Sunday, Oct 7, 2018

Episode 1: “Flying Home” by the Benny Goodman Sextet

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Welcome to the first episode proper of A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs! As this is the first real episode, you may notice a couple of flaws in the production -- those will hopefully get ironed out in the coming weeks. In the meantime, sit back and listen to the story of "Flying Home" by the Benny Goodman Sextet! Resources As always, I've put together a Mixcloud mix of all the songs talked about in this episode, which you can stream here. That mix has "Rhapsody in Blue" by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, "Memories of You" by Louis Armstrong, "Sing Sing Sing" by Benny Goodman, "Flying Home" by Benny Goodman, and "Flying Home" by Lionel Hampton. For all the episodes on pre-1954 music, one invaluable source is the book "Before Elvis" by Larry Birnbaum, which goes into these subjects in far more detail than I can. Lionel Hampton's autobiography is out of print, but you can find second hand copies very cheap. This is the MP3 compilation I mention of many different versions of "Flying Home", and it has the Benny Goodman Sextet version on it as you'd hope. However, it doesn't have the classic Lionel Hampton version -- you can find that on the four-CD box set The Lionel Hampton Story, which is definitely worth getting. There are various issues of the Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall show -- here's a decent one. Transcript We have to start somewhere, of course, and there's no demarcation line for what is and isn't rock and roll, so we're starting well before rock and roll itself, in 1939. We're starting, in fact, with swing. Swing was a form of music that had its roots in 1920s jazz. It's hard to remember now, but when Dixieland jazz was first popularised, in the early 1920s, the reaction to it from "polite society" was essentially the same as to every other black musical form -- it was going to be the end of the world, it was evil "jungle music", it was causing our children to engage in acts of lewdness and intoxication, it was inciting violence... it was, in short, everything that was later said about rock and roll, about hip-hop, and... you get the idea. This might sound ridiculous to modern ears, as we don't normally think of the cornet, the trombone, and the banjo as the most lascivious of instruments, but back in the 1920s this kind of music was considered seriously arousing. And so, as with all of the moral panics around black music, some white people made the music more appetising for other white people, by taking the rough edges off, cleaning it up, and putting it into a suit. In this case, this was done by the aptly-named Paul Whiteman. Whiteman was a violin player and conductor, and he became known as "the king of jazz" for being the bandleader of an all-white band of musicians. Where most jazz bands consisted of eight to ten musicians, all improvising based on head arrangements and interacting with each other, Whiteman's band was thirty-five musicians, playing from pre-written charts. It was polite, clean, and massively popular. Whiteman's band wasn't bad, by any means -- at various times he had musicians like Bix Beiderbecke and Joe Venuti playing for him -- and as you can hear in this performance of "Rhapsody in Blue" they could play some quite exciting jazz. But they were playing something fundamentally different -- something tamer, more arranged, and with the individual players subsumed into the unit. Whiteman still called the music he made jazz, but when other people started playing with similarly big bands, the music became known as "swing". And so from Whiteman, we move to Goodman. Benny Goodman, the "King of Swing", was the leader of the most popular of the pre-war swing bands, as well as being an excellent clarinet player. His band hired arranger Fletcher Henderson (a black musician who led his own excellent band, and who had provided arrangements for Whiteman) to provide their arrangements, and managed to create music that had a lot of the excitement of less-formalised jazz. It was still hi
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Andrew Hickey
Transcript
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Andrew Hickey
00:00
"A History of
Rock
Music in 500 Songs" by Andrew Hickey.
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00:09
Episode 1: "
Flying Home
".
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00:13
We have to start somewhere, of course, and there’s no demarcation line for what is and isn’t
Rock And Roll
, so we’re starting well before
Rock And Roll
itself, in 1939. We’re starting, in fact, with swing.
Share
00:29
Swing was a form of music that had its roots in 1920s
Jazz
. It’s hard to remember now, but when
Dixieland
Jazz
was first popularised, in the early 1920s, the reaction to it from “polite society” was essentially the same as to every other black musical form - it was going to be the end of the world, it was evil “jungle music”, it was causing our children to engage in acts of lewdness and intoxication, it was inciting violence… it was, in short, everything that was later said about
Rock And Roll
, about hip-hop, and… you get the idea.
Share
01:07
This might sound ridiculous to modern ears, as we don’t normally think of the cornet, the trombone, and the banjo as the most lascivious of instruments, but back in the 1920s this kind of music was considered seriously arousing.
Share
01:22
And so, as with all of the moral panics around black music, some white people made the music more appetising for other white people, by taking the rough edges off, cleaning it up, and putting it into a suit. In this case, this was done by the aptly-named
Paul Whiteman
.
Share
01:39
Whiteman
was a violin player and conductor, and he became known as
“The King Of
Jazz”
for being the bandleader of an all-white band of musicians. Where most
Jazz
bands consisted of eight to ten musicians, all improvising based on head arrangements and interacting with each other,
Whiteman’s
band was thirty-five musicians, playing from pre-written charts. It was polite, clean, and massively popular.
Share
02:03
Whiteman’s
band wasn’t bad, by any means - at various times he had musicians like Bix Beiderbecke and Joe Venuti playing for him - and as you can hear in this performance of “Rhapsody in Blue” they could play some quite exciting
Jazz
.
Share
02:16
[Rhapsody in Blue -
Paul Whiteman
& His Orchestra]
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Andrew Hickey
02:50
But they were playing something fundamentally different - something tamer, more arranged, and with the individual players subsumed into the unit.
Share
03:00
Whiteman
still called the music he made
Jazz
, but when other people started playing with similarly big bands, the music became known as “swing”. And so from
Whiteman
, we move to
Goodman
.
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03:12
Benny Goodman
,
"The King Of Swing"
, was the leader of the most popular of the pre-war swing bands, as well as being an excellent
Clarinet
player. His band hired arranger
Fletcher Henderson
(a black musician who led his own excellent band, and who had provided arrangements for
Whiteman)
to provide their arrangements, and managed to create music that had a lot of the excitement of less-formalised
Jazz
.
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03:33
It was still highly arranged, but it allowed for soloists to show off slightly more than many of the other bands of the time.
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03:41
This is partly because
Goodman
himself was a soloist. While
Whiteman
was a bandleader first and foremost - someone whose talent was in organising a group of other people, a manager rather than a musician (though he was a perfectly serviceable player) -
Goodman
was a serious player, someone who would later premiere pieces by
Bartók
;
Poulenc
,
Aaron Copland
and others, and who had, before becoming a band leader, been one of the most in-demand players on small group
Jazz
sessions.
Share
04:11
Goodman’s
band was still a big band, but it allowed the soloists far more freedom than many of his competitors did - and many of
Goodman’s
band members became well known enough individually to go off and form their own big bands.
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04:24
And because
Goodman’s
band had a lot of great soloists in, as well as the thirty-plus-person big band he ran, he also had a number of smaller groups which were made up of musicians from the big band.
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04:36
These would play sets during the same shows as the big band, allowing the best soloists to show off while also giving most of the band a rest. Their performances would be proper
Jazz
, rather than swing - they would be three, or four, or six musicians, improvising together the way the old
Dixieland
players had.
Share
04:55
And importantly,
Goodman
was one of the first band leaders to lead an integrated band during the segregation era. His small groups started with a trio of
Goodman
himself (white and Jewish) on
Clarinet
, white drummer
Gene Krupa
, and black pianist
Teddy Wilson
.
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05:10
This integration, like the recruitment of
Fletcher Henderson
for the arrangements, was the idea of
John Hammond
,
Goodman’s
brother-in-law.
Hammond
was an immensely privileged and wealthy man - his mother was a Vanderbilt, and his uncle on his father’s side was the US Ambassador to Spain - who had decided to use his immense wealth in the service of two goals.
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05:26
The first of those was racial integration, and the second of them was to promote what would now be called “roots” or Americana music - pre-bop
Jazz
, folk, blues, and gospel.
Hammond
is someone we’ll be hearing a lot more of as this story continues, but at this point he was a DJ, music journalist, and record producer, who used his wealth to get records made and aired that otherwise wouldn’t have been made.
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05:49
Goodman
certainly believed in racial equality, by all accounts, but it was
Hammond
who introduced him to
Fletcher Henderson
, and
Hammond
who persuaded him to include black musicians in his band.
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05:60
Goodman
wasn’t the first white bandleader in America to hire black musicians - there had been three in the 1920s - but when he hired
Teddy Wilson
, no-one had led an integrated group for seven years, and
Goodman
was hiring him at a time when
Goodman
was arguably the most popular musician in the USA.
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06:16
And this was a far more radical thing than it seems in retrospect, because
Goodman
was pushing in two radically different directions - on the one hand, he was one of the first people to push for mainstream acceptance of
Jazz
music in the classical music world, which would suggest trying to be as conservative as possible, but on the other he was pushing for integration of musicians.
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06:37
Lionel Hampton
later quoted him as saying “we need both the black keys and the white keys to play music”, which is the sort of facile comparison well-meaning white liberals make now, in 2018, so
Goodman
saying it eighty years ago is a genuinely progressive statement for the times.
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06:53
Lionel Hampton
was another black musician, who joined the trio and turned it into a quartet, He was a virtuoso vibraphonist who more or less defined how that instrument was incorporated into
Jazz
. He appears to have been the first person to use the
Vibraphone
on a
Jazz
record, on a recording by
Louis Armstrong
of the song “Memories of You” from 1930.
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07:35
[Memories of You - Louis Armstrong]
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Andrew Hickey
07:49
Before that, the
Vibraphone
had only ever been used as a novelty instrument - it was mostly used for radio intermission signals, playing a couple of chimes.
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07:57
In fact, the
Vibraphone
was so new as an instrument that its name had never been settled -
“Vibraphone”
was just one of a number of trademarks used by different companies making the instrument. The instrument
Hampton
played was put out under another brand name -
Vibraharp
- and that was what he called it for the rest of his life.
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08:16
Hampton
had trained as a drummer before becoming a
Vibraphone
player, and was often billed as
“The Fastest Drummer In The World”
, but he had a unique melodic sensibility which allowed him to become the premiere soloist on this new instrument. Indeed, to this day
Hampton
is probably the most respected musician ever to play the vibes.
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08:34
By 1938,
Goodman
actually reached the point where he was able to bring an integrated band, featuring
Count Basie
,
Lester Young
,
Teddy Wilson
, and
Lionel Hampton
, plus other black musicians along with white musicians such as
Goodman
and
Krupa
, on to the stage of
Carnegie Hall
, at the time the US’ most prestigious music venue.
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08:55
Like many of
Goodman’s
biggest moments, this was the work of
Hammond
, who after the success of
Goodman’s
show put together a series of other concerts at
Carnegie
, the
“Spirituals To Swing”
concerts, which are some of the most important concerts ever in bringing black American music to a white audience. We’ll almost certainly talk about those in the future.
Share
09:14
But getting back to the
Goodman
show, that
Carnegie Hall
concert is still one of the greatest live
Jazz
albums ever recorded, and shows that it was entirely possible to create truly exciting music using the swing band template. One particularly impressive performance was the twelve-minute long version of “Sing Sing Sing”. Obviously we won’t hear that in full here, but here’s a brief excerpt of that staggering performance.
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09:42
[Sing Sing Sing -
Benny Goodman
and His Orchestra]
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Andrew Hickey
09:55
You can hear the full performance, along with all the other songs excerpted in this podcast, at the Mixcloud page linked in the blog post associated with this podcast.
Share
10:33
For US cultural context, it would be another nine years before
Jackie Robinson
was able to break the colour bar in baseball, to give some idea of how extraordinary this actually was. In fact
Lionel Hampton
would often later claim that it was
Goodman
hiring him and
Wilson
(and, later, other black musicians) that paved the way for
Robinson’s
more well-known achievement.
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10:55
The original
Benny Goodman
Quartet were an extraordinary set of musicians, but by 1939 both
Wilson
and
Krupa
had departed for other bands. There would be reunions over the years, but the classic lineup of the quartet had stopped performing together.
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11:10
Various other pianists (notably
Count Basie
and
Fletcher Henderson)
sat in with the
Goodman
small groups, but he also realised the need to make up for the loss of two such exceptional musicians by incorporating more, and so the
Benny Goodman
Sextets were formed.
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11:26
Those sextets featured a rotating lineup of musicians, sometimes including the great
Jazz
trumpeter
Cootie Williams
, but revolved around three soloists -
Goodman
himself on
Clarinet
,
Hampton
on
Vibraphone
, and a new musician, the guitarist
Charlie Christian
- a musician who would only have a very short career, but who would come to be better known than any of them.
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11:47
Christian
is sometimes erroneously called the first electric guitarist, or the first person to play
Electric Guitar
on record, or even the inventor of the
Electric Guitar
. He was none of those things, but he was a pioneer in the instrument, and the first person to really bring it to prominence as a solo instrument.
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12:07
The
Electric Guitar
allowed a fundamentally different style of
Guitar
playing - before, the
Guitar
had only really worked either as a solo instrument, as accompaniment for a single vocalist, or at best as a barely-audible rhythm instrument drowned out by the louder pianos and horns of
Jazz
bands. Now the
Guitar
could play single melody lines as loudly as any trumpet or
Saxophone
, and could be used as a solo instrument in an ensemble in the same way as those instruments. This changed the whole approach to the
Guitar
in popular music.
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12:35
While
Goodman
claimed responsibility for the head arrangements the small groups used, a lot of people think that
Christian
was responsible for these, too, and certainly the sextet’s music has a much more exhilirating feel than the early quartet or trio work.
Share
12:48
The first song the new
Goodman
Quintet recorded, on October 2 1939 - exactly seventy-nine years ago on the date this podcast comes out, if its release goes to plan - was a pieve called
“Flying Home”
.
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12:58
“Flying Home”
is a great example of the early work of the sextet, and quickly became in many ways their signature song. The story of its writing is that the band were on a plane from LA to Atlantic City - the first time many of the band members had flown at all - and
Hampton
started humming the riff to himself.
Goodman
asked, “What’s that you’re singing? ”. And
Hampton
said, “I don’t know, we can call it
‘Flying Home’
I guess”.
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13:23
Goodman
and
Hampton
were credited as the writers, although
John Hammond
later claimed that he’d heard
Christian
improvising the riff before it was picked up by the other two men.
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13:32
Before we start looking at the record, I want to address one problem you find with out-of-copyright
Jazz
recordings, and that’s that if you’re trying to get hold of, or talk about, the right version of a track. Many of the musicians involved recorded multiple versions of songs, those tracks get released on multiple compilations, and tracks get released under different names.
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13:53
For example I have one compilation album - one which says it’s just sixteen different versions of
“Flying Home”
- which has the
Benny Goodman
Sextet recording of the track and a
“Charlie Christian”
recording. Except, of course, the
Charlie Christian
recording is exactly the same one as the
Benny Goodman
one, although on that compilation it’s taken from a different source as there are different amounts of tape hiss.
Share
14:17
So it may be that at some point here I identify a recording wrongly - particularly one of the many, many,
Lionel Hampton
recordings of the song. I am not pretending to be authoritative here, and I may get things wrong, though I’m trying as best I can to get them right.
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14:33
But what I do know is what the
Benny Goodman
Sextet version of this song sounded like, and we can hear that now.
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14:50
[
Flying Home
- The
Benny Goodman
Sextet]
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Andrew Hickey
14:55
It’s hard to emphasise just how strange this record must have sounded then, nearly eighty years ago, when you consider that electronic amplification was a new thing, that only one
Electric Guitar
had ever been recorded before the Sextet sessions, and that the record contained two separate electronically amplified instruments -
Christian’s
Guitar
and
Hampton’s
Vibraphone
.
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15:17
Other than the
Vibraphone
and
Clarinet
, though, this small group was almost the prototypical
Rock
band -
Piano
,
Electric Guitar
, double
Bass
and
Drums
would be the hallmark instruments of the genre a full twenty years after this record - and the record seems to anticipate many aspects of the
Rock
genre in many details, especially when
Charlie Christian
starts his soloing.
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15:40
His playing now sounds fairly tame, but at the time it was astonishingly advanced both in technique (he was a huge influence on bop, which wouldn’t come along for many more years) and in just the sound of it - no-one else was making music that was amplified in that way, with that timbre.
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15:57
The song, in this version, starts with a simple stride
Piano
intro played by
Fletcher Henderson
, with
Artie Bernstein
on the
Bass
and
Nick Fatool
on the
Drums
.
Share
16:06
[
Flying Home
- The
Benny Goodman
Sextet]
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Andrew Hickey
16:10
This intro is basically just setting out the harmonic structure, of the verses before the introduction of the main riff.
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16:16
It does a common thing where you have the chords at the top end stay as close to being the same as they can while you have a descending
Bass
- and the
Bass
includes a few notes that aren’t in the same key that the melody is in when it comes in, setting up a little bit of harmonic tension.
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16:30
Once it does come in, the riff sounds really odd.
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16:34
[
Flying Home
- The
Benny Goodman
Sextet]
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Andrew Hickey
16:35
This is a
Vibraphone
, a
Clarinet
, and an
Electric Guitar
, all playing the same riff in unison. That’s a sound that had never been recorded before
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16:55
We then have a very straightforward swing-style
Clarinet
solo by
Goodman
.
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17:01
[
Flying Home
- The
Benny Goodman
Sextet]
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Andrew Hickey
17:10
I like
Goodman’s
Clarinet
style a great deal - he is, in fact, one of the musicians who shaped my sense of melodic structure- but there’s nothing particularly notable about this solo, which could be on any record from about 1925 through about 1945. After another run through of the riff, we get
Charlie Christian’s
solo, which is where things get interesting.
Share
17:33
[
Flying Home
- The
Benny Goodman
Sextet]
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Andrew Hickey
17:49
Punctuated by bursts from the
Clarinet
and
Vibraphone
, this longer solo (which includes a whole section that effectively acts as a middle eight for the song) is unlike pretty much anything ever played on
Guitar
in the studio before.
Christian’s
short bursts of single-note
Guitar
line are, to all intents and purposes, rockabilly - it’s the same kind of
Guitar
playing we’ll hear from
Scotty Moore
sixteen years later.
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18:21
It doesn’t sound like anything revolutionary now, but remember, up to this point the
Guitar
had essentially only been a rhythm instrument in
Jazz
, with a very small handful of exceptions like
Django Reinhardt
. You simply couldn’t play single-note lead lines on the
Guitar
and have it heard over
Saxes
or
Trumpets
until the advent of electification.
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18:43
After
Christian’s
solo, we have one from
Lionel Hampton
. This solo is just a typical example of
Hampton’s
playing - he was a stunning
Jazz
Vibraphone
player, and at the time was on top of his game - but it’s not as astonishing as the one from
Christian
.
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18:56
[
Flying Home
- The
Benny Goodman
Sextet]
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Andrew Hickey
19:05
And then at the end, we get a whole new riff coming in.
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19:10
[
Flying Home
- The
Benny Goodman
Sextet]
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Andrew Hickey
19:21
This kind of riff had been common in
Goodman’s
work before - you can hear something similar in his hit version of “King Porter Stomp”, for example - but it would become the hallmark of the jump band style a few years later. This call and response, repetitive riffing, would be the sound that would dominate dance music in the next decades.
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19:39
The song would go on to have a long life after this recording. A couple of years later,
Lionel Hampton
left
Goodman’s
band to form his own big band, and
“Flying Home”
became their signature song. That band would be one of the first bands to perform a new type of music - “jump band” music - which was rooted in swing but had more emphasis on riffs and amplified instruments.
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19:60
That jump band music is the same music that later became known as
Rhythm And Blues
, and musicians such as
Louis Jordan
were clearly inspired by
Hampton’s
band. We’ll be looking in future episodes of this podcast at the way in which jump bands became one of the biggest influences on
Rock And Roll
.
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20:16
Hampton
recorded the song multiple times, starting in 1940, but the most famous example is the version he recorded in 1942 for
Decca
(with “instrumental foxtrot” on the label. That version features
Illinois Jacquet
on
Saxophone
, and like the
Benny Goodman
version, it would introduce a whole new sound to people.
Share
20:37
This time, it’s
Jacquet’s
tenor
Sax
playing, which has a honk and skronk to it that was unlike anything people had heard before.
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20:45
[Flying Home -
Illinois Jacquet
with
Lionel Hampton
]
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Andrew Hickey
20:60
There are predecessors to it of course - as I said earlier, there’s no “earliest example” of anything in music - but this
Saxophone
solo became the one that defined a whole new genre, a genre called
Rhythm And Blues
.
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21:16
Jacquet’s
solo was so exceptional that when he left the band, every tenor
Sax
player who replaced him would copy his solo note-for-note rather than improvising their own versions as would usually be the case.
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21:29
There’s another person involved in that recording of
“Flying Home”
who probably needs mentioning here -
Milt Gabler
, the producer. Like
John Hammond
, he’s someone we’ll be hearing a lot more about in future episodes.
Share
21:42
Hampton
himself remained a respected and popular musician for many more decades. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the big bands lost a lot of their popularity, and
Hampton
started playing yet another style of music - he became one of the greats of
Bebop
music, and played in small groups much like the
Goodman
ones, just playing more harmonically and melodically complex variations of what he had played earlier.
Share
22:06
But he was also recognised by the
Rock
musicians as a pioneer - you can see him in the 1957
Alan Freed
film “Mr.
Rock And Roll”
, playing his
Vibraphone
as the only
Jazz
musician in a film which otherwise features
Little Richard
,
Clyde McPhatter
, and other
Rock
and
R&B
stars of the time.
Share
22:25
Charlie Christian
, on the other hand, never even lived to see the influence he had. Even though he was one of the most influential musicians on both
Jazz
and
Rock
music -
Chuck Berry
later said that
Christian
was one of the biggest influences on his
Guitar
playing (though he wrongly said that
Christian
played with
Tommy Dorsey’s
band, a rival to
Goodman’s)
while
Christian
was responsible for the name
“Bebop”
being given to the form of music he helped create in jam sessions after his regular work - he was already suffering from tuberculosis in 1939, when
“Flying Home”
was recorded. And on March the second, 1941, aged only twenty-five,
Charlie Christian
died.
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23:01
He was buried in an unmarked grave, which was later concreted over. A memorial was placed for him fifty-three years later, but it was later discovered to be in the wrong place.
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23:11
"A History of
Rock
Music in 500 Songs" is written, produced and performed by Andrew Hickey. Visit 500songs. com. That's 500(the numbers)songs. com to see transcriptions liner notes and links to other materials including a Mixcloud stream of all songs excerpted in this episode.
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23:33
"A History of
Rock
Music in 500 Songs" is supported by the backers of my Patreon visit Patreon. com/AndrewHickey to support it. Patreon backers also get early access to my books and also support my blog and my other podcasts.
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23:51
If you've enjoyed this episode, please, by all means subscribe in iTunes or your favorite podcast app and rate it. But more importantly, please tell just one other person about this podcast. Word of mouth is the best way to get information out about any creative work. So please, if you like this, tell someone.
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24:09
Thank you very much.
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