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Paquito D´Rivera - WDR BIG BAND - BENNIE GOODMAN Revisited


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Benny @100 The first time I heard about New York City, it was from my father, the very day he came home with a record that changed my life forever. I must have been around 8 or 9 years old when on a sunny afternoon in that still beautiful Havana of [...]

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Paquito D´Rivera - WDR BIG BAND - BENNIE GOODMAN Revisited


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Benny @100 The first time I heard about New York City, it was from my father, the very day he came home with a record that changed my life forever. I must have been around 8 or 9 years old when on a sunny afternoon in that still beautiful Havana of the mid fifties, my old man brought an LP on a multicolor jacket with six pictures of a clarinetist with the heading: The Great Benny Goodman. The names HARRY JAMES, GENE KRUPA, TEDDY WILSON, LIONEL HAMPTON, and a few other great Jazz artists were highlighted in red, black and blue letters. Tito–who was the name of my Dad, a classical saxophonist himself– placed the LP on his portable Silvertone turntable and put the needle almost on the edge of the striped surface of the vinyl record. The soft murmur produced for a few seconds by the friction of the minute metallic point on the virgin plastic, accented my curiosity of the unknown even more. Right away we heard the notes of “Let’s Dance”, the Benny Goodman Orchestra’s musical theme. The solid rhythmic section seemed to be like the root and trunk of a strong, healthy tree. On it, the 5 branches of the compact saxophone section bloomed exuberantly, like spring. The trumpets splashed the melody like fresh dew and suddenly stopped to let Benny’s crystal clear, playful tone step right in. Like a bird of light, his unique clarinet sound ascended stroking the sparkling stars. My God! That band moved as smoothly as a dinghy down the Hudson river. Many years later, legendary producer John Avakian, who wrote the notes for the superb 1938 recording that didn’t come out until 1956; told me that the theme was arranged by the mastermind Fletcher Henderson for the popular radio show “Let’s Dance”. The piece was based on the celebrated Invitation to the Waltz, by Carl Maria von Weber. “What was that?” I asked my Dad, extremely impressed by what I heard, when the first side of the record was over. “Swing”––he answered with a mischievous smile––, “The Benny Goodman Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.” “Did you say meat and beans?” (The sound of Carnegie Hall was almost like “carne y frijol” in Spanish), I asked, surprised by the relationship my mother’s cooking could have to such inspired music. My old man cracked up laughing, but when he finally calmed down, he explained who Benny Goodman was, Swing, Carnegie Hall and the amazing city where its red brick columns were erected. Ever since, the Jewish clarinetist became my main musical idol and the “jungle of asphalt”, the city of my dreams. Many moons later, in 2009, the entire music world celebrated the centenary of the dean of all clarinetists, and I was so happy when Lucas Schmidt proposed to me the idea of doing a concert commemorating the King of Swing’s 100 birthday at the magnificent Symphony Hall in Köln, with my dear friends of the WDR orchestra, under maestro Michael Abene’s baton. A few month prior to the concert, Michael–who happened to play with Benny for a while– and I had a meeting in a piano room at Jazz at Lincoln Center, to pick the tunes to be re-arranged in a more modern style. Pieces like Memories of You, Goodbye, Stomping at the Savoy and (of course) Sing, Sing, Sing, all but one, related to Benny’s career were chosen. In those days I was commissioned by the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival to compose a sonata in 4 movements for clarinetist Jon Manasse and pianist Jon Nakamatsu. The first movement is titled  “Benny @100” which I asked Abene to orchestrate for the Big Band. The chart is nothing less than superb, and I most tell you that if it was true what Duke Ellington said about “Good arranging is like re-composing”, this is the best example I can think of.

The present project pretends to be not only a tribute to The King of Swing, but to Krupa, Lionel, Harry James, Teddy Wilson, and all of those great musicians that helped giving shape to Goodman’s amazing history. As you’ll probably notice while listening to this live recording, for me, the experience was unforgettable, due to the exquisite combination of the charm of the ancient German city, the majesty of its Symphony Hall, the powerful, yet sensitive touch of the formidable WDR Orchestra and the magic pen of Michael Abene. I truly hope you guys (and Benny up there) enjoy the product of this work of love.

Paquito D’Rivera
New York City, 2010


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