The Julian Bliss Septet,
A Tribute to Benny Goodman
(Signumclassics, 2012)

Benny Goodman was the "King of Swing" and, though he worked in all formats, from big band to trio, the septet he led in the late 1930s and early '40s -- with all-stars Charlie Christian on guitar, Lionel Hampton on vibes and Teddy Wilson on piano -- was his most popular aggregation. I know this because I spent my childhood hating Benny Goodman and blaming him for everything that was wrong with music. I had to: my parents were huge Goodman geeks, thought he could do no wrong and played his music constantly in our home. Whenever we sat down for a meal, my father would tell me about the famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, which was the first time jazz had ever been played in Carnegie Hall. He described the event as though it were his generation's Woodstock.

Do you see why I had to hate Goodman? I was an adult before I ever listened to the clarinetist with more objective ears and discovered he was indeed a fine musician who delighted in finding and hiring other fine musicians and using them to create what was, for his time, ground-breaking music.

In this CD, Julian Bliss leads a septet that pays loving tribute to Goodman, playing the heart of his repertoire in arrangements that that pretty much recreate the original performances. He uses the same instrumentation as Goodman did: clarinet, guitar, vibes, piano, bass and drums, and he plays all of the Goodman hits. "Stomping at the Savoy" is here, along with "Caprice #24," "Up a Lazy River," "How High the Moon" and the rest of them. Hearing this was like being a kid again in my father's house but without the prejudicial dismissal.

It's good, solid stuff, well played by guys who evidently love the original Goodman masters and bring them lovingly and skillfully to new life, but it will never be groundbreaking again. Jazz has passed this era by. Today's music is much more intellectual and much less danceable. So, is there a touch of nostalgia hovering over this whole project like the sun over a beautiful day? Absolutely. But is that so bad?

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

5 January 2013

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