It don’t mean a penny if it ain’t got that Benny

BY NICK FETTY | APRIL 02, 2009 7:52 AM

Decades before the age of the Internet and iPods, before the age of television, people spent their time listening to the big-band sounds of Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman. On Friday night, this vintage sound will pay a visit to Iowa City.

The UI’s top jazz big band, Johnson County Landmark, along with Richard Stoltzman, a clarinet professor at the New England Conservatory, will perform a “Salute to Benny Goodman” at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Tickets are sold out.

Benny Goodman, often called “The King of Swing,” was a famous clarinetist and bandleader for the better part of the 20th century, though the 1930s are considered his heyday. He continued to play jazz and classical music until his death in 1986.

“It’s hard to be an American clarinet player and not have some sort of shrine dedicated to Benny,” Stolzman said. “It’s hard to imagine that I really could have made a living as a clarinetist without Benny.”

Stoltzman had the opportunity to work with Goodman before his death, and Goodman attended Stoltzman’s first Carnegie Hall recital.

“It was very thrilling to be involved with him not only as my idol but also as a fellow clarinet player,” Stoltzman said.

While attending Ohio State University, he majored in music and mathematics. He went on to earn a Master’s of Music at Yale and a doctorate at Columbia. Stoltzman has won two Grammys for classical performances and played with such jazz greats as pianist Chick Corea and clarinetist Woody Herman.

Accompanying Stolzman in the Englert will be Johnson County Landmark. The ensemble, which, among many other venues, has played at Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival, is under the direction of John Rapson.

In the past, he has conducted tributes to many jazz greats, including Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and Count Basie.

“We’ve got a sold-out crowd, which speaks to the popularity that Benny Goodman has,” Rapson said. “In fact, Benny Goodman already has a popularity among younger kids who got involved with the swing-band movement of the ’90s and the early part of this decade.”

Before coming to the UI in 1993, Rapson was a professor of theory and composition at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he founded the school’s jazz program. He earned a doctorate from Wesleyan University.

The “Salute to Benny Goodman” was originally slated for February 2007. A devastating ice storm on the night of the show, which knocked out power to wide swaths of the area, closed down Hancher Auditorium and postponed the event.

For the Friday night concert, the UI Swing Dance Club will perform a couple of numbers. UI student Samantha Blickhan will also sing a few selections.

“We’re going to try to give the most context that we can to the music,” Rapson said. “So that it’s not just a listening event.”

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