Friday, January 11, 2013

BG at CH: 75 years and a complete recording still to come... soon

(L to R: Gene Krupa, Babe Russin, Allan Reuss, George Koenig, 
Red Ballard, BG, Vernon Bown, and Art Rollini
Carnegie Hall, January 16, 1938)

Next Wednesday, January 16th, will mark the 75th anniversary of Benny Goodman's famous concert at Carnegie Hall. It was a very cold Sunday evening in New York, Carnegie Hall sold out (they even had part of the audience on stage), the Hall's surroundings were crowded, supporters of Franco (this was during the Spanish Civil War) were protesting against Goodman, who had played a benefit for Spanish loyalists in December... It was a momentous occasion for many reasons and the actual music lived up to it.

CBS 450983
I've been a fan of this concert for over twenty years, since I bought the first CD reissue done by Columbia in my first visit to London. In those days I didn't own so many records, so this is one of those I spinned endless times. I didn't mind the not-so-good sound quality: this was history in the making (a "swing" band at Carnegie Hall!), and some of the music is excellent, like the surprisingly reflective piano solo by Jess Stacy on "Sing, Sing, Sing", Krupa's galvanizing break on "Don't Be That Way", Lester Young's tenor on "Honeysuckle Rose", Lionel Hampton's wild arpeggios at the end of "I Got Rhythm", or Ziggy Elman blasting trumpet at the end of "Swingtime in the Rockies".

With time I went on to other things, but even so I got interested in the news, around 1999, about a brand new reissue with all the music in it. It was a well-known fact that two tracks ("Sometimes I'm Happy" and "If Dreams Come True") as well as a portion of "Honeysuckle Rose" had been left out, for technical reasons, from the original 1950 LP and subsequent reissues. Now, there was plenty of hype about the restoration of all the music, the sources used, etc. The problem with hype is that the product has to live up to expectations, and "fan" comes from "fanatic".

C2K 65143
So, the 1999 reissue (C2K 65143) including all the music (except a few notes of Buck Clayton's solo on "Honeysuckle...", due to an allegedly unavoidable needle skip in the acetates) got pretty much panned by the fans, and not without reason: The amount of surface noise seemed unreasonable, it sounded like archeology had prevailed over entertainment. The sound quality, the crowd noise and the unedited gaps between tunes made it less enjoyable than previous versions. For some, though, everything was there and that's what mattered. As for me, I got the new reissue and never got rid of the old one.

Fast forward to 2013. Taking advantage of EU copyright laws, there have been quite a few reissues of the complete concert. Some labels have done it even twice in a decade, with just the concert in them, or combining it with other Goodman recordings, all of them branding the word "complete" on their covers, meaning that they carried the two missing tracks and all the solos in "Honeysuckle Rose". In the meantime, plenty has been said in different media, and the arguments about the merits of C2K 65143 have been kept alive in several jazz forums, with comparisons between that official complete reissue and the subsequent ones done by EU labels, who, for once, seemed to have bettered the original (with just a bit of noise reduction and some equalisation, apparently).

Jon Hancock's book
Regarding the concert, in 2009, an English writer called Jon Hancock published an amazing book devoted to the concert. Over 200 pages of data, stories, pictures, diagrams (A4 sized and well printed in quality paper)... in other words, all you ever wanted to know about the concert and never thought about, let alone dared, asking.

As luck would have it, only after his book was printed, did Jon discovered a new flaw about C2K 65143. He was comparing it with another set of acetates he mentions in his book, and noticed that "I Got Rhythm" was shorter in the CD. That is 27 seconds shorter. At the tempo that tune was played that's quite a lot: 34 bars, actually. These ones:

Try to find this music in C2K 65143. It's just not there. In the old CD issue (identical to the original LP), this tune by the quartet goes like this:

- 8 bars (intro)
- 1 chorus (theme)
- 2 choruses (piano solo)
- 2 choruses (clarinet solo)
- 5 choruses (vibes solo)
- 1 chorus (outro)

First of all, the quartet plays the tune as it was written, i. e., with 34-bar choruses (your regular 32 bars plus a 2-bar coda at the end of each chorus). The third and fourth choruses in Hampton's solo are easily recognisable, because in each the music stops twice in the first 16 bars. The fourth chorus actually starts with the quartet playing, in unison, a pre-arranged motive which would reappear, for instance, in the bridge of "Air Mail Special" (a/k/a "Good Enough to Keep"), also by a Goodman small group.

This is what C2K 65143 sounds like:

Compare it to this, from the earlier CD issue, CBS (or Columbia) 450983 2:

These two excerpts begin and end with the same music. However, you'll also notice that the one from C2K 65143 has only one "stop time" chorus: the first 16 bars of Hampton's third chorus have been spliced with the last 18 from his fourth.

In other words, C2K 65143 is not complete. Actually, Hancock has looked into this, and, apparently neither are any of the subsequent reissues. None of them. Any reissue you can get hold of is based either on the old LP (or the early Columbia CD reissue), or on C2K 65143. In other words, any issue with all the tunes is missing part of Hampton's solo on "I Got Rhythm", and any one with the complete "I Got Rhythm", doesn't include "Sometimes I'm Happy", "If Dreams Come True", and the complete "Honeysuckle Rose".

The good news is that Hancock himself will release a new, complete version soon. He's had access to "new" sources, and having heard just mp3 files of it on a computer, the sound quality will be at least as good as anything we've heard so far, probably better.

In the meantime, this Spotify playlist has all the music (except for the needle skip during Buck Clayton's solo on "Honeysuckle Rose").

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