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Goodman Gets In The Swing For Pbs

March 09, 1986|MARY CAMPBELL | Associated Press Newsfeatures

NEW YORK — Frank Sinatra recalls the night he made his debut with Benny Goodman and the bobby-soxers screamed and swooned. Rosemary Clooney and Carrie Smith sing songs of the big-band era.

People dance.

It's part of a public television tribute to the clarinetist who at 76 is still the King of Swing.

Benny Goodman hasn't retired from music, but he doesn't keep a band together anymore and his appearances are rare. He thought about organizing a band for last year's Kool Jazz Festival, but didn't. Invited to play clarinet at one concert, he hesitated and then showed up at the last minute.

So, when Goodman did put together a band last fall to play a few dates, WNET-TV made sure one of those dates was a TV taping in a hotel ballroom.

That resulted in "Benny Goodman: Let's Dance," which PBS stations are airing during their spring pledge weeks. (It airs at 8 p.m. Saturday on Channels 28, 15, 50.)

Goodman said producer Jack Sameth decided to have four presenters, instead of a single host for the TV show. Three of them are composer Morton Gould, singer-pianist Bobby Short and Bartlett Giamatti, the president of Yale and a clarinet player.

Goodman asked Sameth if he would like to have Sinatra as the fourth host.

"Benny, if you can get Sinatra, I'll give you the show," Sameth replied.

"I got him on the phone," Goodman said. "I said, 'Frank, I'd like you to do me a favor.' I told him what it was about. He said, 'Fine. I'd love to do it.'

"Jack Sameth was speechless."

Sinatra talks about his debut at the Paramount Theater in New York, when he stepped out to sing with the Goodman band and the bobby-soxers started screaming.

Teddy Wilson, Louis Bellson, Slam Stewart and Red Norvo, who've worked with Goodman over the years, also are on the program.

"What's difficult nowadays," Goodman said, "is that none of the other fellows used to play with my band. There aren't so many people around who know the style."

Goodman recalled the bands of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw when "you knew which one you were listening to. These people had a real point of view and direction and quality they wanted.

"Kids get bands now. They're four-pieces, that's all. It's a whole different world, musically speaking."

Jazz historian George Simon has written of Goodman: "More than anyone else, Benny Goodman launched the big swing band craze. His brilliant, intensely rhythmic jazz clarinet sparked his 14-piece band that burst onto the pop music scene in the summer of 1935, with high-swinging arrangements. His bands have always rated a rung or two above most others because of Goodman's insistence on musical perfection."

Goodman said, "Swing always has come naturally to me. I probably was more relaxed about it when I was young than I am now. Louis Armstrong said, 'If you got to ask about jazz, don't go.' Don't be intellectual about it. I think a lot of people are, nowadays."

Goodman, born in Chicago, is widowed, has two grown daughters and has homes in New York City, Connecticut and the Caribbean.

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