Cadogan Hall, London

When ‘Don’t Be That Way’ was stomped off on a swinging night at Cadogan Hall the audience was instantly transported back to an historic Concert held at Carnegie Hall, New York City on January 16, 1938.
It is a date emblazoned in history, when jazz was first presented on a concert stage and accepted as a fully fledged music form worthy of critical scrutiny. Benny Goodman’s Orchestra was the main attraction that wintry night, along with a host of guest star soloists courtesy of Duke Ellington and Count Basie.

Clarinettist and band leader Pete Long has been a lifelong fan of the double live album of recordings from that night, first released in 1950. And it was his ambition, along with drummer and organiser Richard Pite to recreate the dynamic performances heard in New York’s bastion of classical music, long since hailed as a highlight of the Swing Era.

The result was a superb tribute concert (18 November 2023) when a whirlwind of arrangements and tunes by Fletcher Henderson, Jimmy Mundy and Edgar Sampson were performed by a dedicated team of musicians who clearly impressed many visiting American swing fans in the audience.

Tension mounted as the lights went up at 7. 20 p.m on a bare stage filled with the promise of music to come, with a grand piano, a vibraphone, two drum kits and rows of golden trumpets, trombones and saxophones silently on display.

Then came Pete Long to engage audience and musicians alike with his wit, humour and own command of the demanding ebony instrument that Mr. Goodman had famously made his own.

As Mr. Long counted in the band they roared into the Edgar Sampson piece that sounded so good man, you could imagine Benny himself would have been surprised and delighted if he’d lived to hear the band playing in his honour. (However, he would have been 114 years old and climbing the Cadogan Hall staircases might have presented problems).

It was during ‘Don’t Be That Way’ that Richard Pite made his first thunderous impact when he burst into the violent drum break Gene Krupa had deployed to break the ice at Carnegie Hall. As a sudden fusillade of crash cymbals and snare drum rim shots it was the sort of pent up fury that drew gasps in 1938 and applause in 2023. Then came the back beat behind the trombone solo and an even more furious drum assault in the final chorus.

The Goodman trumpet section in January ’38 was one of the best ever assembled including Chris Griffin, Ziggy Elman and Harry James. Their biting ensemble sound and solo power was perfectly recreated by today’s hugely impressive team of Enrico Tomasso, James Davison and Ryan Quigley who each imbued their own individual styles even while engaging with those hallowed charts of yore.

A more relaxed ‘Sometimes I’m Happy’ was a beautiful arrangement with the saxophone section featured in a tricky unison chorus and blessed with a mellow tenor solo from Karen Sharp. Count Basie’s ‘One O’Clock Jump’ was launched by a piano solo from Colin Good supported by Martin Wheatley (guitar), Joe Pettitt (double bass) and Richard’s sighing hi-hat setting up a suitable Basie-ite beat.

Maestro Pete soloed a lá Goodman before the famous riff crescendo backing a triumphant trumpet solo from Ryan Quigley.

A feature of the 1938 concert was a ‘Twenty Years Of Jazz’ medley an idea espoused by Irving Kolodin as he explained in the sleeve notes to the live LPs. It involved much research work but it proved fun to hear the sound of the Original Dixieland Band of 1918 being reproduced. More impressive was ‘I’m Coming Virginia’ first played by Bix Beiderbecke, then by Bobby Hackett and tonight folks…Enrico Tomasso!

After Pete’s tribute to Ted Lewis, the 1920s music hall version of a jazz clarinettist (‘If there are children present please cover their ears)’ came a bow to Louis Armstrong with a powerhouse ‘Shine’ performed by Enrico in the steps of Harry James and Satchmo himself of course.

Thence came a superb rendition of Duke Ellington’s ‘Blue Reverie’ as played by Johnny Hodges, now performed by Alyson Cawley on her curved soprano sax providing one of the evening’s most magical moments. Ryan Quigley then let rip with another amazing solo during a boisterous ‘Life Goes To A Party’ that had the entire troupe of Good Men playing with party time fervour.

It was time to calm things down before the Cadogan audience began jitterbugging, or even heaven forefend, ‘shagging’ in the aisles. The trio led by Mr. Long on clarinet with Colin Good and Richard Pite gave us a heart warming ‘Body And Soul’ before Anthony Kerr joined them for a spritely ‘Avalon’ on the vibraphone, deftly using two pairs of mallets, notably on ‘The Man I Love’. The quartet then showed they could create as much excitement as a big band on ‘I Got Rhythm’ that came with cliff hanging false stops designed to fool audiences into cheering – and laughing.

A joyful ‘Big John Special’ concluded the first half and those now heading to the bar area were entreated to take advantage of a special Xmas CD sales offer. The bandleader announced encouragingly: “Buy one…and get one.”
There was barely time to down a lager before the band came back on stage with a storming ‘Blue Skies’ with a thunderous flutter tongued trumpet intro devised by Fletcher Henderson. It had startled Benny Goodman when he first heard it played by James, Elman and Griffin. Now it was time for Tomasso, Quigley and James Davison to raise the roof.

‘Loch Lomond’ was sung cheerfully and charmingly by Louise Cookman in a glamorous red dress with flower in her hair. She followed up with a riotous ‘Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen’ complete with the ‘Frohlich’ trumpet solo devised by Ziggy Elman and here delivered by James Davison.

Betwixt these songs came ‘The most exciting tune of the Swing Era’ ‘Swing Time in the Rockies’. A killer diller arrangement by Jimmy Mundy Mr. Pite drove the band from his 1940’s Radio King drum kit while James took one of the hottest trumpet solos of the night. Andy Flaxman and Ian Bateman also delivered the deep toned trombone riff that gives the cleverly structured arrangement its mood of suspense and urgency.

Back to the trio for ‘China Boy’ and Pete Long confessed before placing clarinet to lips: “It’s difficult because it’s fast and it’s late.” Nevertheless his solo was brilliant and drew cheers as did the drumming man’s snare solo with brushes.

Lionel Hampton completed the Good Men Quartet on vibes, in the form of ‘Mallets’ Kerr ready to cue in perennial favourite ‘Stompin’ At The Savoy’ alongside Teddy Wilson i.e. Colin Good.

Their joint version came complete with more Krupa-esque breaks, Richard using sticks this time, that presaged an extraordinarily fast tune called ‘Dizzy Spells’. Interestingly Pete suggested it was an early manifestation of bebop perhaps resulting from Hampton, who devised the speedy theme, having seen Dizzy Gillespie jamming just before the 1938 concert. It has to be said. Long & Co’s 2023 version was ‘Spell Binding.’

And now ladies and gentlemen get ready for the grand finale. Pete Long & His Good Men boldly set about recreating that historic anthem of swing – ‘Sing Sing Sing.’

Pete explained how the main theme had been composed by Louis Prima with Bing Crosby in mind when it was going to be called ’Sing, Bing, Sing.’ Amazingly the Old Groaner turned it down. But combined with Fletcher Henderson’s ‘Christopher Columbus’ in an inspired move by Benny Goodman, it all resulted in an extended work that allowed his band to blow its collective derriere off.

It also showcased the thunder of tom toms that made Gene Krupa a legend and was also the setting for showpiece solos by Harry James and Goodman himself topping a top A with a high C on his Selmer clarinet. More surprisingly a final rhapsodic piano solo by Jess Stacy threatened to steal the show. “Would you mind Richard” asked Pete casually and our drummer responded instantly with the tom tom rhythm that inspired generations of drummers. The trumpets blared, the saxes wailed and the soloists excelled themselves including of course the pianist when the volume dropped down to pin-drop level. Then just a few cowbell beats signalled the shouting finale by all the Good Men and true amidst a roar of applause.

What could possibly follow? Well ‘If Dreams Come True’ was the perfect choice even though ‘Big John Special’ was used as the only encore number on the album. In 1938 there were actually two encores after ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’. ‘Dreams’ was the first and ‘Big John’ the second.  Explains Richard Pite: “We took liberties by putting the second encore at the end of the first half and added vocals and vibes to ‘If Dreams Come True’ to feature everyone who took part in the concert.”

That hypnotically attractive song also enabled Pete and Louise to dance on the stage, hoping to encourage the audience to join in. After all the dream of recreating such a famous music event, really had come true. Well I didn’t dance in the aisles but I did hum the tune all the way home from Sloane Square.