Campus Events Celebrate Legendary Clarinetist Benny Goodman

Contemporary clarinetists will pay tribute to a musical icon when the Yale School of Music presents “Celebrating the King of Swing: A Festival for Benny Goodman’s 100th Birthday” Sept. 22-29.

The legendary clarinetist’s contributions to music, both classical and jazz, will be celebrated in a series of concerts and other events.

Goodman is known primarily as a jazz musician and bandleader who helped usher in the Swing Era of the 1930s and 1940s, but he was also deeply involved in commissioning, performing and recording a large body of classical works — many of which have become standards of the repertoire — by some of the 20th century’s most renowned composers, including Béla Bartók, Aaron Copland and Paul Hindemith.

Yale has several special connections with Goodman. He performed on campus in two big concerts for scholarship benefits, and he commissioned Hindemith to write a clarinet concerto when the composer was teaching here at Yale. His pianist and one of his arrangers was Mel Powell, who came to study at Yale (with Hindemith) right after leaving Goodman’s band.

Yale awarded Goodman an honorary Doctor of Music degree in 1982, and that same year, he received the Sanford Medal of the School of Music, where he taught master classes. The citation for his honorary doctorate read in part: “[P]remier clarinetist of the century … Creative artist, your solo improvisations have been savoured and studied by countless music lovers. … Through your artistry the world has been enriched.”

Goodman chose Yale as the custodian of his extensive archive, which includes papers, master tapes and other materials. The Goodman Archive is now part of the collections of the University’s Irving S. Gilmore Music Library.

Classical legacy

Some of the classical works that Goodman commissioned will be featured in a program being presented in two venues: Yale’s Sprague Memorial Hall and New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Titled “The Classical Legacy of Benny Goodman,” the concerts will feature Bartók’s “Contrasts,” Poulenc’s Clarinet Sonata, Alan Shulman’s “Rendezvous,” Morton Gould’s “Benny’s Gig” and “Recovery Music,” and Copland’s Clarinet Concerto.

The artistic director of the program is world-renowned clarinetist and Yale faculty member David Shifrin, director of the Chamber Music Society at Yale, which is sponsoring the concerts. Shifrin will also be the soloist in the Copland concerto. Other Yale faculty performers will include violinists Ani Kavafian and Wendy Sharp, cellist Ole Akahoshi and pianist Wei-Yi Yang. Students from the School of Music and alumni clarinetists from around the country will also participate.

The Yale concert will be presented at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22, in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall, 470 College St. Tickets are $20-$28 ($10 for students).

Prior to the performance, there will be a talk about Goodman’s classical career by Maureen Hurd, a clarinetist and professor at Rutgers University. This will take place at 7 p.m. in Sudler Hall (next door to Sprague Hall). Admission is free.

“The Classical Legacy of Benny Goodman” will also be presented on Saturday, Sept. 26, at 7:30 p.m. in Zankel Hall in Carnegie Hall as part of the “Yale in New York” concert program, which Shifrin also directs. Tickets are $15-$25. For information, visit

Don Byron Quartet

Music associated with Goodman — including his famed “Spirituals to Swing” Carnegie Hall concert in 1938 — will be performed by clarinetist/saxophonist Don Byron and his jazz quartet on Thursday, Sept. 24, at 8 p.m. in Morse Recital Hall. The program is part of the Ellington Jazz Series directed by Yale professor Willie Ruff.

Byron is known for his work in jazz and classical music, as well as klezmer, salsa, hip-hop and many other genres. He will be joined by Bryan Carrott, vibraphone; Kenny Davis, bass; and Eric Harland, drums.

“Benny Goodman is an integral part of the pedagogy and history of the clarinet,” says Byron. “His sound and approach to the instrument still spark controversy today … I am honored to play a concert in this celebration of his legacy.”

Tickets to the concert are $20-$30 ($12 for students). On October 16, the Ellington Series will present “A Saxophone Summit,” a concert featuring six renowned saxophonists, and patrons who purchase tickets to both events save up to $10. For more information, visit or call (203) 432-4158.

Big band music

The festival’s final concert will be “Bigger Than Life: The Big Band Music of Benny Goodman” at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 29, in Morse Recital Hall.

Thomas C. Duffy will direct the Yale Jazz Ensemble and clarinetist Vincent Oneppo in a program of authentic Goodman arrangements — including many of his signature pieces, like “Let’s Dance,” “Don’t Be That Way” and “Sing, Sing, Sing” — which were selected from Yale’s Benny Goodman Archives. They include music by Fletcher Henderson and other renowned composers associated with New Haven and Yale, including Mel Powell and Cole Porter.

General admission tickets to “Bigger Than Life” are $10 ($5 for students). To buy tickets, visit or call (203) 432-4158.

Concert tickets

For further information about the Yale concerts or to purchase tickets, visit the Yale School of Music website at or call (203) 432-4158.

Goodman exhibit

In conjunction with the festival, this fall Yale’s Gilmore Music Library is hosting an exhibition titled “Benny Goodman: A Century of Swing.”

Among the materials on display will be big band arrangements, clarinet concertos by Hindemith and Copland and photographs. Also on display will be Goodman’s honorary doctorate from Yale, a program and ticket from Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert and a letter from fellow clarinetist Woody Allen.

The exhibition is free and open to the public. The Irving S. Gilmore Music Library is located within Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library, 120 High St. It is open 8:30 a.m.-8:45 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 8:30 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Saturday; and 1-8:45 p.m. Sunday. For further information, visit

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