Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Your Moment of Swing: The King

Benny Goodman was called the King of Swing.  He had a long career as a clarinetist, beginning as a session musician in the 1920s, moving through the big band era in the 30s and 40s, getting into small combo jazz in the late 40s and 50s, appearing in films and on TV, and continuing to perform through the 70s right up to the year of his death in 1986.

But it was his 1930s band that gets the credit for inaugurating the Swing Era.  His bands are also notable for later stars and band leaders who performed in them, including Glenn Miller and Harry James. (He's also credited as a leader in racially integrating his ensembles.) Benny Goodman famously crossed over into classical music and helped begin the blurring of the lines between modern classical and jazz.

But this tune is Swing.  Called "Minnie's In the Money," it's from the 1943 Busby Berkeley film, The Gang's All Here.  It's a great energetic film treatment of a lesser known song with a lot of swing--this clip is lots of fun.

  It's a wartime tune for a wartime movie, which is otherwise as surreal and excessive as Berkeley often was.  It's also unusual in being filmed in Technicolor--the  Swing Era is usually black and white.  The full movie--starring Carmen Miranda-- is also on YouTube.  It's actually of better visual quality than this clip--of those available on YouTube, there was one with slightly better resolution but glitches in the sound.  This one's a bit fuzzy but the music comes across great.

The lyrics to the song are an interesting reflection of the times--although Minnie is praised for doing war work in a factory, she's being well-paid for it--a reflection of the war economy, a change from the Depression and a change for women.

The music though is by Harry Warren, who is described this way by Wilfrid Sheed :"By silent consensus, the king of this army of unknown soldiers, the Hollywood incognitos, was Harry Warren, who had more songs on the Hit Parade than Berlin himself and who would win the contest hands down if enough people have heard of him."

I was surprised to see how many tunes I remember that it turns out Harry Warren wrote--from pop classics I used to hear on 50s variety shows like "Jeepers Creepers" and "You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby" to "That's Amore"(Warren's birth name was Salvatore Antonio Guaragna) and a lot of songs for the 1950s Martin & Lewis movies I saw, to the theme for the TV western "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp."

His most important collaboration was with Busby Berkeley in the 30s and 40s.  He wrote the Berkeley classics "Lullaby of Broadway" and "We're in the Money" and many others.  But his contribution to swing was largely his work for Glenn Miller, including the swing classics this series began with, "I've Got A Gal in Kalamazoo" and "Chattanooga Cho-Cho."

And then there's this one. The Berkeley camera works for the most part to sell the swing.  And Benny Goodman sings!  Enjoy.

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