Like many of you, Benny Goodman was my inspiration to play the clarinet. Soon after I started, I found him, wore glasses like, listened to all his records, followed his career in swing and jazz and his study with Reginald Kell, his commissions of “Contrasts”, by Bela Bartok, The Copland Clarinet Concerto, Darius Milhaud Clarinet Concerto and all of the others. I listened to the first radio performance of the Copland on NBC radio in 1947, and was a devotee of him and his music for much of his life. AS i’ve written previously, I met him while in the Milwaukee Symphony, and reminisced about his complaints about the local musicians who played in his “pickup” quartet.
I had to play both the DFebussy Rhapsody and the Weber Concertino in rehearsal with the Orchestra. He just came ih, asked me if I played any Jazzand we went to the hall. He said to us all, “playing in this hall is like spitting in the ocean”, and then played with the most relaxed unforced sound I thought I had ever heard.
The version of “Avalon” in this writing is almost the same as he played on his Carnegie Hall Concert in 1938.
I still listen to it quite frequently and always find it quite wonderful. I wish I aged as well as Avalon.
But, wait a minute! there is a very interesting story to tell as well concerning this old standard.
It has to do with another famous clarinet solo, from the Third Act of “Tosca” by Giacomo Puccini, composed in 1900. The clarinet solo of which I speak is in the third act of the opera. ” E lucevan le stelle”, which is like Avalon, but in minor. It speaks of the heros love of Tosca, before he is executed and Tosca commits suicide. (yes, it is dark, but one of the most sensually gorgeous works one will ever hear. It certainly affected me in that way.
In 1921, the famous pop singer, Al Jolson, recorded “Avalon”, which became very popular. It is virtually the same melody as Puccinis, but in major, rather than minor. Puccinis estate sued Jolson and the other authors of the pop tune, and Puccini was awarded 25,000, a huge amount of money in the 20s.
If you wish to listen to the Aria from Tosca, it can be found on YouTube, its title,” E lucevan le stelle”. There are many versions. Certainly best is Luciano Pavarotti.
The Benny Goodman (also found on youtube)version is simply called “Avalon” with Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa. and Teddy Wilson, Avalon being a place in California. Somehow the two seem to have little comparison. But that is not the way the law suit was settled.
Keep practicing. Learn both versions, and play or listen often.