment of interviewing Benny when he first came to New York. And I said first, I mean, after the triumph, triumphant success in the Palomar Ballroom in California, which was 1935, every start over.

Speaker Yeah.

Speaker So you always got a kick out of that. The interview that I did preceded so many of the major publications.

Speaker But let's not talk about that, because that's how I got to interview.

Speaker The interview came about because I was collecting his records at that at the while I was at the Horace Mann School. Now start again. The interview came about because I was beginning to collect Benny Goodman records when I was a student at Horace Mann my senior year in the fall of 1937. And when the word came out that Benny Goodman was going to open in New York at the Manhattan room of the Hotel Pennsylvania, my classmate Charlie Miller, whose mother was in Democratic politics in New York and knew the owner of the hotel, said that he could arrange an interview with Benny. And since I was the editor of the Horace Mann school paper, I gave myself the assignment. And so it was done. And that was a fantastic thrill because he was the first musician, I guess he was an idol at the time already that I met.

Speaker And he was very, very nice. He came to the table Charlie and I were at after the end of the set and said, we'll talk again after the show is over on upstairs.

Speaker And his assistant, who was his band boy script writer, everything to Chape and not related to the shaping of Watergate fame, took good Charlie and me upstairs. And we completed the interview up there when it came out. I found out that Benny was very pleased because it was the first interview which simply talked about the music and musicians instead of Mr. Goodman, what do you eat for breakfast and where do you buy your neckties and so forth? And he told and let these kids come any time. And they're welcome to attend the rehearsals, too. So that was a fantastic thrill to listen to new music being prepared by the Goodman Band afterhours. And part of the thrill was having that Gene Krupa or Teddy Wilson yell out, Hey, kid, tell the chef to make me a sandwich and some more black coffee, please. So the inside stuff was absolutely priceless.

Speaker Thank you. Describe for me what it was like the night he came to the room.

Speaker Yes. Well, the room the room still exists. It's a restaurant downstairs. When you first walk into the I guess it's the Penta Hotel. Now you go downstairs and there is the room, which is almost like a small amphitheater. You might say the bandstand was at one end close to the kitchen. And I can't remember now where it would be in relations and how you walked in. Because I think the entrance was different in those days. It was a small room and it was very inexpensive. Somewhere I wrote something which somebody quoted back to me about how I could take a girl out for the evening and we could eat something and stay all night and it cost less than ten dollars anyway. The atmosphere was extremely warm because there was an intimate quality to the room. The tables were set up in such a way that there was a small dance floor that already people were not dancing as much as crowding up to the front of the bandstand and some kids would be dancing behind them. And I say some kids, the audience was really quite young.

Speaker I know that to me it was an older audience, but this was a college age kind of crowd with a few older people. So being the youngest person in the room was a very impressive thing to me. And I'd been coached by the daughter of a friend of the families that I should order a claret punch because that would knock me out and I could be very sporty. So the first few times that I went, I always ordered a Klarik punch. And I think I may have had my first scotch and soda before graduation, which took place in 1937, June, but I'm not sure. So then he may have been responsible for my first drinking in a public place for your generation, was it?

Speaker Well, at that time now we're talking about the fall of 1937. There was quite an explosion on the radio and even in the press. Talk about swing music. And Benny Goodman, of course, was the big thing. Artie Shaw came along later and so forth. And this was very much a young people's music and words like hepcats came about later on. Duke Ellington took care of the word Hef made it hip, which has stuck to this day. He did it with a recording called Hip Chick, Hip Chic C h. I said we all knew that it meant c h. I see cave, which was, of course, the musicians name for an attractive young lady. The music was very much the property of the young people.

Speaker I was often quizzed by older people, including Dr. Telling has the headmaster, the Horace Mann school list. What. What was this all about? What do you hear in this? And so on. And Doctor telling us it was a wonderful man. And after my own father, I guess the most influential person in my life in those days. In those days, that means period in my life, because that was those are the formative years. And I became conscious of that later on. So the way older people looked at the music was rather curious. They didn't think of it as noisy and raucous and well, I don't know how to describe what most people said about rock music when it came along and the music of today, which is not very musical. Let's let's. Face it, that wasn't that wasn't the same kind of thing with the swing music, because, after all, there was a lot of melodic content to the music. A lot of the music that was played consisted of popular tunes and standards. You know, Stardust was part of it, for example. And people respected that. And performance of St. Louis Blues, for example, meant something to older people. And it was not a great yanking away from what they were used to hearing. So the acceptance was much broader than any of the popular music that came along later, including, of course, rock.

Speaker Everybody enjoyed it, but it really began with the kids my age.

Speaker Let's go back into the interview and. Your relationship with Danny and what he was like and if you want to fill in a story about the girl waiting there. Sure.

Speaker Well, Benny was a very warm, generous person in my eyes because I was always amazed that he put up with a young kid who was kind of. Well, I was. Well, let me start again. Benny was very warm and generous, and it surprised me that he put up with a youngster like myself asking all kinds of questions about his youth and and what the music was like and so on. But already I had that interest, you see, which I guess came from the fact that everything that I found in America was new to me, having been born abroad and raised in a very conservative family where Armenian was spoken at home. So whatever it was, discovering baseball, discovering football, discovering swing music was an experience which I went into rather deeply and wanted to find out more about the roots of my English teacher. Would love to hear that of at the end of the sentence. And that's why, for example, in baseball, as soon as I discovered there was someone named Babe Ruth, whose name I saw in a headline as I was walking home from the Hunter College Model School, one day I got into the history of baseball as as a young kid, which most kids in those days weren't doing. But I discovered that there was a real background to this sport, which I played with great pleasure and still follow with a great deal of enjoyment.

Speaker So I'm going to stop here because I've lost the thread of what I was saying with all these asides. Yeah, it's terrible. Are you saying this free association thing is a it's a habit of mine.

Speaker That's why I write with Scotch tape and says, let me also say I have I have a tendency to give things a little earnest tone. Feel free to relax and be loose, OK?

Speaker And, you know, colloquial if you want to be all right. It's something that happens first. I think it'll be important that we try to give it a tone that's fun and good.

Speaker Well, after all, it was nothing but fun. That's good, huh?

Speaker Yeah.

Speaker Junior seat of Rome.

Speaker It just it where I feel before the story about wedding.

Speaker Yeah. A lot, of course, came later. Not the first couple of times.

Speaker Apart from the fact that Benny was so generous with his time and his persona that he invited me to come up to his private room upstairs at the hotel to finish the first interview. Benny did that fairly often because I think he enjoyed talking to somebody other than the people that he saw all the time. And one of the things that I discovered, which I was a bit of a shock to me at that age, was that sometimes we couldn't go into Benny's room, which he kept at the hotels during the week, and then went to his family's home in Jackson Heights on the weekends. Was that he'd open the door and there'd be a beautiful girl sleeping in there. And I realized that this was something that Benny apparently had as part of his life and in that time. And I must say that all the girls were very beautiful. You see, Benny, as I realized later, had been in show business all his life and in New York, and he had worked as a pit musician for various musicals. And so he had a great many friends in the business. And a lot of them were lovely young ladies.

Speaker How do I get out of that?

Speaker But it made it made him very human, you say.

Speaker I wish I had said that earlier. Your roots have lived abroad in America. You felt that he related in some way to your very much immersion in American culture.

Speaker Yeah. That that came out later because he didn't he didn't realize he might start from fresh.

Speaker We'll do it right now. Yeah. OK.

Speaker Well, Benny, I think, related strongly to me because he knew that I was born abroad, that my family that spoken only Armenian when we first came to America. And he felt it. I'm sure as something that was close to his background, his family had come from Russia. The difference, of course, wasn't he. He was a part of a very big family and a very poor family. Whereas we were lucky enough to be fairly well-off. When my father came to America not knowing a word of English and with very little money in his pocket. But he had friends who helped him. So at all times, Benny, I think, felt a special relationship with me. And I remember that he would often use Yiddish words in conversation and then have to translate for me when I looked at him blankly and didn't understand. Although sometimes because he was close to German, which I had learned in school and spoke fairly well, I was able to throw it right back at him in terms of, you know, what that is. And I remember Benny writing things, I guess, in the front of a book or autographing a picture and saying stuff like from one of the most bropho, Benny Goodman. I wish I could think of a specific autograph.

Speaker I have somewhere like that, but it's hard to keep track of all the stuff when you reach my age of all the years and years of accumulation, which my wife despairs about.

Speaker Any other questions you would have asked what he told you about his early life in your mind?

Speaker Not specifically, but I have read the interview, of course, and I realized that he did tell me about his early life. It's in there and quite a bit about the musical part of his background, as well as the fact that he came from.

Speaker I miss that. I can't remember exactly what was said. The damn thing. No, no. I think because this is this is this is OK. It also leads into the short pants thing, which we might as well get straight because a lot of people wonder, what the hell is this? He was wearing swimming trunks. Okay, so we'll start that again.

Speaker How did I begin? I started well. You ask me about the article and what he said.

Speaker You said you spoke musical.

Speaker Yeah. Well, many, many spoke at some length about his musical roots and even his personal life and growing up in Chicago. And one of the things that I remember was that he talked about his first encounter with Bix Beiderbecke, who was really just a name to me. I hadn't heard of Dick's record, I don't believe up to that time. And he used the term which has been reprinted many times. And possibly this was the first time it appeared in print and the Horace Mann newspaper that he was wearing short pants when he went to this job at the age of fifteen or sixteen. And Bix told him to stop fooling around with the instrument, said, then discovered this was his clarinet player for the engagement and the business about short pants. I didn't quite understand. I said, You mean knickerbockers, don't you? Because in those days, even, let's say, the first couple of years of high school, I would sometimes wear these knickerbockers, which are like golfers pants, you know, and let's not not just doesn't happen anymore. And he said, Yeah, yeah, that's right. Short pants, that's what we call them, short pants. And ever since then, people have said to me, what did what did what did Benny mean about playing in short pants?

Speaker And wait a minute.

Speaker Yeah, he was I was about 15.

Speaker OK. No, I was gonna quote Benis saying.

Speaker You know, the business about short pants puzzled me, too. And after then explained, I said, Oh yeah. You mean that? Knickerbockers said Yeah. He didn't think I meant as I was there in swimming trunks that. So that's straightens out something which some people still don't understand to this day.

Speaker Can you tell again the story about when you went to come up to the Spanish loyalists, assure that you couldn't go, right? Of course, no.

Speaker Part of the excitement of being invited backstage with Benny was going along on special events, and one I remember particularly was a benefit for the Spanish loyalists. Benny was invited to bring his quartet up to the event, which was held in a big open meeting hall kind of place on the second floor of a building on Columbus Avenue, rather like Columbus Circle. It was in January, I remember, and Chapman had asked Charlie and me to help him get the instruments especially, of course. Well.

Speaker Shapen and ask me and Charlie to.

Speaker Shapen not out of Africa, chafing at Ask Charlie and Major come help with the drums and Lionel Hampton's vibraphone, which meant strapping instruments on the back of taxicabs. In those days, the taxi cabs had trunk racks, which was a metal frame that came down flat and you could put a trunk or large suitcase on there very easily with straps. So we did that with the bass drum and Lionel's vibraphone. And as I was strapping Lionel Hampton's vibraphone onto the rack, I cut my hand rather badly and wrapped it on a handkerchief. And when he got there, Chape said, George, you can't help carry the instruments up, Charlie, and I'll do it here. You take many Zehr clarinet and go on up there and tell them we're here. So I did. And there was a tremendous hue and cry, and I didn't quite realise what was happening until Chape began coming up the stairs behind me and said, George, I think you're burning now. In those days, I'd really look something like Benny, especially when I wore my total tortoise shell glasses. And he said, play up to it, keep it, keep it going, which I did. And my downfall was that the Spanish loyalists had decided to have a toast. And I thought they were pouring sherry. It looked like Sherry to me. And I joined them in a drink, took a big gulp and almost died because it was my first taste of cognac. Very powerful. That brought a big laugh on. And then, of course, it came out that I was not Benny. And Shapen was the one who had the greatest time of all because there was a gorgeous young lady who was sort of a special hostess and Chape who spoke Spanish, kind of took over and actually took her home to his apartment down in Greenwich Village afterwards and found out that it happened more than once. So I got to see this kind of life that I never participated. I was much too young.

Speaker And it gave me a kind of a breadth of thought, what shall we say, worldliness, which other kids my age didn't have. This also led to things like being completely at ease with black people. We call them Negroes at the time, of course, because I saw that there's nothing unusual about Lionel Hampton or Teddy Wilson or any of the other musicians that I was getting to meet at the time. In fact, the following year, I was a sort of a regular member of the Count Basie softball team that played in Central Park. That came about because I had met Freddie Green, the guitarist John Basey. Soon after we met, he was playing at the Kit Kat Club in Greenwich Village, backing up a singer named ADA Brown. And Freddie was a right fielder of the team and he didn't like baseball very much. So after a couple of innings, he had me his glove and say, go on in there, George, and play for me. So that's how I got to know the guys in the basic band through playing softball with them.

Speaker Goodmans band didn't really have a team. But Harry James was a great enthusiast and he would try to organise games. I never, never saw the Goodman Band for, say, play in Central Park. In fact, the two bands that I really remember of the Lunsford band and the basic band and I don't recall who the basic band played against other than the Lunsford band, but there must've been other musicians, maybe not a band, you know.

Speaker My great memory of the Lunsford band is very simple because Jimmy Lunsford was the pitcher for the Lunsford team and he was very, very good. I think I got one pop up and a ground ball off him. And the times that I bought it against him. The star of that team, by the way, was Jimmy Crawford, the first baseman who was the drummer in the band. And he had a way of catching balls at first base, which I've never seen. You pass his hand in front of a glove. And all of a sudden the ball would be there. By the way, the pitcher from the fella they see bad was Lester Young, who was terrible, but he wouldn't play unless he was allowed to pitch in. He didn't play himself, so he'd he'd let him pitch in. And the basic band usually lost.

Speaker Did you get a relationship with the black guy?

Speaker Yeah, we can talk. Yeah, right.

Speaker Well, Benny was totally impervious to any ideas of color, meaning anything. He was totally at ease with black people and all the time. And of course, the relationship with Terri and Hampton was absolutely normal. This was this was a good lesson for me, I guess, because if I hadn't seen this, then when I began to have contact with the black people, which would have been probably later in my life if I hadn't gotten interested in music, I might have been more uptight. Iltis. That was nothing to me because of seeing what happened with musicians.

Speaker Mutation. Right.

Speaker Another exciting thing that happened with hanging around the Benny Goodman Orchestra in my senior year, Horace Mann was at the end of the year. The band was going on a cross-country tour, and Chape asked me if my parents would let me drive a small truck, which would be, you know, the way the instruments and uniforms were carried. And I thought this was a great idea. So I asked my parents about it and they said, no, it's a terrible disappointment to me because I thought it would be a great experience and I did. I thought I was very persuasive when I spoke to my mother and dad about the experience being so broadening and so forth. But I think they were right not to let me go. And I found out later that Otis Ferguson got the job job such as it was.

Speaker And I guess the fact that he did it instead of me was a good thing because I understand he wrote about it, although I don't really remember reading about it at the time.

Speaker This should just stop what he wrote about it and say that. But what do I say afterwards?

Speaker I'll never do that if I say it was a wonderful life. I wish I could live it all over again. That's that's one segment. I can't go into something else. All right. I'll say. Sure. Well, it was a wonderful life, and I wish I could live it all over again.

Speaker You know, at the end of my senior year at Horace Mann, which would be the you know, somebody was walking up there, you know, that the impact was something which became extremely important throughout the country every morning.

Speaker My first introduction to Benny Goodman, of course, was through the radio. And it was also an introduction which had enormous impact on the music listening public. And it opened up Benny's career the way it worked out. Was this Benny led one of the three bands on the National Biscuit companies three hour program called Let's Dance, which started early in the evening with Carl Murray's sweet band, you know, schmaltzy music. And then it got a little livelier with Savior who got some Latin music. And then the last hour was Benny Goodman playing what we got to know as swing music. Now, what happened in terms of the impact across the country was quite unusual. And no one realize it until Benny did his first transcontinental tour. It developed in this fashion. People in the East didn't listen that much to the Goodman band. I was an exception. I should have been asleep in bed. But Saturday nights I'd turn the radio on very softly while my parents thought I was sleeping and listen to the band. And when Goodner made his first tour, the response and the ballrooms where he played was a rather poor until he got to California. There's a famous story of being in such a dither about the lack of success that you ended up playing waltzes in Colorado. But when he hit the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, the kids who had been listening to him on prime time were out there in force. And the explosion was so great that he didn't come back to New York until the fall of 1936.

Speaker And you said three hours later when you.

Speaker That's right. I realized later that the the kids in California were doing their homework and listening to Benny Goodman. When I was supposed to be asleep in bed. So that's where Benny's explosive popularity began. The end of that tour.

Speaker She jumped back down and tell a story about the summer. Sure.

Speaker One of the great opportunities that didn't happen but think of it fondly was at the end of my senior year at Horace Mann, which was June 1937, Dwight Shape and ask me of I thought my parents would allow me to drive a light truck for the Goodman Band on their cross-country tour. That was going to start at the end of June. And I tried. My parents said, no, no, you're too young. That was a real missed opportunity, I thought, to be with these people whose music I enjoyed so much as personalities I come to enjoy as well. Later on, I found out that the man who did take the job, I say, man, because he was somewhat older than I course was Otis Ferguson, the great writer. And I never did read.

Speaker I don't think Hammond, I wish I could remember if I read it. I'm sorry. I shouldn't even say that. Can we stop?

Speaker I later found out that the person who did drive the truck on that tour was Otis Ferguson, the rider whom I got to know later on. And I guess it's better for everybody that he was on that trip instead of me because he wrote about it very well about it, too.

Speaker Let's remember five brother. Go ahead. You'll take care of that. Some of it is just what it is that you got into the recording business for the war.

Speaker And after the you said you came back and the chance to do bad. Right. I'll try to make it real short.

Speaker So I got into the record business that was really strange, and the first thing that happened was that I was writing the column that Marshall Stearns used to write for Tempo magazine, which was published in California. He had a column called The Collector's Corner, and he also covered the East Coast news. And he was getting bored with it. He was a graduate student getting ready to get his B HD and he passed it on to me. And this led to my getting an idea, which ended up being the first jazz album ever recorded in the history of the business. And that was to record the Chicago musicians who had come east like Peewee Russell, Eddie Cotton and Bud Freeman and so forth, in the same style that they played a decade earlier as young men. There's a little different from what they did when they recorded for the Commodore Music Shop label. And I wrote a letter to Decca Records, which was the one company that was beginning to show a serious interest in popular albums. Tentage 78 albums and propose that they do three albums recreating the original music of New Orleans, Kansas City and Chicago, as only a young kid can do. I filled it with personnels, a different personnel, for each of three sessions, for each album specific repertoire. Why? And so forth. I wish I had the original letters, but the carbon copies, which I'm sure I must have made, are lost. But I do have the handwritten notes that they're based on. Jack Kapp, the president of Decca Records. I wrote back to me and said, come on and we want to talk about your ideas and the nature of the record business in those days was such that he didn't write me a letter. He sent me a one cent postcard. And that, I'm afraid, is also emblematic of why I only did the Chicago album, which was the first and easiest want to do, because Colin and the guys were in New York. Jimmy McPartland was in Chicago and so on. After doing the whole album, including paying for my own trip to Chicago and back and not getting any money until it was all done, plus a thick booklet, well, not thick, but a lengthy book with such as it never appeared in the popular and of the music business before. I said to Bob Stevens that that guy, you know, we haven't talked about money. I said no. And he looked up at the ceiling and said, it's six bits pay. I said, six bits. I said, yes. Seventy five dollars. I still looking at the ceiling. And I realized, oh, I was foolish of me. I should have spoken about money earlier. I can't do anything about it now. So I said, OK, fine. And then when the time came to talk about the next album, which would have been New Orleans. And that would have meant that I could record my great idol, Louis Armstrong, at the age of 20. I realized that I no, forget it. I was exploited. And I and I'll just forget following up somebody else, that it had gone too long.

Speaker Right. At the time, he told you. Oh, sure.

Speaker The first inkling that I had that there had been something very exciting going on in Chicago was, of course, talking to Benny in the first interview. He told me about his youth in Chicago and the musicians that he worked with, particularly, of course, a big spider back. And so that was my introduction to what became the subject of the first jazz album. I knew the background already through Benny and picked up the rest of it through the fact that I had learned French pretty well in school and I was able to get a copy sent over from Paris of Pinochet's book Le Jazz Hot. In fact, I was up on RCA himself who sent it to me because by then I was writing letters to record collectors in England and France in which I would give them my want lists of material that was cut off in the United States, but still available over there. And they would ask me to send them records that were available in America. So this exchange went on for some time with about maybe six different record collectors, including Pat RCA and Charles Deloney, who had done the first discography. In fact, that was the name of the book, Hot Discography. And after the war, Delane, they came to America and Walter Sharp and I edited and worked on the American edition, which was the last edition of Hot Discography.

Speaker Yeah. You. And right then they've got a really good movie. So, you know, again, are end. Yeah.

Speaker He's still getting noise. I don't hear it. Sound of my own voice intrigues me.

Speaker God, I let you said in a few sentences and here I haven't even told how I how I worked for Columbia Records in my junior and senior years.

Speaker Let's go back to the start of the war and what it was like met again in the years.

Speaker OK. You want to skip the part thing about my coming to Columbia Records full time. OK. So now where we're at after the war, I'm working for Columbia Records already.

Speaker Well, when I was a start again. When I came back out of the army in 1946 and started working for Columbia Records on a full time basis, I was the low man on the artists and repertoire totem pole. The word an artist and repertoire wasn't used at the time. The people who did ever simply call the recording directors word producer wasn't even used. And I was really an apprentice. But what I was also doing was putting out the reissue program material which began before the war when I was a junior at Yale. The 78 R.P.M. reissues and both singles and albums called a hot jazz classics. But to me, the future, of course, lay in doing studio work. And there wasn't that much, so I couldn't do an awful lot of it except when somebody was on vacation or sick or Joe Higgins, or I'd forgotten the guy's name again. Maudy Palace predators who tagged along and observed and finally was unable to. Well, I'll say it. All right. So, everybody. So I was the young apprentice on the production staff who got along. So I was the young apprentice on the production staff who were tagged along and observed how things were done in the studio. And gradually I was able to do dates on my own, particularly when people took vacations or did just didn't feel like doing something. And that way, I produced a number of sessions with Benny Aid, with Duke Ellington, Claude Thornhill. People like that. And even Harry James, by the way, who was under contract to Columbia. By then, of course. And it was a wonderful experience because I was able to learn all the little ins and outs of how to produce good recordings in a studio. You can't really learn by just observing. You have to do it yourself. The relationship with Benny grew during that time. But what really was exciting was when Benny left the company, went to Capitol Records and went into his Beatport period and then came back. That was in 1950 and his return took place in an odd way. Ted Wallerstein, the president of the company, called me in one day and said Benny wants to come back to Columbia. And I said, hey, that's great. He said, yeah, he has something very unusual. Turns out that somebody recorded the 1938 Carnegie Hall jazz concert, which I had known about, but it was on a Monday and I was in school at that time. So I wasn't there. And he said, don't listen to it and see if you think we could release this. I said, gee, it sounds wonderful. When can I hear it? They said, well, the engineers have a material upstairs.

Speaker That's a shame. Wait one more second.

Speaker That's a pity because I felt that I was rolling and I could have kept it far.

Speaker I thought it was a wonderful I went upstairs.

Speaker This might be good.

Speaker Well, I thought I was a wonderful idea and I said, when can I hear this? And he said, the engineers are working on it upstairs right now. So we're on up there.

Speaker And Bill Bachman and Bill Savery were processing these big 16 inch aluminum, 33 R.P.M. acetates. And it was a truly wonderful. So we put it out. It turned out to be the hugest selling jazz recording of all time up to that point. And as the Calame with it, Benny resigned with Columbia and I began producing his sessions. I didn't do the first couple I remember. But after that, I guess it was Joe Higgins who had done it. After that, I produced all of his sessions for a number of years. And that was a great deal of fun because the music was right back to my youth. Of course, I was still young then. But to me, that was my extreme youth. And it was good for Benny because he was working again with somebody who knew him in more ways than just being a famous musician and all that. I knew his background, his history, and I knew the music inside out, of course, having grown up with it. The most exciting thing after the success of the Carnegie Hall recordings was discovering that Benny had created a new audience for himself through the release of these concert records, young people, including nieces and nephews of mine who had never heard of Benny Goodman that suddenly discovered that their uncle had had something to do with this new kind of recording that they didn't know anything about. New kind of music, I should say, that they didn't know anything about until then. The enthusiasm of these young kids was really quite tremendous. At that time, there was no rock music. Was just ordinary pop music. But there was a lot of dumb stuff. Of course, we'd gone through the mayors, he notes a period of novelty songs and junk like that. So this brought Benny to the point where he prepared a tour, which I plan to record. And in fact, as a preliminary thing, Bill Savery, the engineer who had done the remastering of the Carnegie Hall concert, took some some microphones and going into too much detail again.

Speaker That was marvelous because. Yeah, really.

Speaker Now we're gonna go into the into the comeback phase of Benny becoming extremely popular again. That's wonderful. Yeah.

Speaker So what happened was this. When Benny launched his tour in New England, I took my own Ampex 350 P, which was a standard recording machine of the time. A portable, in fact, was the same machine that Columbia Records, for example, would take to Philadelphia to record. Eugene Norman in the Philadelphia Orchestra. And Bill Savery took some microphones from the Columbia lockers and tape, and we did some preliminary recording of the tour ended up collapsing. The famous story about conflicts with Louis Armstrong, who was the other half of the tour set up through the Joe Glazer office. Joe was managing Louis at the time. And so we never did release anything from the tour because it did literally collapse as far as Benny was concerned. And and Boston, Providence, I believe, very early on.

Speaker Difficulty's, can you get a sense?

Speaker No, actually, I didn't see any of this conflict because I came back to New York after then he did his first couple of dates in New England and he joined up with Armstrong in Boston. But I heard about it, of course. And it was a big disappointment to me because I also had visions of things like Bennie and Louis jamming together. After a couple of weeks or so of the concerts, I really had a plan that I was going to work on both of them to do this. And I thought they would, but it never came anywhere close to that point. Still, that was despite the fact that the tour collapsed. It created a whole new career for Benny on records at least, and he began to find himself much more in the swim of what was going on in the music business. And although he didn't follow up with the personal appearances, it was a great thing for him because I think Benny had felt somewhat out of it during the period when he was conducting.

Speaker I shouldn't say conducting joint.

Speaker I think this is very good for Benny because that had come on the heels of the period when Capital Records, he was kind of floundering, playing footsie with bebop, and he wasn't really enjoying it, particularly I think he did it because he wanted to be or Koran. And he had bought the idea that somehow his own brand of music was a bit passé. Hello, Eve. Bert, rather quickly, I think, took the attitude that, no, it's not passé. That's what it is. It's valid and it will last just the way it is. And that turned out to be exactly that. The next big thing that happened with Benny was some years later.

Speaker That was marvelous. Yes. It was a collective tell the story. That's right.

Speaker Yes. That's right. I, I, yeah, I was.

Speaker But then I suddenly realized that he had a second jab in the arm, as it were, with the broadcast recordings. We don't want the broadcast recordings.

Speaker Oh yeah. Let's do that. No I can I can do it right now. Then go into go into Russia. Yeah.

Speaker OK.

Speaker The next jump that Benny had in popularity came about again through old recordings. Bill Savery was a big Goodman fan as a young man had made recordings of Goodman broadcasts in 1937 and into 38 while he was working as a technician in radio. He said simply he took time out to record a half hour broadcast. Every now and then he played these for Benny, who was absolutely Florida. Imagine getting a second shot in the arm, as it were, in your career with things that you didn't realize existed. And for me, it was great, too, because I was right back there in my Horace Mann days. It was as a band that I loved the 1937 band, not album didn't sell as well as Carnegie Hall. It was a better album from every point of view. Sound wise and musically as well as we could choose and reject. Well, we didn't want, of course, but that again created a big demand for Benny. And I was delighted to see this happen for him because Benny was a very sensitive person and he took it quite to heart when things didn't go the way he would have liked in his own career, as well as all aspects of his life. So when Benny was happy, everybody was happy. When Benny was not happy, nobody was happy. The next thing that happened with Benny that was so exciting was some years later in nineteen sixty two, when I was with RCA, head of the popular artist and Repertoire Department, then Benny had always been interested in going to Russia and this was something that I wanted to do too. But that was not in the context of jazz. My wife, Sister Morreau Ajemian, was the pianist to introduce Scotch Rotarians music to America, and she did it in a dramatic way in 1942. She was a student at Juilliard and the Juilliard School was invited to present a concert with its orchestra to raise money for Russian war relief. And she was asked to play a concerto rather than play brought modern offer Czajkowski. She thought she should play something by a contemporary Soviet composer, and she found the name Khachaturian in the files of OMURICE. The publishing company that the Soviet Union had set up in America turned out to be a fine concerto, and it was a huge success. I thought that 20 years later, in 1962, R.O. should go to Moscow and play the concerto with Hot-Air to train, conducting as a symbol of renewed friendship with the people of the Soviet Union because the Cold War had kind of gotten a little bit better in those days. It took me a year to get to the Soviet Union, but I got there in 61 and proposed the idea. And the people at the Ministry of Culture said it's very interesting that they also said, Mr. Vaki, we know that you are very active in jazz. How would you feel if a jazz orchestra was the first that we invite over for the upcoming cultural exchange program? I said I thought that would be great. Well, who would you recommend? I said, that's easy. Louis Armstrong first because he epitomizes jazz. He was born and raised in New Orleans at the beginning of jazz. And he's the greatest individual instrumentalist and singer that the music has ever known. Most influential. And he's a great entertainer. No, no. They said he would be too popular. Our people would get too excited. Well, I thought that was kind of crazy. And I said, who else do you recommend? I said, Duke Ellington, because he's our greatest arranger, composer, bandleader. And your people would understand his music because Russian people love classical music. And Duke is our classical jazz person. They said, no, no, no. He would be too sophisticated, too different. They wouldn't understand him. Well, I thought that was wrong. But then they said, who else? I said, that's easy. Benny Goodman, the great popularizer of swing music. He made jazz a household thing all over the world. And his parents came from Russia. And I think he would be very understandable if he came here. People would I would would understand what he was doing, because this is really the best of popular music worldwide. I said, yes, yes, that's a very good idea. And sure enough, within a year the invitation came through and I immediately called Benny and said, hey, let's record this. He said, wonderful. I said, we'll make a real document, multiple LP set, and it'll be unlike anything that ever happened before. Was gung ho for it. We set it up and I ran into my first obstacles, which lasted for many years, but had a peculiar twist at the end, which I'll tell you about, in which I wasn't able to get my visa until after the opening night, which was a subtle way, lots of subtle way of the government of the Soviet government telling Benny and myself that they didn't want too much emphasis on the documentation of the tour. But I did get over the second after the second concert and the album that came out of this ended up being the best thing that Benny had done since the revival period that we've talked about, brought on by the Carnegie Hall concert and the broadcast recordings. The experience was quite unusual for me, too, because I'd been born in the southern part of Russia, just north of the Caucasus, and had been raised and came to America from my beliefs, which we call tipplers the capital of Georgia and in Georgia. It was it was a madhouse. I found out that I was I was like a household name because all the young jazz fans knew the recordings. And my name had been on so many of them. I sign as many autographs, I think, as Benetton. And the local newspaper had a picture of me with some of the musicians on the front page and crowds followed everywhere I went. But the great, great thrill was to find the house that my father at home had sold when we left and came to America. And an old lady who was something like 86 years old remembered me and remembered my whole family when I went to visit the house. It was it was quite something. The only obstacles with interference by the KGB and so forth were overcome. The album was a great success. Benny, again, had a revival of his career. And we went on to record a revival of the original quartet. The last time they got together was a perfect title. I said, let's call it together again. And we even had to find a title for an original tune, and that was obvious, too. For once more. I was the last recording that I did with Danny, and it was a delightful one.

Speaker He said that I proposed Benny as a third driver, Pete, that Benny is a third choice, right? Yeah, I'll do that.

Speaker Go. OK, you tell me your.

Speaker So then they said, well, who else? I said, that's easy to Benny Goodman because he is the great popularizer of swing music and made jazz a household word all over the world. And his music is not only heard everywhere, but emulated everywhere by other musicians, including right here in the Soviet Union. So the other factor is that Benny's mother and father came from Russia. So there is still another appealed to the public here. They said, yes, yes, Benny would be a very good choice. And I went home thinking, well, if they do this, it probably will be Benny. And sure enough, it was within a year. Then he got the invitation. And as soon as I heard about it, I called him up and said, Benny, let's go over there and recorded a record. The tour will make a documentary such as The Never Was. It'll be a tremendous thing. Benny was very enthused about this. He felt very strongly that this was an important event in his life and that it related to me as well as to him, as I will explain in a moment. So for him, it was like a homecoming, but for me it was even more so because when I went with the band to Tiflis, which is why we haven't forgotten yet an experience like that.

Speaker You get it. Once you got the game reweight.

Speaker That he didn't get the sort of emotional homecoming feeling that you got when you were donative.

Speaker I was bored. That's that's a hard question, I have to think about it, actually.

Speaker I think Vanney got a great deal out of the tour for himself emotionally. He had a hard time, though, because he was under a great deal of pressure, which was mostly self-induced. I felt. I think he took the whole trip so seriously that if anything, what the least bit wrong. It became exaggerated in his mind. It made for problems with the musicians, which don't show up in the recordings, particularly that the tour should have been more pleasurable for him than it was because he did appreciate the aspect of going back to the country that his parents came from, even though they left under unpleasant conditions. I'm sure, just as my parents were very glad to get away from the Soviet Union. And I used to thank them constantly, a life for myself, my brother, my sister. Totally changed.

Speaker I shouldn't have even gotten into that.

Speaker My voice sounds dry. I feel it. Yeah, definitely.

Speaker All right, when did Penny die exactly? Nineteen eighty six.

Speaker I was wondering if I had been knighted by the Maltese government by then. But I had been put.

Speaker But that was for more general thing. Lifetime of this. Yeah. That's where we're gonna pick up.

Speaker Oh yeah. You know.

Speaker And everyone from.

Speaker Well, Benny didn't live to see it, but he was more responsible than any other single factor for the most unexpected and unusual honor that I've ever received in my life, which was the order of Lenin, the highest the highest award given by the Soviet government. And I'm still trying to find other Americans who may have gotten it. And this is what it looks like. It's a great.

Speaker Yeah. I don't want to look at the news. It fell down. It fell down because it's heavy. You know, damn thing is, you keep going.

Speaker Well, out of reach again. Okay. Well, I'm going to I'm going to put it here. Oh, how great a map. I can do it. So let it rests on top of something else. Yeah. Very easy. I've pulled a flap over and it's in the right position so I have to look, whatever I said was it again.

Speaker How did I started I had a good first sentence.

Speaker You know, it's so short.

Speaker Yeah, yeah. Benneton that napkin. Well then he didn't live to see it, but he was responsible more than any other single factor. For the most unusual honor that I've ever seen in my life. In fact, I don't know any other American who's received the order of Lenin, which is the highest award in the history of the Soviet Union. And it came about in 1990 after venire died. And this is what it looks like. It's a. Lenin's head in platinum, surrounded by gold and an ordinary safety pin on the back. But this this was given to me largely through the appreciation of the Soviet Composers Union, which means the musical establishment, not union. And our sense for the years of effort that I put into good relationships between the two countries through the medium of music, which also helped Soviet musicians, of course. And this was a pattern with my feeling about how American music can be used all over the world, in fact. The Knights of Malta knighted me in 1984 for a lifetime of try to remember it. Lifetime devoted to the documentation, preservation and dissemination of American music throughout the world. Finally remembered it.

Speaker So those are those are the things that are especially rewarding, because having been born abroad and seen this part of America with eyes that are perhaps somewhat different from the view that is perceived by a native born American, jazz and American music had a very strong, so significant said to me, when I say American music, I mean contemporary classical music as well.

Speaker How did you get a sense that Russians appreciate how they were right?

Speaker The appreciation of a public. The appreciation of the Soviet public, of the music and the mere presence of the musicians was really enormous.

Speaker It's hard to describe that. I had one rare experience and toothless the night before the last concert as I was walking to the back stage entrance of a concert hall as some young musicians and I rushed up to me as as often happened. I thought they were going to ask for an autograph. Instead, they grasped my hands and said, thank you. Thank you for bringing Mr. Goodman and his wonderful musicians. I said. I didn't do it. I'm just here on the trip. They said, it doesn't matter. We know you came from here and you're a symbol of what can come back to the country. Just as Benny has come back to us from his parents departure and that sort of thing. It was an extremely emotional situation. And I thought to myself, wow, these people are really dramatic, just as I had always heard. But it was so heartfelt. I can't tell you how moving it was. And Benny got the same kind of thing, too. And he would he would speak of it years later that the response was so wonderful. And he realized quite fully how much of a release his performances had given to people who had been suppressed for so long and had learned about the music through things like the broadcasts of The Voice of America by Willis Conover, when suddenly I think is the most unsung international American hero of all time. Willis's voice is so well known outside the United States, and especially in countries such as the Soviet bloc, where anything American was blocked out many times through jamming and all that. I was surprised to find people speaking to me and phrases which I recognized were Willis's and even Wallace's American accent. This is what this would happen to me in Poland and Czechoslovakia as well as the Soviet Union.

Speaker Let's skip that one right now. Right.

Speaker Right. Moving into the makower, right. OK.

Speaker Now, one of the memorable things about Benny was his marriage to Alice. Alice Hammond I'd met before. And frankly, I was surprised that the two of them got married because they were very much alike. But maybe that's part of the attraction that makes for such a wonderful marriage and had written to both that indeed, I never had seen two such different people who also were wrapped up in each other. This was obvious in a family context. I often visited Benny and Alice in their home in Stamford. And their relationship with the children. Benny was a wonderful father. He would never complain about the kids interrupting have been in Iowa talking or listening to records in the house and on the Soviet tour.

Speaker His two daughters, Safire and I'm sorry.

Speaker Wait a minute. What's the fire there? Benji? All right, I remember I remember Rachel soft.

Speaker Let me change that on the tour. Two of his daughters were with him. And I remember especially Rachel, who had become a rather good pianist and I guess was the really the apple of venison. I don't know if that's true, but I thought of it that way. He was he was constantly concerning himself with then busy as he was. So were a feeling for the kids. Was just as strong when they were traveling. As back home and back in Connecticut. The changes in Benny after he got married, I thought were rather interesting because Benny was a I always thought a kind of a rough and ready guy was only interested in music. But after a year married Alice, I guess I saw things such as that. His appreciation of art. He had marvelous paintings as a living room in New York, for example. Apart from a Picasso. There was a gorgeous Monet of the famous rock with the hole in it. I forget the cape that Monet painted so many times. And it was a thrill to me because I. I think when I was the greatest painter of all time to be able to see that one painting as often as I wanted and to see it through Benny's eyes because the impressionist period was what he loved most of all. And I think it's because he was a musician who really was an impressionist in his own way, even though his kind of swing music was a very specific music, nevertheless. It was an impression of many different emotions, all put into one package, which was a unity despite the variety that it contained.

Speaker Wow. Where did that come from? Because you.

George Avakian
Interview Date:
1993-01-20
Runtime:
1:10:30
Keywords:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-j09w08x241, cpb-aacip-504-w37kp7vj99, cpb-aacip-504-8k74t6fp7x
MLA CITATIONS:
"George Avakian, Benny Goodman: Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 20 Jan. 1993, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/433
APA CITATIONS:
(1993, January 20). George Avakian, Benny Goodman: Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/433
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"George Avakian, Benny Goodman: Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). January 20, 1993. Accessed October 19, 2021 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/433

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