Benny did something really
great for humanity
Goodman and Reginald Kell
On tour with a British Big Band
Talking to Les Tomkins in 1970
That picture ( The Benny Goodman Story ) really did Benny an injustice. It should have been opened up to show how the guys make one–nighters. Also what Benny stood for when he had the first integrated band. He was doing something great for humanity. Civil Rights really came about through music like the Goodman Quartet. I mean, everybody else was scared; no body else would touch it. Here's a guy that did, and he's got to have credit for it.
I got quite a bit of money out of the picture, and I offered to turn it back; I wanted 'em to cut my part out. Sure, he found me in a cafe, as it showed I didn't mind that. My quarrel was with the theme of it, making Benny into a lover. Benny loves his music . He knew that he was pioneering, and he loved every minute of it. He protected Teddy and I at all times. Give him credit. He's one of the finest guys I know. A real fine gentleman.
Great guys like Harry James and Gene Krupa have made positive contributions, but Benny was the most effective person one of the fathers of integration. Since those days I've been in the South and all over America with half white, half coloured bands. This is what they should have shown in the picture. Benny influenced the whole world of jazz and the theatrical business; then the whole of America was integrated behind this. We were the forerunners of people in music, pictures, stage, all entertainers getting together. Even for Jackie Rouse to being on the Dodgers baseball team, I think.
And musically it was a great thing. From it we picked up Charlie Christian, the all time greatest of guitar players; Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson played with us sometimes. This was a great outfit, you know, and it's a shame that the youngsters of today couldn't hear this group. We do get together for some special Benefits sometimes, and the groups al ways fall in just right on time, all the time. Solid. We've only played two pieces, man, and we're right in the groove.
I got the big band after that. Yes, I was 21; we formed up in Los Angeles, then I brought the band to the East. My first job I played was at the Apollo Theatre. And in this band I had Illinois Jacquet, Dexter Gordon playing saxophones, Ernie Royal playing high note trumpet. Oh, and Jack McVea he's the guy who wrote "Open The Door, Richard." A lot of good guys came out of this band. Like, Charlie Mingus used to play bass with us. Monk Montgomery, Wes Montgomery played guitar Quincy Jones started in the band; then you've got Benny Golson, Fats Navarro, Kenny Do rham, Clifford Brown. There's so many.
It was making money. During the Second World War days, when I had the late Dinah Washington and Joe Williams singing with me, my band used to gross a million and a half dollars a year. That was a big operation.
But the reason why the big bands failed in the late 'forties and early 'fifties was : all your good musicians had left for symphony orchestras, or had got out and started having bands of their own. And we didn't have nobody to fill those gaps.
I know I lost Illinois Jacquet, Arnette Cobb, Earl Bostic, Dinah Washington when they wanted to get out for themselves.
So you got inferior musicians, man. You'd say: "Why aren't you playing your part?" They'd say: "Well; Daddy, I'm just waiting for my solo." To this day, my friends who are still in the big band business are still having this problem. They feel that many of the musicians are not orientated to discipline; and you've got to have discipline.
However, with this group I've got now, there's eight of us including myself and, if anything detrimental comes up, I can quell it easily. Because there ain't that many; the force is not that great against you ! I want more of a sure shot, musical, conservative group behind me. I don't want to take no chances; I want good backing, a good rhythm section. without a drummer dropping a lot of bombs. This is essential, and the freedom it gives me means more to me than anything. I know what I can do; I'm under no pressure at all.
Copyright © 1970, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.