Getting High on Benny's

You can't keep a Goodman down, not even with allegations of tyranny and racism.

As a tribute to both Goodman and Christian, as well as the many other exemplary combos that Benny led both before and after the Christian period, local guitarist Simon Salz has put together his own concert sextet. A formidable musician himself, whose primary and ongoing inspirations have long been Christian and the legendary Belgian gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, Salz had no trouble finding seasoned South Florida players capable of undertaking this challenging project. To portray the role of Goodman, it was not necessary to look any further than clarinetist Eric Allison, whose instrumental skill and working familiarity with all styles of jazz make him eminently suitable for this exacting labor of love.

Similarly, the sounds, texture, and swing of Lionel Hampton's vibes will be recaptured by the equally well-informed Tom Toyama, while the stylistically appropriate rhythmic underpinnings fall to pianist Jack Keller, bassist Lew Berryman, and drummer Steve Bagby, all of high repute. Among the Goodman combo classics the Salz Sextet will play are "Gone with What Wind," "Air Mail Special," "Flying Home," "Seven Come Eleven," and "Avalon." Former Goodman vocalist Maria Marshall will sing "You Took Advantage of Me," "St. Louis Blues," "Mean to Me," and "Bei mir bist du schoen." The (expected) encore will no doubt be "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home?" - a long-time favorite of Marshall fans.

Countless words have been written about Benny Goodman's artistry as a clarinetist, his many indispensable contributions to the development of jazz, and even his role as a catalytic agent in the shaping of other musicians' careers. However, of late there has been a flurry of published diatribe against Goodman the man. Militant black journalists delight in accusing Goodman of being a usurper, a pretender to the throne, when in fact it was not he, but some now-forgotten publicist or radio announcer who first dubbed him "The King of Swing."

Beyond any question Goodman, of all white jazzmen in a position to do so, was the only one to open the doors of the Establishment, such as they were at the time, to players of any stripe, including qualified black musicians. He always hired the best players he could get, regardless of race, and, far from exploiting them, as these writers would have us believe, he actually helped to enhance their subsequent careers by featuring them in solo spots whenever possible. Just as some of his white sidemen, such as Gene Krupa, Harry James, and Georgie Auld, had gone on to form their own bands after leaving Goodman, so had Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and Cootie Williams. Not one of the scores of black jazzmen who had come through his ranks has ever indicated in any way that Goodman exploited them.

That type of writing is not only scurrilous and inciting but also irresponsible. None of these so-called journalists had even bothered to interview the black musicians in question. From the other side of the aisle there have been countless attacks on Goodman for his alleged high-handedness in his treatment of all of his "employees," white or black, his seeming insensitivity to their feelings, his total self-absorption, his notoriously poor memory for promises made, and his stinginess in negotiating salaries.

I also recall hearing the same accusations made against the famed symphony conductor Arturo Toscanini, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington, and Charlie Parker. But now, once again, the tables have turned. Now it's open season on Jewish guys who've made a lot of money. It's politically okay to word-bash the "Hymies." Guess who's coming up next: Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, and Bette Midler. Sound familiar?

A TRIBUTE TO BENNY GOODMAN takes place Thursday at 8:00 p.m. at the Riverside Hotel, 620 E Las Olas Blvd, Ft Lauderdale, 524-3513. Tickets cost $10. (Note: Tonight's performance is sold out.)

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