For a long time I’ve been looking for a Benny Goodman album with my favorite tracks from the King of Swing. It proved difficult to find an album covering all my favorites and I ended up bying Sony’s 2-CD-set The Essential Benny Goodman. At least it has some of the (in my opinion) best pieces BG recorded, namely Sing, Sing, Sing, Life Goes to a Party and Swingtime in the Rockies. The latter two are not the well-known studio recordings; they’re live recordings. Hence their sound quality is inferior to the studio versions, but it’s just good enough to give a great listening experience. Since these performances are recorded live and more upbeat it really makes you want to swing! Now I like them even better than the studio rec’s.
The album contains 40 tracks divided into four categories of 10 tracks each: Benny’s Big Band Arrangers, Benny Visits Tin Pan Alley, Benny’s Small Groups and Benny Live, all of which are quite self-explanatory. The most consistently interesting for me is the live category where you get to hear how hard BG swung before a live audience. And that’s hard!
The remastering is good, with noticable but not intrusive noise and the best sounding remastering of sing, sing, sing I’ve heard yet.
Despite the good remastering, I’m not completely happy with the album. Too many of my favorites aren’t there, like Jumpin’ at the Woodside, And the Angels Sing, All the Cats Join in and Bei mir Bist du Schön. Some of the ommissions are probably explained by Sony not holding the rights for them. However, in Europe the copyright of these recordings doesn’t last for more than 50 years such that record companies may issue compilations with whichever tracks they want, regardless of who holds the rights in the US. There’s a downside to this; they can’t use the original masters which are locked in the vaults of the rights holders. European companies have to find the best-sounding 78-records and source their music from them. However, the remastering from 78s can be just as good as the ones from the original masters, since the original masters often are worn.
I’m not an expert on BG, but I’ve done some research while trying to find good collections of his recordings. Despite the oppurtunity to include the tracks they want, I’ve not yet found a satysfying compilations from a European label. 2009 is the 100th anniversary of BG’s birth and I hope some good collections will apper before the end of the year. In the meanwhile I’m happy to listen to BG on The Essential Benny Goodman, and when I’m missing a track I look up Benny Goodman in Chronology at Spotify. It’s by the European label The Complete Jazz Series which specializes in issuing all recordings by an artist done before the LP-era, and they are renowned for their good remasterings. In BG’s case that’s actually 35 CDs, all with more than 20 tracks, with music recorded between 1928 and 1952. That’s a total of 795 tracks(!) In addition, on Spotify you can find recordings by BG from the LP-era and you can sometimes find different versions of your favorite BG tune. Listen to it all here (a Spotify account is required), and check out this shortened version of Sing, sing, sing from the movie Hollywood Hotel: