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Benny Goodman is considered one of the greatest jazz clarinetists of all time and a pioneer of swing music. Known as the “King of Swing,” Goodman rose to fame in the 1930s and 1940s with his energetic and innovative style of music, which combined elements of jazz and pop. He was a bandleader, composer, and arranger, and his influence on the jazz world cannot be overstated. Goodman was also known for his racially integrated band, which was uncommon during that time.
Goodman recorded and performed a vast repertoire of music throughout his career, making it challenging to narrow down his best songs to just ten. However, the following list attempts to do just that, highlighting some of the most iconic and memorable recordings from his extensive catalog. These songs showcase Goodman’s impeccable musicianship and his ability to push the boundaries of jazz and swing music. From the classic “Sing, Sing, Sing” to the upbeat “Don’t Be That Way” to the romantic “Moonglow,” each song on this list is a testament to Goodman’s legacy and the lasting impact he had on the music industry.
1. Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)
“Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)” is one of Benny Goodman’s most famous and enduring tunes, released in 1936. The song is a showcase for Goodman’s virtuosic clarinet playing and features a memorable call-and-response solo with drummer Gene Krupa. The song’s driving rhythm and infectious melody were an instant hit with audiences and helped to popularize swing music across the United States. The song has been covered by countless artists and has been featured in numerous films and television shows. It remains a timeless classic of the swing era and a testament to Goodman’s enduring musical legacy.
2. Rose Room
“Rose Room” is a classic swing tune that was made famous by Benny Goodman and his orchestra. It was written in 1917 by Art Hickman and Harry Williams, but it wasn’t until Goodman recorded it in 1937 that it became a hit. The song features a catchy melody and a swinging rhythm, with plenty of room for improvisation. Goodman’s clarinet takes center stage, but there are also solos from other members of the band, including pianist Teddy Wilson and guitarist Allan Reuss. The song has a light and airy feel to it, making it a perfect choice for dancing or simply listening. It has since become a staple of the swing and jazz repertoire and remains a beloved tune among fans of the genre.
“Moonglow” is a timeless classic jazz standard, originally composed by Will Hudson, Irving Mills and Eddie DeLange, which has been covered by countless artists over the years. However, it’s Benny Goodman’s version that stands out as one of the best. The song features Goodman’s signature clarinet playing, accompanied by his orchestra’s lush arrangement. The smooth and sultry melody, along with the dreamy and romantic lyrics, make it a perfect choice for slow dancing or just sitting back and enjoying the music. The song’s opening notes have become iconic, with the clarinet gliding smoothly over the rhythm section’s soft chords, setting the mood for what’s to come. The use of the vibraphone in the later parts of the song adds a touch of shimmering magic, perfectly complementing Goodman’s soaring clarinet lines. Overall, Goodman’s version of “Moonglow” is a timeless gem that captures the essence of the swing era, showcasing the talent and skill of both the bandleader and his ensemble.
4. Room 1411
“Room 1411” is a lively and upbeat instrumental that showcases the talents of both Goodman and Miller. The song starts with a playful piano introduction, followed by the saxophone and trumpet taking the lead in the melody. The interplay between the two instruments is a delight to listen to, with each player showcasing their individual strengths and styles.
The song is a great representation of the big band jazz sound that Goodman and Miller helped to popularize in the 1920s and 1930s. The composition is filled with intricate melodies, syncopated rhythms, and swinging beats that keep the listener engaged throughout.
Despite being over 90 years old, “Room 1411” remains a classic example of the vibrant and dynamic music that defined the jazz age.
5. Bugle Call Rag
“Bugle Call Rag” is an upbeat and energetic instrumental composed by Jack Pettis, Billy Meyers, and Elmer Schoebel. Benny Goodman’s version of the song, recorded in 1936 with his orchestra, is considered one of the most popular and definitive recordings of the swing era. The song features lively call and response sections between the brass and saxophone sections, with driving drum rhythms and a swinging piano solo. “Bugle Call Rag” became a staple of the big band and swing dance scenes and was frequently covered by other popular jazz bands of the time. The song’s catchy melody and infectious energy continue to make it a beloved classic of the swing era today.
6. King Porter Stomp
“King Porter Stomp” is a 1935 jazz standard composed by pianist and bandleader Jelly Roll Morton, which became a hit for Benny Goodman in the same year. The song features a catchy and upbeat melody, with a swinging rhythm section and powerful solos from the trumpet, clarinet, and piano. Goodman’s version of the song is widely regarded as one of the finest recordings of the Swing Era, and it helped to establish his band as one of the most popular and influential of the time. The song has since been covered by numerous artists in a variety of styles, and it remains a staple of the jazz repertoire. The title of the song refers to the stomping sound produced by a marching band’s drum and bugle corps, and it captures the spirit of the raucous, high-energy music that was popular in the 1930s. Overall, “King Porter Stomp” is a timeless classic that showcases the virtuosity and energy of Goodman and his band, and it is a must-listen for any fan of swing and jazz music.
7. I Got Rhythm
“I Got Rhythm” is a classic swing tune originally written by George Gershwin for the 1930 musical Girl Crazy. The Benny Goodman version of the song, released in 1937, features the renowned clarinetist’s signature swing style and impeccable timing. The song is a testament to the era of swing and big band jazz, with its upbeat tempo, lively brass section, and catchy melody. Goodman’s virtuosic clarinet playing is on full display in this rendition, showcasing his technical skill and improvisational abilities. “I Got Rhythm” has remained a jazz standard, covered by countless artists in various styles and genres.
8. Stompin’ at the Savoy
“Stompin’ at the Savoy” is a popular jazz standard composed by Edgar Sampson, Chick Webb, Benny Goodman, and Andy Razaf in 1934. The song was originally recorded by the Chick Webb Orchestra and featured the vocals of Ella Fitzgerald. It was later recorded by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra and became a popular hit.
The song features a swinging melody and a lively, upbeat tempo that encourages dancing. The instrumental sections showcase the talents of the soloists, with Benny Goodman’s clarinet taking center stage. The song’s title refers to the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York, which was one of the most popular dance venues during the Swing Era. “Stompin’ at the Savoy” quickly became a favorite among swing dancers and remains a staple in the jazz repertoire to this day. Its catchy melody and infectious rhythm make it a timeless classic that continues to be enjoyed by music lovers of all ages.
9. Why Don’t You Do Right (featuring Peggy Lee)
“Why Don’t You Do Right” is a classic jazz blues song from the 1940s, made famous by Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman. With its sultry vocals and swinging melody, this song tells the story of a woman who is tired of her man’s lack of effort in their relationship. Peggy Lee’s smooth and seductive voice adds an extra layer of depth to the song’s lyrics, making it a memorable and timeless piece of music. The arrangement by Goodman, with its infectious swing beat and bluesy guitar riffs, perfectly complements Lee’s vocals, creating a classic sound that has been covered by countless artists over the years. “Why Don’t You Do Right” is a true testament to the artistry of both Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman, and remains a beloved classic in the world of jazz and blues music.
10. Seven Come Eleven
“Seven Come Eleven” is a classic instrumental tune by Benny Goodman and Charlie Christian, originally recorded in 1939. The song features an upbeat swing rhythm, with Goodman’s clarinet and Christian’s electric guitar trading solos and improvisations. The song’s title refers to a common gambling phrase, with “seven” and “eleven” being favorable outcomes when rolling dice.
The tune has become a beloved classic of the swing era, known for its catchy melody and impressive musicianship. It has been covered by numerous artists over the years, including jazz legends like Lionel Hampton and Django Reinhardt. “Seven Come Eleven” is a testament to the enduring popularity of Goodman and Christian’s unique musical style, and continues to be celebrated by jazz enthusiasts worldwide.