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Benny Goodman clarinet fest with Victor Goines

Howard Reich

10:23 AM EDT, October 31, 2013

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After the success of last year's Billy Strayhorn Festival, perhaps it was inevitable that the Music Institute of Chicago would convene a subsequent tribute to a major jazz figure.

This time, the two-day soiree will cast a spotlight on Benny Goodman, whose enormous achievements as clarinet virtuoso, bandleader, self-styled pop star and breaker of racial barriers clearly deserve the attention. Better still, the Music Institute has turned to two of this city's foremost players – jazz clarinetist Victor Goines and classical counterpart Larry Combs – to take prominent roles, each leading one evening of the festival.

For jazz listeners, Goines' appearance on Friday night at the Music Institute's Nichols Concert Hall represents a rare opportunity to hear a major clarinetist contemplating the accomplishments of a figure he has long admired. For Goines, the concert opens up a chance to dig deeply into music that challenges even the most proficient players.

"He truly was a virtuoso," says Goines, a longtime member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and director of jazz studies at Northwestern University's Bienen School of Music. "Anybody who doesn't think he was a virtuoso should try to play his music. That's the greatest way to figure things out.

"He obviously studied the music of both genres – jazz and classical – and made a decision to spend most of his life playing jazz."

Why did Goodman, a child of poor Jewish immigrants living on the West Side of Chicago, gravitate toward jazz?

"I think it might have been due to the culture he grew up in in Chicago and the music that was played at that time," says Goines, referring to Goodman's youth here in the 1910s and '20s. "It gave him the greatest opportunity to express what he was dealing with."

Meaning that Goodman found his voice in a music born of the African-American experience, a sound that represented a kind of triumph over fierce racial discrimination. Moreover, Goodman came of age musically in the shadow of jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton and other New Orleans masters who converged in Chicago, the young clarinetist absorbing the syntax of jazz from the musicians who invented it.

Perhaps that's why Goines hears a "sense of the blues" in Goodman's playing. "He always had that in his sound. I didn't get the opportunity to hear him live, though I spoke with many people who did. Just the sense of the blues – you can hear it in every piece of music that he recorded."

It's no coincidence, then, that Goodman's earliest hit was his recording of "King Porter Stomp," a piece Morton composed at the dawn of the 20th century that ultimately became a Swing Era classic – thanks partly to Goodman's efforts.

But Goodman's repertory extends far beyond the familiar.

"Many times, people almost exclusively relate Benny to 'Sing, Sing, Sing' or 'King Porter Stomp,'" says Goines. "With this concert, to review what I wanted to do, it became difficult to pick tunes, because he played so much music, he recorded so much."

For the first night of the festival, devoted to Goodman's jazz side, Goines and faculty from the Music Institute of Chicago will open with repertoire Goodman played in trio and quartet settings, including standards such as "Liza" and "After You've Gone." Then the band will expand to play virtuoso pieces such as "Airmail Special" and "I Got Rhythm." Through the course of the evening, Goines will share the stage with vocalist Tammy McCann, trumpeter Victor Garcia, trombonist Audrey Morrison, pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Marlene Rosenberg, vibist Thaddeus Tukes and drummer Ernie Adams.

As for why the Music Institute chose Goodman as its next jazz subject, the timing was right, says president and CEO Mark George. For starters, this year happens to be the 75th anniversary of the Carnegie Hall concert, when Goodman and his orchestra made their historic appearance at the shrine of classical music in 1938.

"So I went back and listened and got inspired," says George. "The more I started reading about him, his upbringing in Chicago and (his) being an icon for the Jewish diaspora, what he did for jazz, and it became a no-brainer."

That Goodman blithely ignored social/racial taboos by integrating his band with pianist Teddy Wilson and vibist Lionel Hampton only heightens his importance in American music and cultural history.

To pay fitting tribute to the clarinetist, who died in 1986 at age 77, the Music Institute did not have to look far to find its soloists.

"When Benny Goodman came to mind, we had a couple A-plus clarinetists in our backyard," says George, referring to Goines and Combs, former principal clarinetist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. "With those kinds of chops, we thought they'd be fantastic."

Goines' studies of Goodman's life and music in preparation for the program prompted him to devote most of his newest recording to this repertoire. "Morning Swing," which will be available at the concert, has nine selections, eight of them associated with Goodman, plus the title cut – a Goines original.

"So many times you play things, but you never get to document It and figure out what's going on in the music at this level," says Goines. So when planning for the Goodman festival began, "I made a decision that I would sit down and study this music and figure it out and document it."

Goines hopes both the recording and concert should serve to "demonstrate the historic aspects to Benny Goodman, but also the virtuosic aspects. Also the breadth of his music and how he was able to touch so many people with so many different grooves."

Black jazz, Jewish klezmer, European classical and other currents course through Goodman's art, and if the weekend's festival unfolds as hoped, that will be plain to hear.

The Benny Goodman Festival will feature Victor Goines and colleagues in jazz repertoire starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday; panel discussion and screening of "The Benny Goodman Story" at 3 p.m. Saturday; Larry Combs and others in classical repertoire at 7:30 p.m. Saturday; at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston. Concert tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for students; film screening is $10; festival passes are $55 general, $30 seniors; phone 847-905-1500, ext. 108, or visit musicinst.org.

Also worth hearing

Marquis Hill: The accomplished young trumpeter, an increasingly busy figure in Chicago clubs and concert halls, celebrates the release of his third album as leader, "The Poet." 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4, 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday; at the Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct.; $20-$35; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com

Jon Faddis: A brilliant trumpet soloist, Faddis returns to Chicago to perform the music from the Miles Davis/Gil Evans album "Miles Ahead," joined by Jeff Lindberg's Chicago Jazz Orchestra. 3 p.m. Sunday at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St.; $20-$40; 312-334-7777 or harristheaterchicago.org or chicagojazzorchestra.com

Andy Brown and Howard Alden: Chicago guitarist Brown has been collaborating with guitarist Alden for years and marks the release of their long-waited album together, "Heavy Artillery." 9 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway; $12; 773-878-5552 or greenmilljazz.com

Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Drummer Reed's much-admired band collaborates with guests Eric Boeren on cornet and Michael Moore on reeds. 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave.; $12; constellation-chicago.com

Junior Mance: The veteran jazz pianist celebrates his recent 85th birthday in concert, leading a trio. 7 p.m. Saturday at Unitarian Church of Evanston, 1330 Ridge Ave., Evanston; $30-$100; 847-864-1330 or ucevanston.org

Asian American Jazz Festival: The annual event features saxophonists Tim O'Dell and Jeff Chan, bassist Tatsu Aoki and drummer Avreeayl Ra; 9 p.m. Saturday at Elastic, 2830 N. Milwaukee Ave.; $10; 773-772-3616 or elasticarts.org or aajazz.org

To read more form Howard Reich on jazz, go to chicagotribune.com/reich.

hreich@tribune.com

Twitter @howardreich