He was soon playing professionally while still in short pants, playing clarinet in various bands and participating in jam sessions with musicians of the Chicago scene, including Bud Freeman and Red Nichols. When Benny hit 16 he was recognized as a comer as far away as the west coast and was asked to join a California-based band led by another Chicago boy, Ben Pollack. Benny played with Pollacks band for the next four years. His earliest recording was made with Pollack, but he was also recording under his own name in Chicago and New York, where the band had migrated from the west coast.
In 1929, when he was 20, Benny struck out on his own to become a typical New York freelance musician, playing studio dates, leading a pit orchestra, making himself a seasoned professional. Bennys father, David, was a working-class immigrant about whom Benny said ¦ Pop worked in the stockyard, shoveling lard in its unrefined state. He had those boots, and hed come home at the end of the day exhausted, stinking to high heaven, and when he walked in it made me sick. I couldnt stand it. I couldnt stand the idea of Pop every day standing in that stuff, shoveling it around.
On December 9th, 1926, Bennys father David was killed in a car crash. The death was a bitter blow to the family and it haunted Benny that his father had not lived to see all his success. Benny left for New York City and became a successful session musician during the late 1920s and early 1930s. March 21, 1928 Victor session found Benny alongside Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Joe Venuti in the All-Star Orchestra, directed by Nat Shilkret. He played with the nationally known bands of Ben Selvin, Red Nickols, Isham Jones, and Ted Lewis. He recorded sides for Brunswick under the name Bennie Goodmans Boys, a band that featured Glenn Miller.
In 1928, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller wrote the instrumental Room 1411, which was released as a Brunswick 78. He also recorded musical soundtracks for movie shorts; fans believe that Benny Goodmans clarinet can be heard on the soundtrack of One A. M. , a Charlie Chaplin comedy re-released to theatres in 1934. In 1934 Goodman auditioned for NBCs Lets Dance, a well-regarded three-hour weekly radio program that featured various styles of dance music. His familiar theme song by that title was based on Invitation to the Dance by Carl Maria von Weber.
Since he needed new arrangements every week for the show, his agent, John Hammond, suggested that he purchase hot (swing) arrangements from Fletcher Henderson, an African-American musician from Atlanta. Benny continued his meteoric rise throughout the late 1930s with his big band, his trio and quartet, and a sextet. By the mid-1940s, however, big bands lost a lot of their popularity. In 1941, ASCAP had a licensing war with music publishers. In 1942 to 1944 and 1948, the musicians union went on strike against the major record labels in the United States, and singers took the spot in popularity that the big bands once enjoyed.
During this strike, the United States War Department approached the union and requested the production of the V-Disc, a set of records containing new and fresh music for soldiers to listen to. Also, by the late 1940s, swing was no longer the dominant mode of jazz musicians. In 1953 Benny re-formed his classic band for an expensive tour with Louis Armstrongs All Stars that turned into a famous disaster. He managed to insult Armstrong at the beginning; then he was appalled at the mock aspects of Louis act a contradiction of everything Benny stood for.
After winning numerous polls over the years as best jazz clarinetist, Benny was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1957. Despite increasing health problems, he continued to play until his death from a heart attack in New York City in 1986 at the age of 77, in his home at Manhattan House, 200 East 66th Street. A longtime resident of Pound Ridge, New York, Benny Goodman is interred in the Long Ridge Cemetery, Stamford, Connecticut. The same year, Goodman was honoured with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Benny Goodmans musical papers were donated to Yale University after his death.