Video: Video Finds: Music — Sing, Sing, Sing |
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Video Finds: Music — “Sing, Sing, Sing”

One of the most reliable rabble-rouser numbers of the Benny Goodman Orchestra in its full flower, the Louis Prima composition “Sing, Sing, Sing” became an anthem of the Swing era. For my generation, the two-disc album of the 1938 Carnegie Hall jazz concert was among our first LPs, and the luxuriously extended version of “Sing, Sing, Sing” was always the highlight: wherever else you might put down the needle, you always listened to that one as well. In the 1937 Hollywood Hotel version that was preserved on film, the solos are naturally nothing like as long. The beautiful piano solo by Jess Stacey is missing altogether, and the Harry James trumpet solo lacks the soaring bite of the concert version, in which James sounded as if he was sending an authoritative love-call to Betty Grable: no wonder she married him. Gene Krupa, the drummer famous for drumming even to those who knew nothing at all about drums, is in comparatively restrained form: his hair stays on. The complaint could be made that the whole spectacle is hideously white. But it was Goodman who took the first big steps to desegregate jazz, and he did it because of the joy that was in him, along with the justice. Merely for the way it demonstrates Goodman’s mental energy, this number would be worth seeing as well as hearing. With all the section work done by the book, it isn’t really improvisation, but it isn’t squad-drill either, even if the impeccably matched pleated trousers of the band members might suggest otherwise. These few minutes, charted and polished though they are, still succeed in exemplifying what the jazz critic Whitney Balliett once called the sound of surprise. You could also call it music to wake the dead. In The Sopranos, there is a swing number playing on the radio of the nursing home as Junior Soprano nears his end. It’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.”