Arts + Culture

Concert explores the music of Benny Goodman’s groundbreaking 1938 Carnegie Hall concert

The performance made waves musically and racially

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Benny Goodman
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Benny Goodman’s clarinet teacher taught both Jewish and African-American students, which led Goodman to work with anyone who was an outstanding musician.

Eighty years ago, legendary bandleader and jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman elevated jazz and sparked serious conversations about race, politics and music with his now famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, the first performance with an integrated band at a premier American music venue.

“It was not simply the mixing of races that was so significant and groundbreaking,” said Lorry Black, associate director of the Lowell Milken Fund for American Jewish Music, “but the mixing of musical ideas — cool sound meets hot sound.”

On May 30, the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music Lowell Milken Fund for American Jewish Music presents a tribute concert, “Ahead of his Time: Benny Goodman,” at Sinai Temple at 7 p.m.; a panel discussion will be held at 6 p.m. Admission is free with RSVP.

The concert program, which features acclaimed clarinet soloist Ken Peplowski, a member of Goodman’s final big band, will include pieces from the 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, as well as a selection of original work inspired by Goodman, who came to be known as the King of Swing. Other featured artists include conductor and UCLA lecturer Charley Harrison and the UCLA Jazz Orchestra and an alumni ensemble from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

Goodman was raised in a Jewish community, and his first lessons and rental clarinet came from Kehelah Jacob Synagogue in Chicago. However, it was the coalescing of both his musical background (studying with a clarinet teacher who taught both Jewish and African-American students) and his Jewish background that led Goodman to work and collaborate with anyone who was an outstanding musician, speaking out against injustice through action rather than protest.

“Benny’s contributions go far deeper than anything an individual can gather from listening to an album,” said Black, the program curator. “He was a musical revolutionary who sent seismic waves through the landscape of the music world.”

UCLA professor Mark Kligman, the Mickey Katz Endowed Chair in Jewish Music and director of the Lowell Milken Fund for American Jewish Music, added: “Jews have had a lasting impact on the sonic landscape of American culture. ‘Ahead of his Time’ furthers our conversations and explorations of music in American Jewish life, and beyond.”

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