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  Pennies From Heaven
Al Zagofsky, publisher






I was going to call this story, "When Benny Goodman Spat on Me" but reluctantly, I thought that title would be a bit off-putting. After all, Goodman did spit on me, but it was like in a good way, sort of like Pennies From Heaven,

Maybe back in the winter of 1982 or something like that. I was living outside Allentown, Pennsylvania and one snowy Sunday morning I was reading our local newspaper, The Morning Call.

"Hey," I said to my wife, "look at this! Benny Goodman is playing today at the Allentown Symphony Hall. You wanna go?" She took a pass, but I said I was going.

I think the show was set for 2 pm and figuring that there could be a crowd, I got to the theater around 1 pm. And there was a crowd — completely around the block — had to be hundreds of people forming a line around the block, standing on the sidewalk where the path had been cleared of snow.

I was at the back of the line — two streets away as the line was that long. I must have been late as only five people would get behind me.

After the better part of an hour, I was at the box office window of the old vaudeville theater. My turn. To my astonishment, the cashier placed a sign in the window — Sold Out!

I wrapped on the window, "Excuse me. What's going on. I've…. me and these five other people have been waiting on line for an hour. What can we do?"

"I'm sorry," said the cashier. "let me check with the manager." So, the six of us were milling about, under the canopy, beside the snow-covered street, trying to figure out what to do.

Maybe five minutes later, the manager arrives. "So sorry. Here's what I can do. We usually have shows with the cast on stage and the orchestra in the pit. But since the Goodman band is on stage, no one's in the pit. So, I'll put some folding chairs there. Would that be OK?"

  Benny Goodman - King of Swing  

OK? More than OK. So, the six of us got better than front row seats — right in front of the band, and I did even better, of sorts. I got front and center — directly in front of the king of swing himself, Benny Goodman.

By "of sorts," there was a downside to this once in a lifetime arrangement. First, it was way too loud. But more-so, being just inches from the bell of Goodman's clarinet, I found myself on the receiving end of Benny's DNA — lots of drool emanating from his instrument — the price one pays being downstream of a clarinet embouchure.

Goodman, maybe 73 at the time, was still swinging. In 1986. the King of Swing passed on.

~ Al Zagofsky






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