Are you in the mood for digging the hottest TWO Swing bands in town? The audience at Carnegie Hall, New York City certainly were back in 1939. And it was London’s turn to enjoy a right royal battle of the bands at Cadogan Hall when Benny Goodman was pitched up against Glenn Miller in 2024. Let the jitterbugging commence!

But before we count off the opening bars of ‘Don’t Be That Way’ or ‘Little Brown Jug’ we should explain this was a serious endeavour by British musicians paying tribute to our American allies. The aim was to recreate the excitement and celebrate the musical significance of an historic event that occurred on October 6, 1939.

That’s when no less than four great U.S. orchestras gathered for a series of free concerts to celebrate the 25th anniversary of ASCAP.* They included those led by Paul Whiteman, Fred Waring, Benny Goodman and a hot new band leader Glenn Miller, who had just enjoyed his first million selling hit record with ‘Little Brown Jug’.

Who was responsible for tackling the noble endeavour of bringing back to life the sound and legacy of some of the finest jazz stars of the 1930s? Once again all credit is due to clarinettist and Musical Director Pete Long and drummer supreme Richard Pite, of the Jazz Repertory Company and their wonderful team of dedicated musicians.


Sloane Square was packed with merry makers on a warm summer’s evening on June 13th where many of them were heading for Cadogan Hall, Chelsea’s answer to Carnegie Hall , both venues homes of so much inspiring music. As a teenager I used to listen avidly to the Benny Goodman 1938 Carnegie Hall concert album never dreaming one day I’d stand on the stage where Goodman, Harry James and Gene Krupa once thundered through ‘Sing Sing Sing.’

But in 1969 I was invited to review Led Zeppelin at their historic Carnegie Hall rock concert and joined John Bonham on the hallowed boards for his sound check. He confided nervously: ‘I’ve gotta be good tonight. This is where Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich played.’ And by Jove he was good, playing one of the snappiest solos of his drumming career.


Goodman and Miller at Cadogan HallWhen Pete Long counted in ‘Don’t Be That Way’ unleashing the Benny Goodman part the night’s concert, the audience was instantly delighted by the blasting trumpets, riffing saxes and Mr. Pite’s explosive Krupa-esque drum breaks. Mr. Long’s clarinet playing brought true swing era authenticity to the familiar Edgar Sampson theme, taken a tad faster than in January 1938.

Pete then welcomed a ‘Mystery vocalist’ to sing ’Tain’t What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It’ who turned out to be trombone player Chris Dean, stepping up front to be greeted with cheers and applause.

However, it was a challenge for all the members of the orchestra when they bravely tackled Alex Templeton’s breath-takingly brilliant arrangement ‘Bach Goes to Town’. It caused a sensation at the time and still sounds fresh today.

Richard kept up a steady hi-hat rhythm while a bass clarinet underpinned the reed section’s reading of the tricky theme led by Alyson Crawley’s classical clarinet. All the reeds were chased by shining trumpets and trombones boldly heading towards an exultant fanfare finale. Hurrah!

After Bach came Basie, the orchestra relaxing at first as they picked their way into the delights of the Count’s theme tune ‘One O’Clock Jump’. Pianist Colin Good set a calm assured pace with solo honours going to Alyson (tenor sax), before Harry Evans blew hot trumpet al la Harry James all leading towards the blistering knock out climax.


The band now left the stage to make way for the Benny Goodman Trio. In 1939 this consisted of Benny on clarinet backed by Lionel Hampton (drums) and Fletcher Henderson (piano). Tonight the roles were taken by Pete Long, Richard Pite and Colin Good and they stomped off on ‘The Sheik Of Araby’ complete with speedy clarinet and drum solos.

Goodman and Miller at Cadogan HallNext came a wondrous recreation of one of the finest, most innovative small groups in jazz history, the Benny Goodman Sextet that ushered in the career of that pioneer of the electric amplified guitar, Charlie Christian.

Dave Chamberlain had the honour of setting up ‘Flying Home’ that would become a flag waving number for big bands the world over. But it began life as a more subtle guitar based theme that Goodman and Hampton embellished within the interactive hot house of the Sextet. It was a delight to hear Anthony Kerr’s vibraphone teamed with the clarinet and guitar building the theme towards a joyous conclusion.

Our compere told us about the brief life and impact of Charlie Christian, as a modern jazz pioneer before introducing Dave’s showcase number ‘Stardust.’ “He’s gonna play it for you because he loves you.”

Could there be any more spine tingling moments during this glorious Goodman set? Yes there was. ‘Sing Sing Sing’. Need one say anymore? Only to recall the moment when Richard Pite’s tom toms shook Cadogan Hall to its foundations, the trumpets blew and Pete Long’s clarinet solo would have drawn a beam of approval from Mr. Goodman himself, had he been looking down from the upper circle of jazz heaven.

Goodman and Miller at Cadogan HallOL’ MAN SATCHMO

As if this wasn’t all too much man, there was another total surprise when LOUIS ARMSTRONG strode onto the stage all smiles and trumpet in hand ready to launch into a rousing vocal rendition of ‘Ol’ Man Mose’ followed by his own bow to the swing era with ‘What Is This Thing Called…Swing.’

We had to thank Enrico Tomasso for taking on the role of Satchmo for the evening, purveying both a touch of his good humour and the splendour of his high note virtuosity. The entire band joined in the fun with the sax section performing unison miracles and a devastating drum solo that a Richard Pite fan sitting next to me proclaimed brought him out in ‘goose bumps.’

And now Ladies & Gentlemen we come to Part Two after an intermission riff at the bar and long queues for the facilities. There were even more surprises when the Kansas City Six took to the stage to perform ‘Good Morning Blues’ and ‘Way Down Yonder In New Orleans’ as performed during a Spirituals To Swing concert in December 1939 promoted by the legendary John Hammond.

This Basie-ite combo had a Freddie Green style rhythm guitar added to a line up that once again included Chamberlain as Charlie Christian with Karen Sharp on tenor sax recreating the mellow fruitfulness of Lester Young and Enrico delivering cool muted trumpet.

The Goodman Sextet returned for a delightful ‘Memories Of You’ a tune Pete confessed he could “never remember” and a frantic ‘I Got Rhythm’ complete with nail biting false stops.


Goodman and Miller at Cadogan HallAt last (in the words of the song) the entire Glenn Miller Orchestra was ushered on stage to complete the show with a richly entertaining medley of their greatest hits including of course ‘Moonlight Serenade,’ ‘Little Brown Jug,’ ‘In The Mood’ and ‘Bugle Call Rag’ complete with rousing drum solo in the tradition of Maurice Purtill. Earlier Pete Long explained how ‘In The Mood’ was transformed from a rather bland Artie Shaw version of the Joe Garland arrangement Glenn heard on the radio, and would become a hit tune for dancers around the world.

Interestingly our M.C. also emphasised that Miller actually embraced the ideas and techniques that informed the development of modern jazz, completely at odds with the wide spread view of Glenn’s music as the epitome of swing era stalemate. Not true!

FINALLY Pete prepared us for another Spirituals To Swing gem by the Count Basie Orchestra. “If this doesn’t turn you on, you haven’t got a switch!’ he proclaimed urging the band into a storming ‘Swinging The Blues’ complete with vibes solos and Enrico back on fiery trumpet.

Could there possible by another encore after all this excitement? Anybody contemplating heading for the exits was stopped in their tracks by yet another call to arms, with ‘Bugle Call Rag’ blown at full tilt, this time a lá King of Swing. Who won the battle of the bands? They all did. CHRIS WELCH

*The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

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