Dave Bennett played Benny Goodman's music as soon as he received his first clarinet. The King of Swing died in 1986, when Bennett was barely 2 years old. But when Bennett's grandparents presented him with a clarinet and a tape of Goodman's swing music at age 10, a great love — and a remarkable musician — was born.
Bennett, now 25, and his jazz sextet will join conductor Michael Krajewski in "A Tribute to Benny Goodman" Saturday in Century II Convention Hall. The one-night-only pops concert will feature Goodman's most famous hits with Bennett as chief soloist.
His playing pays homage to Goodman's sound and style without repeating it note-for-note.
"I'm very much influenced by his playing, but it is me when I go up there," Bennett said by phone from his home in Michigan. "I don't re-create solos or anything like that. I play how I feel; it stays really free.
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"That's the way Benny played; he wasn't re-creating anything, and I really don't want to, either."
The concert will feature more than a dozen hits that came to define the big band swing era in the 1930s and '40s, tunes that made Goodman famous on radio and in dance halls, including "Let's Dance," "Stompin' at the Savoy," "Moonglow," "And the Angels Sing" and "Airmail Special."
Musical arrangements by Bennett's bass player, Paul Keller, will integrate the sextet with the full symphony orchestra. Several songs will feature vocalist Carol McCartney.
In "Sing Sing Sing," Bennett explained, "there's a lot that's borrowed from the original recording. It's a classic. But what Paul has done is basically amplified it and extended it to the string instruments, which weren't on the original recordings. There are a lot of the same nuances, but obviously a bigger sound."
To complement the feeling of the bygone era, dancers from the Wichita Swing Dance Society will give a demonstration on dance floors set up in front of the stage. The audience will be encouraged to dance, too, as they did in Goodman's day.
Bennett was attracted to Goodman's swing clarinet sound from the moment he heard it. Even as he was studying the rudiments of the clarinet he was learning Goodman's classic tunes.
"I would to listen to CDs and play little microseconds of each song — and find the notes that I heard on the horn," Bennett said. "It was extremely slow process at first, but once you do it enough and train your ear, you kind of hear what you need to play."
Bennett and his sextet play club dates around Detroit and his hometown of Pontiac, Mich., and also at jazz festivals. The sextet will play a Goodman tribute concert with the Detroit Symphony this summer.
"It's just really quality stuff," Bennett said of swing music. "It's really hard not to like. It's got great soul, it's got a great groove. There's something about it that keeps it living on through the years — it's just a very likable kind of music."