Thursday, April 2, 2015

#A-TO-Z CHALLENGE 2015 – LETTER “B” - BENNY GOODMAN – THE “KING OF SWING”


It was 1944, and swing music was making huge inroads in places in America and overseas, following American troops as they made their way into the various theaters of war. The U. S. O. was putting on shows for the boys in the various branches of the Military, and one of these boys, was serving on Okinawa, at the young age of seventeen, having been given permission by his mother (his only living parent) to join the Army, after having dropped out of high school the year before, bored with the whole thing. He mustered out of San Francisco and joined up with the forces on Okinawa, partially as occupation forces and partly as escorts to the U. S. O. girls. Talk about letting the fox into the hen house! The young man's name? Glenn Alton Wallace, Junior. He would not only go on to not distinguish himself in the Army, but he would later go on to join the Air Force and become a pilot of B-29s in the Korean Action. The man loved to take risks.


Lieutenant Glenn A. Wallace, Jr., Korea, 1952

He also loved music and he loved Swing. In 1955, when he somehow became ensnared by my mother's wiles and they married after his Air Force stint, I came along – funny how that happens. My mother had decided early on that she was NOT going to be married to a man of leisure, nor one that had no education, although my father, for a high-school drop out, was a smart man. He aced the college entrance exams and went back to college on the GI bill and graduated from college within three years; third in his class. I came along during his second year of school. He brought me home from the hospital and was my primary care-giver. He took me to class with him, took me to the bar – I learned to walk in that bar at 9 months of age; the Wallaces being precocious drunks – after class and I “did” homework with him. Doing homework with him meant me shutting my trap for a few hours, and the way to do this was to put SOMETHING on the 33 1/3 record-player.


Sheila Wallace, circa 1980. Yeah, my mom was a pilot, too. Me? I hate hate hate hate hate hate hate loathe flying. I'm not keen on balloons, either

In all probability, and in hindsight, he most likely could have played anything and I would have been happy. But, he played music he liked and in turn, growing up with that kind of music, I learned to love it. Thank God he and my mother were eclectic.


My 2nd Christmas, 1956. My first one was spent in an incubator. Note the festive bottle of talcum powder by the Christmas tree; a must-have for Festive Christmas-type decorations. My dad just looks relieved because he's on winter break from school. Unfortunately, there was no winter break from me.

He played everything from Debussy to Rachmaninoff, from Artie Shaw to Margaret Whiting, from Beethoven to Schumann. But his absolute favorite era was the Swing era, typically from the mid-30s to just after World War II. His absolute favorite group was the Glenn Miller (more about him later) Orchestra, with songs like “In the Mood” and “String of Pearls”, but for my money, the one song that is just so much fun and exemplifies so much excellent musicianship (for reasons I'll explain) is Benny Goodman's “Sing Sing Sing”.

courtesy:youtube.com

My folks used to jitterbug and I learned how to do it at an early age. It's rather improvisational, once you get the basic steps down, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. Think break-dancing while being vertical. Anyway, my dad and I would jitterbug to “Sing Sing Sing” and my mother would holler from the kitchen, “Don't break the furniture!” I'm pretty sure she thought we were rough-housing, but we were dancing.


There are several versions of this, but this is my favorite. 

The song was originally written by Louis Prima and has lyrics, but is most strongly identified with Benny Goodman, when he played it at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles in 1936, during his second tour there. For the next several years, Goodman said, they were never able to play one-nighters without including this favorite.


Me, now, unscathed by any airplane encounters.

In analyzing the song itself, I note that the sudden crescendos and decrescendos in the horns and trombones are completely tight. The “bent” notes, so very typical in jazz and blues, are also precise, without seeming so. Goodman's playing is also remarkable because he, unlike many of the “Big Band” players had some classical training and later went on to commission pieces from Bartok, collaborate with Ingolf Dahl, an emigre composer at USC and director of the Victor Borge show and Goodman also recorded versions of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. Clarinetists of the modern era will be forever grateful to Goodman for his work with composers Aaron Copland, Morton Gould and Malcolm Arnold, as well.


There's only one composer that I dislike intensely and have throughout my life; Mozart. With the exception of his "Mass in C minor" and "Don Giovanni" his music is like the same thing written 600 times over and it's a pain in the ass to play. Since I'm going to be 60 years old this year and have played violin and/or viola since age 11, I'm not going to be changing my mind about him anytime soon. Deal with it, Mozart lovers.


I know that in my musical life, when I first started out playing and listening, I fully expected to play predominantly classical music, but that's not the way it turned out. Although it is my first love, I did learn to play other styles; blues, jazz, hip-hop and even rock and roll. I've even play “Sing Sing Sing” with Bobby Vinton of all people. The great and wonderful thing about music is that you're not restricted to one genre, nor should you have to be. The only requirements needed are a willingness to learn and an open mind. Without those, we would not have the inventiveness and the brilliance that we should expect in all musicians; something I try to aspire to, but not always successfully. 

8 comments:

Heather M. Gardner said...

It's a wonderful music background to have. So lucky!

Heather M. Gardner
Co-host: Blogging from A to Z April Challenge
Blog: The Waiting is the Hardest Part [http://hmgardner.blogspot.com/]

Doreen McGettigan said...

Of course I love Benny but I really loved your photo's. The powder is awesome:)

ivy walker said...

I used to adore flying but am for some reason becoming more anxious about it... I would love a real musical talent and background...not to be ... oh well... I do love Benny though!

Viola Fury said...

@Heather!

Thank you! I should thank my folks! My dad, who played no instrument, had perfect pitch, and we sang together all the time. I knew from about age 4, that I wanted to play an instrument and do something in music. I just didn't know I was going to do THIS much! Thank you so much for stopping by!. Off to the X-Files! Mary

Viola Fury said...

@Doreen!

Thanks so much for stopping by! That powder is really the center of the post! LOL! When I looked at those picture again recently, I was like "ah, of course, the Wallace curse strikes again." Because, normally, everyone's heads or feet are lopped off. If that doesn't happen, an inanimate object manages to photobomb the pic. It's in the genes apparently. I take appallingly bad pictures! Thanks again!

Viola Fury said...

@Ivy!

Thanks for stopping by; flying is a necessary evil in my book, what with playing and traveling. My two parental units did it for fun! Gah! My father was a true master at it and had been from day one; he was a born pilot and his inspiration was an African American pilot who flew with the Flying Espadrilles in WWI! Bear in mind, too that my father flew with PEOPLE ON THE GROUND SHOOTING AT HIM!!!!!! AND, HE HAD LIVE AMMUNITION AND BOMBS ON HIS B-29!!!!!

My mother was competent and I could barely stand to watch her take off; all that crabbing and yawing down the runway. She'd say, "Would you like a ride?" She may as well have asked me if I wanted ebola. I would fly with my dad, but then he'd start doing tricks and I'd tell him to let me out. They were both crazy.

Benny was marvelous; as was Glenn Miller. He disappeared on December 15, 1944. My father's first name is Glenn, and my birthday is December 15, 1955. -_- I'm not sure what to make of any of that. Well, I'm glad you stopped by, Ivy, and I will be sure and visit you!

Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Oh, I love me some Benny Goodman. The early stuff is the best, in my opinion.

Viola Fury said...

@Her Grace!

Thanks for stopping by! I too, love his early stuff more, as well. I think the years Just prior to and during World War II, were a golden era for Big Band music and afterwards, music was looking for that next "Big Thing" to propel it forward. Some people say that started around the time Elvis Presley hit it big, but I contend it really started with The Beatles, and in my uni, there was a 2-semester course on the importance of the Beatles and what they mean to not only Rock 'n' Roll, but also the musical devices that crept into Modern Classical music. The great thing about music is it is such a huge world, and there is so much that is rich and varied. I don't get caught up in Beatles v. Stones debates, with one exception: Mozart, who I feel was lionized beyond all understanding. He wrote 2 excellent pieces at the end of his life; "Mass in C minor" and "Don Giovanni". Everything else was the same thing 600 times, with minor variations. His music is dry, jejune and hard to play, with no rewarding emotional payoff. I'm truly an iconoclast in this, but my opinion is the same now, at age 59, as it was at age 19, and no musical "broadening" or epiphany has occurred. I'm pretty sure it's not gonna happen. But for Goodman, and the Dorseys, Glenn Miller and all the greats from that era? I can't get enough! Thanks again for stopping by, and I'm sorry for the screed, Her Grace! :D