On the Air (1937-1938)

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Columbia Legacy
WORKS: On the air
PERFORMER: Benny Goodman


Benny Goodman was one of the greatest instrumentalists jazz has ever known and this CD set was, in its original guise (minus 12 bonus previously unreleased tracks) as Jazz Concert No. 2 one of the biggest-selling jazz albums ever. Critics never tell you that these tracks are light-years ahead of his RCA studio tracks from the same period. But they are, for the simple reason that in the recording studio Goodman the martinet prevailed, with often mechanical results. On these live recordings Goodman is actually enjoying himself, blissfully unaware that Bill Savory’s airchecks would be released commercially some 16 years later.


They reveal Goodman’s band as the queen of the 1937 musical battlefield. Bear in mind, however, that at that time Ellington was becalmed following his mother’s death; Chick Webb had decided to play commercial pops; Jimmie Lunceford’s band was a highly stylised showband; the Count Basie band was fresh out of Kansas City, and no white band could hold a candle to Goodman. For that brief period he genuinely deserved his sobriquet, the ‘King of Swing’. Few recordings are essential, but these are among them, encapsulating the essence of the swing era. Stuart Nicholson