Book review: Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert

by Catherine Tackley. Oxford Studies in Recorded Jazz, Oxford University Press, pb, 223pp. ISBN 978-0-19-539831-1

Part of OUP's Oxford Studies in Recorded Jazz series, which includes titles on Jarrett's Köln Concert and Miles Davis's studio output, this book attempts to place Goodman's seminal 1938 Carnegie Hall performance within its proper historical and cultural context. Series Editor Jeremy Barham describes these titles as aiming to "renew musical debate in jazz scholarship", and this book is clearly a thoroughly researched, scholarly work.

The blurb declares it "a must-read for all serious jazz fans", and this seems a fair estimation if "serious" means to be particularly interested in the intellectual study of jazz theory and history. The book is by no means a light read, dense as it is with some quite technical descriptions of the precise notes themselves that were performed at the eponymous concert. Those looking for a broader précis of Goodman’s music and why this concert in particular was historically significant may be put off by the sometimes jargon-heavy narrative of this "Oxford study".

The author Catherine Tackley, a clarinettist and bandleader herself, uses the 1950 Columbia title, The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert, as the basis for her study. The detailed analysis of the musical recordings on this album is supplemented by consideration of "the concert as an event in itself . . . and the ensuing reception and responses", as well as the context of the concert in terms of time and place in the course of 20th century jazz. Tackley says that existing scholarly works on Goodman are surprisingly lacking, and so hopes her book "sheds new light on the performances of Benny Goodman".

Although dense, this is a relatively slim volume, with three parts covering "Context", "Performance" and "Representation". There are also appendices listing the Carnegie Hall programme and members of the orchestra, and a detailed discography. A few monochrome images add interest to the piece, and the author favours frequent representations of transcribed scores to illustrate her arguments, but on the whole this is a mostly textual affair. For students of jazz history and those interested in the Goodman swing era, this will be a welcome arrival.

Sally Evans-Darby

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Your Comments:

Posted by John, 31 May 2013, 8:26 (1 of 1)

Really? Dense? Difficult? It's readable by anyone with a high school education, or at least I hope it is...I really don't know what they're teaching in high school these days, and the MBA grads I hire from places like Stanford and Cornell frighten me, but I would hope that anyone with the ability to appreciate this music could read this book without any problem. The notes to the original Columbia LPs of this music contained some "analysis" and "technical descriptions," and they were meant for the average listener. Have we backslid that much?

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