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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black-and-White Jazz Band in History, written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $ 21.95 ages 7 and up

"Letters, books, pride
and music
filled Teddy and his brother
Trombone for Gus
Violin, oboe, clarinet and
Piano for Teddy
Benny practiced
when the kids were outside playing..."

Their lives growing up were entirely different in so many ways; and yet, they had music in common.

Benny Goodman grew up in Chicago, the son of Jewish immigrants. Free lessons stirred a love of music in him. Playing the clarinet allowed him a place in the marching band of the family synagogue. He would rather have played jazz.

Teddy Wilson grew up in Alabama, and was a multi-instrument musician. He played piano, oboe, violin and clarinet, practicing as was expected of him, mostly classical music. He, too, wanted to play jazz, emulating his heroes at the time...Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Earl Hines:

"Benny practiced
when the kids were outside playing
when his mother called him to supper
when everyone was trying to sleep
the music from his tutor
from sheets of German music
Tight, toot, formal, toot
Noone, Dodds,
New Orleans Rhythm Kings
Black and blues,  mellow and loose

Teddy practiced
Reeds and brass
recitals and concerts
Reading bass and treble clefs
With his tutor
Ping, overtures, ping, etudes, Chopin, Bach
But Duke, Fats and Hines
he copied note by note
Black and blues, mellow and loose"

Lesa Cline-Ransome captures the vibes of the jazz both men loved in the words she has chosen to tell their story. She does an incredible job of paralleling their journeys from their individual roots to a chance meeting in New York in 1935. They formed a trio with Gene Krupa, recording wonderful music that was appreciated by many. Goodman was not amenable in the beginning to performing as an integrated group in public. Finally, in April 1936 in Chicago, they appeared for the first time in public, making music history as the first interracial group to do so. It wasn't long until Lionel Hampton's inclusion made them a very popular quartet:

"Now onstage, front stage
Playing as one
With Lionel Hampton
on vibraphone
A trio grew
into a quartet
Drum and vibes
Clarinet and piano
Gene and Lionel
Benny & Teddy

Using a watercolor palette of beautiful blues, indigo and yellow, James Ransome brings the men and their music to vibrant life. In double page spreads, he shows the joy and excitement all felt in the music they shared to the lucky readers of this wonderful picture book.

Additional information about Benny and Teddy is shared in back matter, which also includes a time line of jazz music from its origins in the early nineteenth century in New Orleans to 1998 when the quartet received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award, and a set of short notes on the jazz musicians mentioned within the text of this musical journey.

Truly amazing!

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