by Jerry Kline
Dan Bied's Jazz Reader
by Dan Bied
(Craftsman Press, Inc.,108 Leffler Street, West Burlington, IA 52655 , 266 pages, $18 postpaid)
from Jazz Notes 1/1 1998Copyright © 1998, Jerry Kline
Dan Bied's Jazz Reader presents an image of Benny Goodman that readers may find surprising and perhaps even astounding: a kinder, gentler King of Swing. BG's instrumental excellence and pioneering accomplishments remain unchallenged, but history hasn't given his idol's personality a fair shake, author Bied contends. "My reading and chats with musicians convinced me that Goodman was more than a temperamental, preoccupied perfectionist. He had a 'dark side' that flared when people he hired did not live up to his expectations . . . [but] I think the public attacks on him were ignited by envy, in some cases, and fueled by jealousy."
Notwithstanding his reputation for tightfistedness, Bied writes, Goodman gave money to Bunny Berigan, Charlie Christian, and Jimmy Maxwell when they needed it, and kept Eddie Sauter on half-salary while the arranger was hospitalized. His generosity extended beyond musicians: Chicago's Hull House recognized BG's support by honoring him at a dinner in 1985.
Moreover, Marian McPartland found him to be a "warm human being." Composer Morton Gould went further, describing Goodman as "a very warm and compassionate human being." Bobby Hackett, considerably more circumspect, held that Goodman was "entitled to a few eccentricities" and was "always honorable to be around."
Certainly, BG wasn't perfect, Bied admits. In 1985, a year before Goodman's death, Bied told Jane Harvey that Goodman had been "gracious and cooperative" when he interviewed him. "Yes," the onetime Goodman vocalist replied, "but you're not a musician."
When it comes to judging Goodman - or judging jazz generally - Bied admits that he's far from objective. A "certified jazz nut" who traveled extensively to hear live jazz and meet musicians, Bied counts "more than 50 years of involvement with [Goodman] as a serious fan."
Memories of hearing jazz greats overflow, filling the author's twelfth published book with scores of commentaries, reviews, interviews and photos. Most of the articles were previously published in various journals.
Bied recalls seeing Earl Hines, Duke Ellington, and Goodman in 1942, and "then I began to collect jazz records." He remembers going to the Panther Room that summer, escorted by his father, "when Ben Webster played his torrid 'Cottontail' solo with the Ellington band. Jabbo Smith played a valve trombone and sang 'Sweet Lorraine' with [Art] Hodes in Chicago's Jazz Showcase while I was in a front row seat," he writes.
"I saw a teenage Mel Torme singing with Chico Marx's band around 1943. In 1948, I was in the armory at Attumwa, Iowa, when six guys in the Kenton 'progressive jazz' band played an encore of Dixieland. Around that time I saw Ziggy Elman and Charlie Shavers with Tommy Dorsey, the Cootie Williams big band, and Red Norvo with Woody Herman, all in dance halls within 75 miles of home."
In 1955, he became a newsman, "part of my motivation being a chance to interview celebrities. I did interview Goodman, Ellington, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Ray McKinley, Lee Castle, Peter Nero, and the original Dukes of Dixieland over the years."
Bied doesn't shy away from expressing opinions, even about musicians he heard in person. The "best trumpet solo of all time" is Bunny Berigan's "I Can't Get Started." Coleman Hawkins's "Body and Soul" is more famous, but Bied prefers "The Man I Love" for its "uptempo improvisation, Eddie Heywood's elegant piano introduction, and Oscar Pettiford's breathtaking solo on bass."
"Musicians are more intelligent than athletes. . . . I wouldn't trade the 20-minute conversation I had with Duke Ellington for an hour-long interview with each member of baseball's Hall of Fame."
"Harry James was a fine jazz trumpeter, when so inclined, but at least half of his recordings were pretty 'blah.' The ones with violins were especially disappointing."
"Violins and jazz," he writes, "are rarely a good mix."
"Too many of today's jazz clubs are equipped with pianos that are a disgrace."
"Duke Ellington never made a bad recording."
"Ninety percent of the long drum solos I've endured were just noise."
"Bix wasn't overrated. But some of the bopsters in the 1950s were."
There's lots more in Dan Bied's Jazz Reader. My only complaint: As a self-published author, Bied apparently didn't have access to an editor who could correct the scattered spelling and punctuation errors and, more important, might have weeded out meaningless passages, such as, "'Thank you,' Goodman said as the bag and packages were brought inside." "'Good,' he said, when told there were no delays posted on United's board."
An editor also might have persuaded Bied that, rather than devote two paragraphs to a description of the "best" photo he's ever taken of a jazzman - Billy Butterfield, in this case - he should have published the picture itself. Apparently because the photo appears in an earlier book, Bied chose not to include it among the 55 photos in this volume. "I can almost hear the deep, burnished notes Butterfield played that night when, many years later, I see the photo," he writes. Unfortunately, the reader can't see it and can't hear it.
In a book with so many names, an index would have been welcome, too.
Still, you have to hand it to Dan Bied. Some people keep diaries, he kept books. He turned decades of memories into books that sell well enough that they almost always finish in the black. "It is a full load to write, edit, design and then try to sell a self-published book," he notes. "It also involves financial risk, an optimistic outlook and, perhaps most important of all, a willingness to 'hang in.'"
Bied not only had great memories. He was a world-class hanger-in.
[Look in the Library for Wilma Dobie's remembrance of JJA member Dan Bied, who died in March. His Dan Bied's Jazz Reader and his other books can be ordered from Mildred Bied, 108 Leffler Street, West Burlington, IA 52655. Tel.: 1-319-752-5708. - Ed.]