The Swing Era was that magic moment in America when the popular music of the nation became virtually identical with the great new music of the period--jazz. The man most responsible for bringing this memorable music to popularity was the so-called "King of Swing"--Benny Goodman. In this controversial and widely acclaimed book, James Lincoln Collier tells the story of Goodman's life as seen through the music and social world of the years of the Great Depression in the 1930s and beyond.
Born of poor Jewish immigrant parents in Chicago in 1910, Benny Goodman's career was a rags-to-riches story brought to life. When he was ten years old he joined the local synagogue band with two of his brothers, and because he was the smallest of the three was given a clarinet. Proving to be a natural clarinetist, Goodman left home at fifteen to join the famous Ben Pollack orchestra. His clarinet playing became legendary before he was twenty, and he was one of the most sought-after jazzmen for radio shows and orchestras that needed a talented player on short notice.
Collier brilliantly recreates the colorful popular music world of the 1920s and 1930s, when the music industry was just expanding, radio was the great source of musical entertainment, and swing bands that had emerged out of the growth of jazz in the 1920s were first finding national audiences. He chronicles the rise and success of Goodman and his band against the social milieu and popular music of the time. Goodman's success was built largely on the arrangements of the brilliant black musician, Fletcher Henderson. He was the first leader to hire black musicians for a white band--Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton--and a number of major musical figures got their start in the band, among them Gene Krupa, Harry Janes, and Peggy lee. Collier also deals in detail with Goodman's simultaneous career as a classical musician.
Benny Goodman was a brilliant musician but an enigmatic man. Collier's biography captures this elusive personality with great insight and understanding. Collier perceptively analyzes dozens of Goodman's significant recordings and makes the reader hear them afresh. Benny Goodman and the Swing Era is a major work about jazz and one of its most significant figures.
'Collier's book amplifies very extensively Goodman's autobiography, The Kingdom of Swing.'
Times Literary Supplement 'the most reliable of Collier's three jazz biographies'
Jazztimes, November 1991 'the book gives a new and fascinating insight into Goodman's particular style of leadership and discipline ... This is, without a doubt, the most in-depth analysis of any band leader ... that you are ever likely to read.'
Tony Parker, Oldham Evening Chronicle 'Collier's probing of Goodman's personality and his assessment of the music it created is superior to his earlier studies of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.'
Times Literary Supplement 'this is a substantial and recommendable read'
Wire Monthly 'authoritative study ... The author gives a scrupulous account of Goodman's life and character, without indulging in excessive psychological speculation. He also presents an excellent survey of the rise of the big band.'
Geoffrey Smith, Country Life 'Even with the benefit of all the diligent research that has made this book so gripping, Collier is unable to explain why Goodman could be so uniquely nasty ... a disturbing and revealing account of one of the most paradoxical lives in jazz.'
Jazz FM `Collier... writes wonderfully well'
Devon Life 'brilliantly chronicled by James Lincoln Collier in this in-depth study ... With its fine photographs, notes, index and discography, it belongs in every jazz fan's library.'
Elaine Ives-Cameron, Jewish Chronicle 'his book leaves us with a sharply drawn, far from flattering portrait of the ambitious, totally self-centred clarinettist and band leader ... But Collier paints an enthralling picture of the whole American popular music industry through to the fifties ... Collier is an extremely able social historian ... His ensembles blow as hard as his solos making this book an indispensable companion to the records.'
John Ellis, The Guardian 'he has marshalled the available data very diligently ... a commendable work on the Jewish boy from the ghetto who made good'
Jim Godbolt, Sunday Telegraph 'The author gives a scrupulous account of Goodman's life and character, without indulging in excessive psychological speculation. He also presents an excellent survey of the rise of the big band.'
Geoffrey Smith, Country Life