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Benny Goodman departed to his eternal reward back in 1986. But try telling that to the sell-out crowd in the warm confines of the Cary Arts Center on a late winter’s evening. These people were there to witness the virtual return of the King of Swing, a return made certain by the ministrations of Dave Bennett and his five colleagues with their “Tribute to Benny Goodman.”
From the opening “Avalon,” featuring (neo) Benny Goodman and his signature wire rims and spats, many might have been transported to an earlier time. It’s 1960 and a summer evening in New York’s Lewisohn Stadium. Benny Goodman has already polished off a Mozart concerto with conductor Alfredo Antonini and the Stadium Symphony Orchestra. Now he brings on his latest combo for the second half festivities. Such skillfully realized goodies as “Moonglow” and “Running Wild” gradually bring the audience back to the present day. And it’s quite astonishing how well these players capture the spirit of those early great Goodman artists.
Dave Bennett (b. 1984) has been described as “a jaw-dropping clarinet prodigy who brings to life the music of The King of Swing with incredible technique, passion, and sensitivity.” He cultivates the Goodman persona with easy banter and good humor. His colleagues boast equally high qualifications. Matt Hoffmann at twenty-two is a splendid stand-in for the great Red Norvo on the vibraphone. Bassist Paul Keller, having performed with the likes of Joe Williams and Cab Calloway, has garnered every honor worth having. Guitarist Hugh Leal has been especially active for years in both playing and promoting jazz. Peter Siers’ credentials on the drums are impressive indeed and internationally known, at home with modern and traditional styles. Pianist Tad Weed, with all the magic of Teddy Wilson, has collaborated with Woody Herman, Anita O’Day and George Shearing.
These jazzmen went “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” Temporarily excusing the strings, the quartet (clarinet, piano, vibes and drums) brought on a mild case of vertigo with “Dizzy Spells.” Piano four-hands (Weed and Bennett) and drums represented a nod to the “Boogie” genre.
Bennett proved to be a pretty good blues soloist in a touching rendition of the “St. James Infirmary Blues.” A crowd favorite was the entreating piano and clarinet duo version of “Yesterday.” Not to be denied was “Sing! Sing! Sing!” And “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” was mandatory.
So here was a chance to spend yet another evening with the revered Benny Goodman, experiencing blessed relief from much of what passes for popular music nowadays. Can there be a more worthy project than keeping alive such quality entertainment? Many thanks, and much success, to Dave Bennett and these worthy colleagues. And thanks, Town of Cary, for bringing them this way.