Meeting Benny Goodman
It was 1975 and I was in Chicago for my first visit, supposedly all business.
I was employed (you’ll notice I did not say worked for) a company that represented Bell & Howell and Encyclopaedia Britannica Educational Corp (EBEC) both Chicago companies. EBEC had given me a tour of the Schlitz Brewery in nearby Milwaukee, and obviously feeling they had added to my education, had abandoned me for the weekend. Great! The Ravinia Festival was on and I sloped off to Ravinia Park for the evening. The train stopped in the middle of the park and I alighted and followed the hordes. An amazing sight awaited me.
Singles, couple and groups of music fans sat on picnic blankets facing the bandstand, some with massive beer barrels, and others with silver candelabras and wine chilling in ice buckets.
As I sat down, Gladys Knight and The Pips were on stage. Yeah! Yeah! Let’s get on, I thought and waited impatiently for the star of the show.
GK & the Pips were not for me, so I decided to find a beer while I waited for the next show. I walked around the stage and at the back stood Benny Goodman. I think he was smoking (no, I don’t know what). I greeted him and, fascinated by my accent, we were within sec-onds chatting about Africa. As is often the case today, many Americans think Africa is a country so I expected the usual misconceptions. Not Mr Goodman, he was well-informed about South Africa. He had, of course, lived in an era when black people were not the equals of their white citizens and I had read many stories about his attempts to get around that problem with his band members being denied accommoda-tion in most US hotels. South Africa was still immersed in its own ra-cial segregation policies known as apartheid. We had a lot to share.
Before I knew it, the maestro was called on stage so I ran back to my spot on the lawn.
Soon the Benny Goodman Band was blowing up a storm and I was in my Old Fart element. Goodman was sixty-six that year and was exactly as I expected to see him. Naturally, I had no hope of seeing Gene Krupa, Harry James, Charlie Christian, etc., but to me they were there in spirit.
Although he was chatty and inquisitive, I felt that as I left him I had made no impression at all! I, on the other hand, was walking on air.