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In 1934 Goodman auditioned for NBC’s Let’s Dance, a well-regarded three-hour weekly radio program that featured various styles of dance music. His familiar theme song by that title was based on Invitation to the Dance by Carl Maria von Weber. Since he needed new arrangements every week for the show, his agent, John Hammond, suggested that he purchase “hot” (swing) arrangements from Fletcher Henderson, an African-American musician from Atlanta who had New York’s most popular African-American band in the 1920s and early 1930s.[3] Goodman, a wise businessman, helped Henderson in 1929 when the stock market crashed. He purchased all of Henderson’s song books, and hired Henderson’s band members to teach his musicians how to play the music.[12] In 1932, his career officially began with Fletcher Henderson. Although Henderson’s orchestra was at its climax of creativity, it had not reached any peaks of popularity. During the Depression, Fletcher disbanded his orchestra as he was in financial debt.[13] In early 1935, Goodman and his band were one of three bands (the others were Xavier Cugat and “Kel Murray” [r.n. Murray Kellner]) featured on Let’s Dance where they played arrangements by Henderson along with hits such as “Get Happy” and “Jingle Bells” from composer and arranger Spud Murphy.[14] Goodman’s portion of the program from New York, at 12:30 a.m. Eastern Time, aired too late to attract a large East Coast audience. However, unknown to him, the time slot gave him an avid following on the West Coast (they heard him at 9:30 p.m. Pacific Time). He and his band remained on Let’s Dance until May of that year when a strike by employees of the series’ sponsor, Nabisco, forced the cancellation of the radio show. An engagement was booked at Manhattan’s Roosevelt Grill (filling in for Guy Lombardo), but the crowd there expected ‘sweet’ music and Goodman’s band was unsuccessful.[15] The band set out on a tour of America in May 1935, but was still poorly received. By August 1935, Goodman found himself with a band that was nearly broke, disillusioned and ready to quit. [edit]Catalyst for the Swing era An eager crowd of Goodman fans in Oakland In July 1935, a record of the Goodman band playing the Henderson arrangements of “King Porter Stomp” backed with “Sometimes I’m Happy”, Victor 78 25090, had been released to ecstatic reviews in both Down Beat and Melody Maker.[16] Reports were that in Pittsburgh at the Stanley Theater some of the kids danced in the aisles,[17] but in general these arrangements had made little impact on the band’s tour until August 19 when they arrived in Oakland to play at McFadden’s Ballroom.[18] There, Goodman and his artists Gene Krupa, Bunny Berigan, and Helen Ward found a large crowd of young dancers, raving and cheering the hot music they had heard on the Let’s Dance radio show.[19] Herb Caen wrote that “from the first note, the place was in an uproar.”[20] One night later, at Pismo Beach, the show was another flop, and the band thought the overwhelming reception in Oakland had been a fluke.[15] The next night, August 21, 1935 at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, Goodman and his band began a three-week engagement. On top of the Let’s Dance airplay, Al Jarvis had been playing Goodman records on KFWB radio, and Los Angeles fans were primed to hear him in person.[21] Goodman started the evening with stock arrangements, but after an indifferent response, began the second set with the arrangements by Fletcher Henderson and Spud Murphy. According to Willard Alexander, the band’s booking agent, Krupa said “If we’re gonna die, Benny, let’s die playing our own thing.”[22] The crowd broke into cheers and applause. News reports spread word of the enthusiastic dancing and exciting new music that was happening. Over the course of the engagement, the “Jitterbug” began to appear as a new dance craze,[23] and radio broadcasts carried the band’s performances across the nation.[15] The Palomar engagement was such a marked success it is often exaggeratedly described as the beginning of the swing era.[15] Donald Clarke wrote “It is clear in retrospect that the Swing Era had been waiting to happen, but it was Goodman and his band that touched it off.”[15] In November 1935 Goodman accepted an invitation to play in Chicago at the Joseph Urban Room at the Congress Hotel. His stay there extended to six months and his popularity was cemented by nationwide radio broadcasts over NBC affiliate stations. While in Chicago, the band recorded If I Could Be With You, Stompin’ At The Savoy, and Goody, Goody.[15] Goodman also played three special concerts produced by jazz aficionado and Chicago socialite Helen Oakley. These “Rhythm Club” concerts at the Congress Hotel included sets in which Goodman and Krupa sat in with Fletcher Henderson’s band, perhaps the first racially integrated big band appearance before a paying audience in the United States.[15] Goodman and Krupa played in a trio with Teddy Wilson on piano. Both combinations were well-received, and Wilson stayed on. In his 1935–1936 radio broadcasts from Chicago, Goodman was introduced as the “Rajah of Rhythm.”[22] Slingerland Drum Company had been calling Krupa the “King of Swing” as part of a sales campaign, but shortly after Goodman and crew left Chicago in May 1936 to spend the summer filming The Big Broadcast of 1937 in Hollywood, the title “King of Swing” was applied to Goodman by the media.[15] Goodman left record company RCA for Columbia, following his agent and soon to be brother-in-law John Hammond.

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