Jazz at 100 Hour 20: Small Groups – Benny Goodman, Django Reinhardt, John Kirby

Django Reinhardt

In the last hour we heard from prominent Swing Era soloists Chu Berry, Roy Eldridge, Johnny Hodges and Lester Young, featured in small group settings. Continuing in the small group vein, in this hour we’ll hear from the Benny Goodman Trio, Quartet and sextet, Django Reinhardt and le Quintette Du Hot Club de France avec Stephane Grappelli and the influential, but less well known sextet led by bassist John Kirby.

Benny Goodman Small Groups.
While known for his Big Band, Goodman was deeply rooted in small ensembles from his childhood in Chicago where he was directly influenced by Jimmie Noone (Apex Club Orchestra) and Leon Rappolo (New Orleans Rhythm Kings). After playing with everyone from Red Nichols to Bix Beiderbecke to Hoagy Charmichael, Goodman formed his orchestra in 1933. By 1935, he was recording in a trio format as well, giving him a chance to stretch out in a group improvisational setting. To his credit he courageously and openly recorded and performed with African-American pianist Teddy Wilson along with his old Chicago pal, drummer, Gene Krupa. The next year, the black vibraphonist, Lionel Hampton was added to make the legendary Benny Goodman Quartet. In 1939, Goodman expanded the group further to include Cootie Williams, from the Ellington band and pioneering electric guitarist Charlie Christian (a childhood friend of blues legend T-Bone Walker and author Ralph Ellison!).

“If Goodman was primarily a popularizer of big bands, he was an innovator of small ones.” – Gary Giddens

Body and Soul. Benny Goodman Trio
(Benny Goodman-cl, Teddy Wilson-p, Gene Krupa-d). 7/13/1935. (The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
“Teddy Wilson’s piano solo … is a kind of miracle of originality in melody and phrasing” – Martin Williams in the notes for The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz
“Boasting a clear, singing piano tone—one as appropriate for a Mozart piano concerto as for a swing combo—and a subtle sense of dynamics, Wilson offered a more delicate variant of jazz piano than that practiced by a Hines or a Waller.” – Ted Gioia
Dinah. Benny Goodman Quartet
(Benny Goodman-cl, Teddy Wilson-p, Lionel Hampton-vib, Gene Krupa-d). 8/26/1936. (The Norton Jazz Recordings)
“In the Goodman Quartet’s 1936 recording, the mood is exuberant and playful, even bewildering: during Lionel Hampton’s introduction, it’s virtually impossible to hear where the downbeat is. The four musicians paly in an informal jam-session, exercising their freedom to listen and interact spontaneously.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

“The chamber groups also gave Goodman the opportunity to indulge himself as a clarinetist on wistful ballads (‘The Man I Love’…) and flashy stomps (… ‘China Boy’) and rekindled the spark of his earlier playing. They gave him the chance to work with favorite musicians without regard to race… Goodman was a hot player whose adroit blues choruses distinguished him almost from the start during his days in Chicago. His command of every register enabled him to contrive a style of high drama and earthy swing.” – Gary Giddens

China Boy. Benny Goodman Trio
(Benny Goodman-cl, Teddy Wilson-p, Gene Krupa-d). 4/24/1936.
“Goodman’s clarinet sound, driving and impeccably in tune, is riveting. In ‘China Boy,’… he nails the beat rapidly, right on top of it, while vibraphone, piano, and drums gather around his orientation to rhythm; his arpeggiated figures are followed hand in glove by [Teddy] Wilson. His ascent into the high register is palpable, like a time-elapsed film of a tree shooting out of the ground.” – Ben Ratliff
The Man I Love. Benny Goodman Quartet
(Benny Goodman-cl, Teddy Wilson-p, Lionel Hampton-vib, Gene Krupa-d). 7/30/1937.

“[Charlie] Christian, playing amplified guitar in a style based on a saxophone style – and especially Lester Young’s – was a rare jazzman by any standard, and aside from considerations of instrument. He had a scant two years of public exposure, chiefly as a member of Goodman’s small ensemble, and was dead at age 23. His work has been a major influence on all subsequent jazz guitarists…” – Martin Williams in the notes for The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz

Breakfast Feud. Benny Goodman Sextet
(Cootie Williams-tp, George Auld-ts, Benny Goodman-cl, Ken Kersey-p, Charlie Christian-g, Artie Bernstein-b, Harry Jaeger-d). 12/19/1940 & 1/15/1941 (The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
I Found A New Baby. Benny Goodman Sextet
(Cootie Williams-tp, George Auld-ts, Benny Goodman-cl, Count Basie-p, Charlie Christian-g, Artie Bernstein-b, Harry Jaeger-d). 1/15/1941. (The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)

Django Reinhardt.
One of the first great solo guitar voices in jazz, the Belgian Reinhardt was heavily influenced by American records and played with ex-pat players in Paris in the 1920’s and 1930’s. “Whenever I meet guitarists who tell me they’d love to play like Django I tell them to listen to Louis Armstrong. That’s what Django did, that’s why Django phrased everything the way he did. Just listen to Louis play and you’ll understand what Django was all about.” – Guitarist Martin Taylor

Dinah. Django Reinhardt et le Quintette Du Hot Club de France avec Stephane Grappelli
(Stephane Grappelli-vln, Django Reinhardt-g, Roget Chaput-g, Joseph Reinhardt-g, Louis Vola-b). 12/1934. (The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
“On ‘Dinah’ he intermingles bouncy triplets and bluesy asides with forceful octaves, setting a standard for ease of execution and invention that would be amplified in later Quintette recordings such as ‘Djangology’…” – Ted Gioia
Djangology. Django Reinhardt et le Quintette Du Hot Club de France avec Stephane Grappelli
(Stephane Grappelli-vln, Django Reinhardt-g, Pierre Feret-g, Joseph Reinhardt-g, Louis Vola-b). 9/1935.

“The band’s instrumentation revealed a fresh break with the traditions of American jazz. In place of the brass, reed, and percussion elements so prominent in African American music, the Quintette employed a violin, three guitars, and bass. But the distinctive character of this group went beyond its reliance on strings instead of horns. Reinhardt and Grappelli brought a specifically European perspective— drawing on gypsy music, classical composition, and local folk traditions—to bear on their jazz work. The band’s repertoire was drawn from disparate sources: a swing version of a Bach concerto movement or a bolero inspired by Ravel might be juxtaposed with pop compositions by George Gershwin or Noel Coward, or coexist alongside a New Orleans warhorse such as ‘Tiger Rag.’ This was music that respected no national boundaries, as nomadic as Reinhardt’s gypsy forebears. The cross-cultural roots of the Quintette were felt also in the style of improvisation, especially Reinhardt’s. With a fresh lyricism, he cut through the clichés of early American jazz guitar, discarding the banjo-inspired syncopations and ponderous rhythms in favor of more a fluid approach, one that was both melodically inventive and rhythmically inspired. Grappelli, for his part, thrived in this context, but this artist demonstrated, in later decades, that his violin could adapt to almost any type of setting, jazz or otherwise.” – Ted Gioia

Georgia On My Mind. Django Reinhardt et le Quintette Du Hot Club de France avec Stephane Grappelli
(Stephane Grappelli-vln, Django Reinhardt-g, Pierre Feret-g, Joseph Reinhardt-g, Louis Vola-b, Freddy Taylor-voc). 10/15/1936.
After You’ve Gone. Django Reinhardt et le Quintette Du Hot Club de France avec Stephane Grappelli
(Stephane Grappelli-vln, Django Reinhardt-g, Pierre Feret-g, Joseph Reinhardt-g, Lucien Simoens-b, Freddy Taylor-voc). 5/4/1936.
Shine. Django Reinhardt et le Quintette Du Hot Club de France avec Stephane Grappelli
(Stephane Grappelli-vln, Django Reinhardt-g, Pierre Feret-g, Joseph Reinhardt-g, Louis Vola-b, Freddy Taylor-voc). 10/15/1936.

“… Reinhart’s music was rooted in Gallic joie de vivre; for its high craft, it’s essentially chummy and lighthearted. The way the songs are played, sweet and fast, can sound like the only way to play them, and that’s that. You don’t want to be different from Django; you want to be Django, to share the same earthy humor and sweetness and light” – Ben Ratliff

John Kirby.
John Kirby “… the best-known bassist of the Swing Era … was famous not because of his playing, which was conventional and flawed, but because he led the most popular small jazz band of its day (1937 – 42), an unusually minimalist sextet that prefigured the cool style of the 1950’s.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

Coquette. John Kirby and his Orchestra
(Charlie Shavers-tp, Buster Bailey-cl, Russell Procope-as, Billy Kyle-p, John Kirby-b, O’Neil Spencer-d/voc). 7/9/1940.
Zooming At The Zombie. John Kirby and his Orchestra
(Charlie Shavers-tp, Buster Bailey-cl, Russell Procope-as, Billy Kyle-p, John Kirby-b, O’Neil Spencer-d/voc). 7/9/1940.
Jumpin’ in the Pump Room. John Kirby and his Orchestra
(Charlie Shavers-tp, Buster Bailey-cl, Russell Procope-as, Billy Kyle-p, John Kirby-b, O’Neil Spencer-d/voc). 4/22/1940.

“[John Kirby’s] band book offered witty jazz, even broad-brush corny at times; its swing was close cut. In the service of humor more than pretension, the band flirted with the classical canon, performing glosses on Beethoven (‘Beethoven Riffs On’) and Schubert (‘Schubert’s Serenade,’…; its self-consciously controlled dynamics were what jazz critics would start calling ‘chamber jazz’ a little while later.” – Ben Ratliff

Bounce of the Sugar Plum Fairies. John Kirby and his Orchestra
(Charlie Shavers-tp, Buster Bailey-cl, Russell Procope-as, Billy Kyle-p, John Kirby-b, O’Neil Spencer-d/voc). 1/15/1941.
Beethoven Riffs On. John Kirby and his Orchestra
(Charlie Shavers-tp, Buster Bailey-cl, Russell Procope-as, Billy Kyle-p, John Kirby-b, O’Neil Spencer-d/voc). 1/15/1940.

This concludes the twentieth program in the Jazz at 100 series. We have completed our survey of the music of the teens, twenties and thirties. The 1940s, with all their musical upheaval awaits our exploration.

In the next hour, we will return to the Big Bands of the early 1940s, listening to orchestras led by Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Gene Krupa and Woody Herman. What seemed at the time to be the height of the Big Band Era, now is understood to be the beginning of its end as the economics of the music business shifted, musicians went on strike and the nation went to war. Bebop would fill the void.

Recordings.
The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens. W.W. Norton 933796
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Columbia P6 11891
Benny Goodman – Complete RCA Victor Small Group Master Takes. RCA Victor68764 3CD
Django Reinhardt: 1935 – 1936. Classics 739
Charlie Christian – The Genius Of The Electric Guitar. Columbia CK 65564 4CD

Resources.
Kirchner, Bill (editor). 2000. The Oxford Companion To Jazz. New York, NY. The Oxford University Press.
“Streamlining Jazz: Major Soloists of the 1920s and 1930s” by John McDonough
Giddens, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 9. The World of Soloists
Giddens, Gary. 1998. Visions of Jazz: The First Century. New York. The Oxford University Press.
Chapter 17. Benny Goodman (The Mirror of Swing)
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 5 – The Swing Era
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Benny Goodman – Complete RCA Victor Small Group Master Takes
Django Reinhardt: 1935 – 1936
Charlie Christian – The Genius Of The Electric Guitar
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 11. Benny Goodman, The Complete RCA Victor Small Group Recordings (1935-1939)
Chapter 18. John Kirby and His Orchestra, 1941-1942
Chapter 29. Django Reinhart, Djangology 49 (1949)

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