In their fifth International Associate residency at the Barbican, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra gave a glorious revival of iconic clarinettist Benny Goodman’s historic 1938 Carnegie Hall concert. Every member is an expert soloist in their own right, but as a group they are exceptional. From the opening “Don’t Be That Way”, every dynamic switch was instantaneous, every characteristic bend and swoop perfectly in sync and utterly authentic to the period.
Music director Victor Goines led the evening as emcee and clarinettist, giving way also to clarinettist Ted Nash, duetting together in a lightning-virtuosic “Dizzy Spells”, a particular highlight. If this wasn’t enough, Adrian Cox joined with his foghorn clarinet, along with clarinettist Giacomo Smith’s sprightly staccato styling, as two special guests. We got the full squealing quartet in a phenomenal finale of “Sing, Sing, Sing”.
But by no means was the astonishing Benny Goodman sound-a-like competition the only feature. Special guest Jim Hart gave a stunning vibraphone solo in a prestissimo “I Got Rhythm”. BBC’s very own Clare Teal brought her legendary vocals to “Loch Lomond” and “Bei Mir Bist du Schön Solom”. The standard and variety on offer was such that it didn’t matter we only got one or two brief solos from world-famous trumpet star Wynton Marsalis.
Walking onto rapturous applause and receiving a full 2,000-strong standing ovation at the end, it’s clear they were playing to a home crowd, but they really are that good. It’s amazing how eighty years later, Benny Goodman’s songs, arrangements and soloing style can still sound so fresh. This revival concert is no museum piece, it’s the real deal.