Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Benny Goodman and the Swing Era

By James Lincoln Collier

Genre: Jazz, Swing

In the past month, I've read three biographies about musicians; one on Leonard Cohen, punk rocker Ricard Hell's autobiography, and now this excellent biography on Jazz musician Benny Goodman. I must say it is a pleasure to read a biography that is more about the actual music than who the musician slept with.

In fact, this rather scholarly work is more about the swing era of the thirties than the individual. While covering Goodman's life from birth to death, the author focuses mainly on his contribution to American music and the unique era of swing which was when Jazz was at its height of popularity. Collier doesn't forsake other musicians either, showing the early influences of Fletcher Henderson and others who led bands before Goodman and covering all of the major jazz musician that passed through the Goodman orchestra and small groups. I also liked how Collier explores the particular personality of his subject and explains how it affected both Goodman's music and career without descending into gossip. If you have any interest in the popular music of the 30s and 40s or in the history of Jazz, this is essential reading.

Background CD: Benny Goodman - The Complete RCA Victor Small Group Recordings

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