Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Benny King of Swing designed by Lawrence Edwards

[The book cover is bland and tan. This picture is a better one!]

I can't remember exactly when I tumbled to jazz, but the older I get, the more I love the sounds from about 1920-1970, from early New Orleans hot to the beginnings of jazz fusion and jazz funk. I think about 80 percent of the CDs I buy are jazz at this point. The more I listen to jazz, the more I want to know about the people who played it, so about once a month or so I get a book out on the subject.

I am also a fan of big old picture books on subjects I like, such as trains, haunted houses, favorite television programs, and so on. They're nice to pull out and review a few pages at a time, or show to friends with similar interests.

This book is a combination of both, featuring Benny Goodman. Goodman was one of the major swing band leaders of the 1930s and 40s, and is notable for both a great clarinet sound, strong band members such as Lionel Hampton, Harry James, Gene Krupa, and several others who went on to great solo careers. He also was one of the first bandleaders to break the color barrier, or so I understand. (My jazz history knowledge is limited, so I may be wrong on that.) In short, he's an iconic figure in jazz--the perfect person to do a cofee table book on for the jazz enthusiast.

We start with a brief (about 60 pages or so) biography of Goodman, focusing primarily on his early days and his start in the jazz world. It's a total puff piece, but that's okay because you're not getting this book out for the text.

Like a jazz version of Playboy, you're reading this one for the pictures.

And oh what amazing pictures there are in here! Goodman dominates, of course, with a lot of solo and family shots. There are also stills of the various bands he led over time. However, the real treats are the "team-up" pictures, with everyone from Louis Armstrong to Duke Ellington to Frank Sinatra. Count Basie's in here, too, along with Hampton, Krupa, Glenn Miller, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day, and many others.

There's even musical celebrities from other genres, like Bernstein, Bartok, and Stravinsky! If you prefer celebrities, try Jack Benny or even President Kennedy. If you're communist, you can swoon over Kruschev! (Don't worry, we won't rat you out to Congress.)

This is a book not so much to be read as to be enjoyed by lovers of jazz. If swing is your thing and you get a chance to take a peek at this book, by all means do you. You'll enjoy it almost as much as listening to Goodman himself.

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