Benny Goodman (1909-1986) was an American jazz musician, clarinetist & band leader, often referred to as the King of Swing. He led one of the most popular, successful and iconic big bands of the Swing Era. His band is also noteworthy as one of the first racially-integrated bands during an era of segregation.

Goodman started out learning to play clarinet at his local synagogue, and by age 16 he was playing with the Ben Pollack Orchestra, one of the top big bands in his hometown Chicago. In the late 1920s, he moved to New York City where he enjoyed a successful career as  a session musician, playing with the likes of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Joe Venuti while recording for Victor records. Under arrangements by John Hammond to record for Columbia, Goodman also played along the with greats such as Jack Teagarden, Joe Sullivan, Dick McDonough, Arthur Schutt, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, Coleman Hawkins, and vocalists Mildred Bailey and Billie Holiday.

Goodman’s success as a dance band owes much to the influence of African American bandleader Fletcher Henderson. In 1929, Goodman helped Henderson out by purchasing his songbooks and hiring Henderson’s musicians to teach his own. Indeed it was Goodman’s band playing Henderson’s arrangements that set dance floors crazy during the band’s three-week engagement at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles.  Because of his role in helping popularize traditionally African American jazz music to white audiences, Goodman has been compared to Elvis Presley, who played a similar role with respect to Rock’n’roll and Rhythm & Blues music.

A good place to start your exploration of Benny Goodman’s music is with the quintessential Ken Burns Jazz compilation:

Some of my favorites from this album are:

  1. Roll ’em
  2. King Porter Stomp
  3. Don’t Be That Way
  4. Flying Home
  5. Rose Room
  6. Benny Rides Again
  7. Why Don’t You Do Right

Another album that’s got some good solid rhythm for dancing is:

Favorite tunes on this album include:

  1. Madhouse
  2. House Hop
  3. Sing me a Swing Song and Let Me Dance
  4. Bugle Call Rag
  5. Jam Session
  6. Did you mean it?


King of Swing: Benny Goodman