Benny Goodman - Childhood and Early Years

Childhood and Early Years

Goodman was born in Chicago, the ninth of twelve children of poor Jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire, who lived in the Maxwell Street neighborhood. His father was David Goodman, a tailor from Warsaw; his mother was Dora Grisinsky (from Kaunas, Lithuania). His parents met in Baltimore, Maryland, and moved to Chicago before Benny was born.

When Benny was 10, his father enrolled him and two of his older brothers in music lessons at the Kehelah Jacob Synagogue. The next year he joined the boys club band at Jane Addams' Hull House, where he received lessons from director James Sylvester. He also received two years of instruction from the classically trained clarinetist Franz Schoepp. His early influences were New Orleans jazz clarinetists working in Chicago, notably Johnny Dodds, Leon Roppolo, and Jimmy Noone. Goodman learned quickly, becoming a strong player at an early age: he was soon playing professionally in various bands.

Goodman attended Lewis Institute (now Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1924 as a high school sophomore, while also playing the clarinet in a dance hall band. (He was awarded an honorary LL.D. from IIT in 1968.) At age 14, he was in a band that featured the legendary Bix Beiderbecke. When Goodman was 16, he joined one of Chicago's top bands, the Ben Pollack Orchestra, with which he made his first recordings in 1926.

He made his first record on Vocalion under his own name two years later. Goodman recorded with the regular Pollack band and smaller groups drawn from the orchestra through 1929. The side sessions produced scores of sides recorded for the various dimestore record labels under an array of group names, including Mills' Musical Clowns, Goody's Good Timers, The Hotsy Totsy Gang, Jimmy Backen's Toe Ticklers, Dixie Daisies, and Kentucky Grasshoppers.

Goodman's father, David, was a working-class immigrant about whom Benny said (interview, Downbeat, February 8, 1956); "...Pop worked in the stockyards, shoveling lard in its unrefined state. He had those boots, and he'd come home at the end of the day exhausted, stinking to high heaven, and when he walked in it made me sick. I couldn't stand it. I couldn't stand the idea of Pop every day standing in that stuff, shoveling it around".

On December 9, 1926, David Goodman was killed in a traffic accident. Benny had recently joined the Pollack band and was urging his father to retire, since he and his brother (Harry) were now doing well as professional musicians. According to James Lincoln Collier, "Pop looked Benny in the eye and said, 'Benny, you take care of yourself, I'll take care of myself.'" Collier continues: "It was an unhappy choice. Not long afterwards, as he was stepping down from a streetcar—according to one story—he was struck by a car. He never regained consciousness and died in the hospital the next day. It was a bitter blow to the family, and it haunted Benny to the end that his father had not lived to see the success he, and some of the others, made of themselves." "Benny described his father's death as 'the saddest thing that ever happened in our family.'"

Read more about this topic:  Benny Goodman

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