11 January 2013

Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing"

A post at The Economist noted the song's ongoing popularity -
You must recognise it: that driving drum beat, that wailing wall of horn: "Sing, Sing, Sing", one of the top jazz tunes of the 1930s, has now become almost completely inescapable. Since it was resurrected by Bob Fosse in 1979 for his film "All That Jazz", it has featured in no fewer than 22 movies, including three Woody Allens, and, perhaps most penetratingly, "The Artist", the French Oscar-winning silent tribute to swing, sound, hard times and triumphant come-backs...

I recommend some final listens to its finest and most famous incarnation, the full Benny Goodman version, featuring the remarkable Gene Krupa on drums, Harry James on trumpet and Goodman on clarinet, performed at the first ever jazz concert at the Carnegie Hall, 75 years ago this month.

There have been objections to "Sing, Sing, Sing" because it owes its beat to the excruciatingly entitled genre of "Jungle Music" that Duke Ellington and others were forced to play under to white audiences at the equally screeching Plantation and Cotton night clubs: Goodman's adoption of it has been dismissed as "the nadir of white jungle music". But that seems ridiculously over-sensitive and more than effectively dissipated by the influence of its writer, the blissfully unique Sicilian-American, Louis Prima (also and splendidly, as it happens, the voice of King Louie in Disney's "Jungle Book"). And by Goodman himself, a pioneer of jazz desegregation, who injects his trademark Jewish rhythms into this rich mix. Unsurprisingly, given its title, there are words, but Goodman was right to leave them out, even as sung by Prima, in favour of promoting a swing that defies you not to move at least a small body part, even in public.
I went to Wikipedia for a list of the movies, and found additional information:
Unlike most big band arrangements of that era, limited in length to three minutes so that they could be recorded on one side of a standard 10-inch 78-rpm record, the Goodman band version was an extended work. The 1937 recording lasted 8 min 43 seconds, and took both sides of a 12-inch 78.
And this re the Carnegie Hall concert:
The concert was the evening of January 16, 1938. It sold out weeks before, with the capacity 2,760 seats going for the top price of US $2.75 a seat, for the time a very high price... By the time the band got to the climactic piece "Sing, Sing, Sing", success was assured. This performance featured playing by tenor saxophonist Babe Russin, trumpeter Harry James, and Benny Goodman, backed by drummer Gene Krupa. When Goodman finished his solo, he unexpectedly gave a solo to pianist Jess Stacy... This concert has been regarded as one of the most significant in jazz history.
The video embedded at the top is not of the concert itself; it's from the 1956 movie The Benny Goodman Story (with Steve Allen as Goodman).  Here's a segment from a documentary about the event:

And finally, here's the list of movies - very impressive.

* btw, what is a "trademark Jewish rhythm"?


  1. "If it sounds good, it is good."
    -Duke Ellington.

    Jewish rhythm to me means Klezmer, and it shares a lot with gypsy music, and probably all roots in middle eastern rhythms. A real music expert could probably explain why.

  2. It's a really great song. Thanks for sharing the history. I am sorry that people view it badly in any way... I think it is a wonderful mix of influences just like great American Jazz and swing should be.

    I think one doesn't really realize just how long it is compared to other songs of the era until you have danced to it. I swing dance and more then once I have made the mistake of starting to dance to Sing, Sing, Sing only to remember halfway through why the dance floor is fairly empty... it's exhausting!

  3. I'm fairly new to Jazz, but watching the first few episodes of the PBS series Jazz has me excited.


    Even if the reviews suggest it doesn't present an entirely accurate and holistic history of Jazz, I figure it's a good starting point.

  4. My ABSOLUTE favorite piece of music.
    I have asked my family to play this after,but at, my final memorial.

    1. It's too bad the embedded videos have undergone linkrot over the years, but of course it's easy to find new videos of the music with a quick search at YouTube.


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