Remembering Benny Goodman

My first aural memory of Benny Goodman probably came from the many 78 recordings of swing bands which my dad loved to play in the evenings when I was a child in San Francisco. But it wasn't until my grandma took me to see the Benny Goodman Story at the Castro movie theater that I really put the sound together with the man and the legend and dreamed of one day playing the clarinet. Flash forward 30 years to the moment when the legend called me to come visit him, talk clarinets, and play duets. As I took the elevator to Benny Goodman's penthouse on the east side of Manhattan, my knees started to shake and I felt as though I was ascending to God. The childhood memories of my dad's records and going to the movies with my grandma filled my mind. The elevator opened to the door of his apartment and I nervously rang the bell. My whole life seemed to be building to this moment. The door opened, I looked up and was struck speechless. I was shocked to see another person! I struggled to regain reality. I suddenly realized I had been expecting to see Steve Allen, who played Benny in the movie. But the man who warmly invited me in was indeed the one and only, attired in silk smoking jacket and ascot. And then for a precious few hours the legend and I spoke of all the mundane things which every clarinet player ends up talking about: reeds, mouthpieces, and equipment. He wanted my opinion of a live recording he had made of the Max Reger Clarinet Quintet. And we read through the old Italian clarinet duets every kid growing up loves to play with a friend. His chauffer took us two blocks away to an east side deli for soup and sandwich. It all seemed like a dream, but people kept coming over to our table to make sure I realized with whom I was having lunch. Not Steve Allen. It was the king.