Benny Goodman Salute: Live Last Night

Live Last Night

They held a Benny Goodman centennial salute at the National Museum of American History's Carmichael Auditorium last night, and a comedy roast broke out.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

Hosted by the Smithsonian's Curator of American Music, John Edward Hasse, the first half of the program featured an informal discussion with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, trumpeter Joe Wilder and clarinetist Ken Peplowski. The Goodman band vets shared their recollections of the late jazz master -- a genius, to be sure, and a trailblazer who led a racially integrated band in the midst of the Depression.

None of the participants put much stock in stories concerning Goodman's notorious "ray," a withering stare aimed musicians who displeased him, But there was no shortage of amusing anecdotes concerning his ferociously competitive spirit, occasional missteps on stage, imperfect social skills and tightwad ways.

Not that he didn't mellow over the years. According to Peplowski, a reporter asked the legendary clarinetist late in his life if he had a nickname when he was a kid. Well, some people, Goodman replied, called me "the King of Swing."

Following intermission, all three musicians joined bassist Tommy Cecil and drummer-vibraphonist Chuck Redd for a brightly swinging series of small combo arrangements. Octogenarians Wilder and Pizzarelli were in delightful form, the brassman using mutes and flugelhorn to expressive effect, the guitarist balancing a cushioned pulse and light-fingered solos with racing tempos and a fiendishly percussive attack.

"It's Easy To Remember" and other pop standards showcased Peplowski's remarkably fluid lyricism, while Redd, playing vibes, brought a melodic sparkle to "More Than You Know."

-- MIKE JOYCE

By J. Freedom du Lac |  April 15, 2009; 1:16 PM ET Live Last Night
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