It was Sunday afternoon, January 5, 1942 -- just a month after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The scene was Cleveland's Public Hall at East 6th and Lakeside (where the Republican Party had held its National Convention six years earlier). The attractions: the Cleveland Orchestra and Benny Goodman and his jazz band.
People were still arriving as the unusual concert began. The Cleveland Orchestra, under the direction of Artur Rodzinski, played the overture to Rossini's The Barber of Seville. Benny Goodman came out and soloed with the symphony orchestra. He played Debussey's "Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra" and Mozart's "Clarinet Concerto in A Major."
Cleveland Plain Dealer reviewer Herbert Elwell was apparently surprised that a jazz musician could play classical music. Elwell wrote, "One could look in vain for evidence of anything but the most well-behaved musicianship. In fact, his playing was on the restrained side. A little too refined to have much character, it pleased by technically brilliant passage work, smooth legato and an even quality of tone."
Goodman studied some classical music as a child but he did not play classical music publicly until after he had won fame as a jazz clarinetist. He recorded with the Budapest String Quartet in 1938 and with Béla Bartok in 1940. Jazz reviewers raved but classical reviewers were merely polite. One reviewer said Goodman's classical clarinet "while correct and expert, was dull."
But most of the 6,355 who came to Cleveland's Public Hall came to hear Goodman swing.
Elwell wrote, "The audience seemed impatient to have the stage cleared of the elaborate paraphernalia of a symphony orchestra and was happy when the jazz boys began to whoop it up and the hot tunes began to sizzle."
Old newspaper clippings reported that Goodman left New York by train late Saturday night after a gig at the New Yorker Hotel. The rest of his band was to catch a 9:30 plane Sunday morning. Their flight was delayed at LaGuardia Airport by bad weather and they didn't leave until almost noon. The Cleveland Orchestra was making last-minute plans to extend its part of the concert if necessary. The members of the Goodman band arrived in Cleveland at about 3 p.m., barely an hour before the concert, and got to Public Hall just in time to go on stage after the classical portion of the concert.
Goodman and his swing band opened with "Don't Be That Way," followed by "Let's Do It" and "One O'Clock Jump."
Elwell wrote, "The Goodman Orchestra played many songs not listed in the program and each seemed to bring a fresh response of enthusiasm from the delighted listeners."
The classical music reviewer also wrote, "Not being well-versed in this highly specialized form of music, I cannot pretend to appreciate all of its fine points, though I heard most of its rough ones. I was particularly interested in one Cootie Williams, who made the trumpet sound like a sneeze and whose contortions suggested the colic or some violent form of hysteria."
The Plain Dealer reviewer was also perplexed by the Goodman band's girl singer. He wrote, "I was interested in the convention which now prescribes having a young lady sit in front of the band and smile knowingly when anything of special merit takes place. This is a great help to anyone ignorant of the refinements of the jazz idiom, which to me seem not nearly so interesting as they used to be. The young lady in question (Peggy Lee) got up before the microphone occasionally and uttered sounds which did not resemble singing and were unrecognizable as English ("Why Don't You Do Right?"), but they undoubtedly have special meaning for those accustomed to this sort of thing."
The newspaper account of that 1942 concert said, "A few gray haired women and one or two crochety (sic) old gentlemen got up and left before the program was finished. It lasted well into the evening, what with the audience demanding more and more."
The Goodman band also played its rollicking show-stopper, "Sing, Sing, Sing," with drummer Ralph Collier recreating the drum solo Gene Krupa had made famous four years earlier.
Other members of the Goodman Orchestra at the time included pianist Mel Powell; saxophonists Vito Musso, Clint Neagley, Julie Schwartz, George Berg and Chuck Gentry; trombonists Lou McGarity and Cutty Cutshall; trumpeters Cootie Williams, Jimmy Maxwell and Billy Butterfield (who five years earlier had been playing with Cleveland's Austin Wylie Orchestra); and guitarist Tommy Morgan.
The Plain Dealer reviewer summed up the evening by saying, "The concert was a little like a contest in which the home team lost to the visitors. The huge audience lost no time in expressing itself emphatically in favor of the last half of the program, given over entirely to the delirious doldroms (sic) and frenzied furbishes of Goodman and his jitterbugs."
The headline in The Plain Dealer the next day said:
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Goodman caricature by Joe Mosbrook
Copyright 1996 Joe Mosbrook
You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. Mosbrook's 1993 Cleveland Jazz History book, based on research for earlier broadcasts, is available from some Cleveland area bookstores, libraries, and the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society (216-397-9900).