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Being Last Is Being First

Then, Goodman introduced himself to the audience and settled into his program leading his band on his clarinet — and I literally, had a front row seat.

I was living in Allentown, PA in the early 1980s when I chanced upon an ad in our local newspaper, the Morning Call.

The ad was for a concert featuring Benny Goodman at the Allentown Symphony Hall. Allentown was typically off the beaten path for concert tours at the time, so I figured I'd show up a half hour or so in advance and by a ticket at the door.

It seems that I had misjudged Goodman's appeal and his popularity amongst his local fans for as I approached the theater I saw something that I hadn't seen since leaving New York City almost 20 years earlier—a line around the block that seemed to go on forever.

The line was moving—ever so slowly and only two or three people got onto the line after me. I was basically at the end of the line—the long line.

Eventually the line wound down to the point that I could see the box office window… and finally, I was about the fourth one in line—my money waiting and ready to go inside to get out of the cold.

And then, someone, probably the house manager came out and ran a rope across the entrance doorway, turned to what was maybe six or so of us remaining and said, "Sorry. We're all filled. All the seats are taken."

Well, it was obviously first come, first served and we were last. We, who had never met before, started to talk among ourselves saying. "So, what are we going to do now?"

So, we were schmoozing around for several minutes, when the house manager reappeared saying, "I just came up with an idea. See, we normally have a production on stage and the band plays from the pit. But since Goodman's band is going to be on stage, the pit will be empty."



"So," he continued, I can set up some folding chairs in the pit. Would that be all right?"

"Absolutely," we all agreed. So, we waited another five minutes or so and bought our tickets while he set up the chairs. The he called us in and seated us in the pit.

I wound up in the center of the pit, just—I could reach out and touch the stage.

Soon, the Goodman band setup on stage with Benny Goodman seated directly in front of me—as I said, I could practically reach out and touch him.

At that time, Goodman was in his mid seventies and would only live another three or four years. But he lived an amazing life and was known as the King of Swing having created the first integrated big band during the 1930s.

Then, Goodman introduced himself to the audience and settled into his program leading his band on his clarinet — and I literally, had a front row seat.

It was such a front row seat, that I was continuously showered with the spittle that erupted from the bell end of his clarinet.

His swinging clarinet was, for me, personally, a true sensory experience. Not to mention that it was LOUD!

All in all, it was truly a memorable experience. And I almost missed it when the house manager drew the rope across the door.

But then again, good luck chases the proverbial clouds away when being last is being first.

.~ Al Zagofsky





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