My meeting with Benny

One hears the legendary BG stories ad infinitum, and “the Ray” is quite well-known, especially one guesses, if they were the recipient of this slow malevolent look. He was a perfectionist on the stand, I have heard.
I did meet him, played his concerti with the Milwaukee Symphony prior to his arrival,(Debussy Rhapsody, Weber Concertino). I picked him up at the airport, him with his huge green felt hat, and it was the answer to a kids dream.
He talked black, called me “kid”, asked if I played any Jazz, and had his picture taken with me and the second player. I attended his rehearsals with the pickup group. There was a pianist whom he didn’t like at all. He hollered out to me in that empty Civic Auditorium, “Hey kid”. When I got to where he was, he whispered into my ear, “kid, where can I get another pianist?” I didn’t know, so he went on with her, after asking her not to try to play like Teddy Wilson, and further with “a little peppuh, honey!”.
That is mostly not very nice, however he treated me respectfully, tried my horns, and asked me to listen to the balance of a concert he was playing with Rachel,his daughter at the Gardener Museum in Boston, a benefit for Fontainebleau. That rehearsal in itself, was thrilling. The only pieces I remember were the Martinu Sonatine and the Poulenc Sonata.
The stories abound, however what happened when I met Benny will always remain with me. He was a nice guy, the best of clarinetists, and a very particular musician.

Sherman Friedland


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