Bandleader PETE LONG, and RICHARD PITE of the Jazz Repertory Company talked about their evening of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller at Carnegie Hall 1939 at Cadogan Hall on Saturday June 18th to Peter Vacher.
No Mystic Meg reincarnations, no Ouija board séances could summon up these past heroes of white swing. Let’s face it, BG and Glenn won’t be able to make it on the 18th but we have the next best thing – the magisterial Pete Long and his 14-piece orchestra now re-imagined for the day as the Goodman-Miller Tribute Orchestra. Their role? To re-create the minute-by-minute programme played by these titans on a memorable New York night in October 1939.
Curated and presented by the Jazz Repertory Company, as ever concerned for authenticity, this is a celebration of an historic encounter between two giants of popular music, then at the peak of their fame, both ensembles driven by a musical perfectionist, with star sidemen occupying each and every chair. If Goodman, the sometime King of Swing, had the pick of the jazzmen of those days, Miller knew how to drill his more workmanlike orchestra into a streamlined musical entity which, with the aid of skilled arrangers, produced a body of work that still resonates today. Think of the Glenn Miller estate’s clever husbanding of his legacy through their orchestral franchises which enable successive generations to marvel at the likes of ‘In The Mood’ and Chattanooga Choo-Choo.
Concentrating on the present day, we can safely claim that Pete has the pick of the best musicians around as he transforms Cadogan Hall’s lofty expanse into a packed yet always stately Carnegie Hall. Harking back, America and New York in particular, were not yet at war and knew only one thing: whatever problems might be looming in those heady days, swing was the music of the moment. If Goodman had already arrived then Miller was seen as up-and-coming, already a million-seller in his own right. As was the habit in those far-off times, what better way to establish status than to have a battle of the bands?
Let’s get the setting right – the America Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers decided to celebrate its 25th Anniversary by hiring Carnegie Hall for a week-long series of concerts, with the October 6 date devoted to our two challengers [plus Fred Waring’s society band and Paul Whiteman’s mighty orchestra, for added gravitas]. Goodman had already breached the Hall’s stuffy indifference to jazz the year before; Miller was newer to this game. We know the ever-competitive Goodman entered first, all guns blazing, every man striving, before Miller countered, parading his panoply of hits.
The JRC’s re-creation of this fascinating night’s music was debuted at the London Jazz Festival in 2014 and proved to be a SRO attraction, filling the Cadogan Hall to the brim. Expect something of the same this time; after all, where else will you hear diligent application to the principles of big band bravura with star turns from the soloists and ensemble playing of umbilically-connected precision? More to the point, you’ll experience all the vicarious pleasures of great creativity deployed to killer effect and doubtless feel an upsurge of swing fever.
If Goodman thought he’d won the day back there in October 1939 with an over-the-top version of ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ with Lionel Hampton on drums, he was caught out as Miller came back with ‘Bugle Call Rag’, this like a master class in crowd-pleasing swing intensity. All of this will be replicated on the 18th under Pete Long’s benign leadership. What’s more, trumpeter Enrico Tomasso will be the band’s special guest as he recalls two numbers from Louis Armstrong’s appearance earlier in the ASCAP series. There’ll even be a selection of Count Basie pieces, these taken from the band’s celebrated Spirituals to Swing concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
When it comes to the Goodman sextet numbers, Anthony Kerr will be featured on vibes and Dave Chamberlain, always a stalwart at JRC events, will don the mantle of Charlie Christian, the first great exponent of the electric guitar with head-man Richard Pite on drums. Chris Dean [who knows a thing or two about band-leading] will be playing in Long’s trombone section while taking his chance to emulate the Miller vocalist Ray Eberle with ‘Stairway to the Stars’. Look out too, for sterling work from the trumpeters Ryan Quigley, George Hogg and Georgina Jackson, each a playing powerhouse, and Sammy Mayne, Robert Fowler and Dean Masser starring in the saxophone section.
So, veritably, something for everyone and more to the point, a peerless opportunity to cheer on your favourites. Is it to be Goodman or Miller who wins the day? You’d best be there to find out. You know it makes sense. (pp)