Born: May 30, 1909 Died: June 13, 1986
Clarinetist Benny Goodman, "the King of Swing," was one of the greatest artists and bandleaders in the history of jazz. However in 1938, at the height of his popularity, Goodman began to pursue classical music as a sideline, for the mere reason that he was bored -- "how many choruses can you play on 'Oh Lady Be Good'?" he once mused. The one-time student of legendary Chicago clarinet teacher Fritz Schoepp became an expert interpreter of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, K. 622 and mastered much of the standard literature for his instrument. Well before he ran through the major clarinet classics, Goodman began to commission works from contemporary composers such as Stravinsky and Copland. His first venture in this regard resulted in Contrasts for clarinet, violin and piano by Belà Bartók, and the 1940 Columbia record Goodman, Bartók and violinist Joseph Szigeti made of this work may well be the most astonishing historical recording of "modernist" music ever made. The reputation of Benny Goodman as a jazz player and bandleader is of such significance that it will never be superseded by his work as a classical musician, yet Goodman's devotion to classical music was so deep that when he died of a stroke while rehearsing in 1986, the music stand was open to the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115.