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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Concert will be Goodwin's 'Swan Song' with the Symphony

Throughout his career, Charles Goodwin, right, rubbed elbows with such celebrities as Red Skelton. Photo from Goodwin's personal collection.
Throughout his career, Charles Goodwin, right, rubbed elbows with such celebrities as Red Skelton. Photo from Goodwin's personal collection.
Additional photos below »

By Angela Wampler | January 28, 2008

On March 1, Charles Goodwin and his orchestra will join the Symphony of the Mountains in concert at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon. The program, entitled Symphony Plays Jazz, will begin at 8 p.m.

While talking about the upcoming concert with the Symphony, Goodwin said, "This will be my last one. My guys are getting old, and so am I (he recently celebrated his 78th birthday), so this will be our 'swan song.'"

When asked to elaborate, he said, "I have been playing professionally since 1947, and will be slowing down, not quitting. Since we do a Symphony concert about every five years, this will probably be my last one (with the Symphony)."

He continued, "I am not retiring, just fading away. My age is catching up with me. I have had surgery on both eyes, I have trouble seeing at night and, as you know, musicians are night people. Quit? Never! Slow down? Nature is taking care of that. I love music too much to quit; I will never quit, but will be more selective in accepting playing engagements."

While preparing for Christmas and New Year's Eve performances, Goodwin took the time to answer a few questions.

How was the music selected for the Symphony's March 1 program?

The music is music that I have arranged for my Big Band and the Symphony. The program includes old standards — Glenn Miller, Charlie Spivak, Tommy Dorsey, and others. One new arrangement that we have not played is "Without A Song" (Vincent Youmans) that features Rick Simerly on trombone.

[Editor's Note: "Without A Song" was published in 1929, and has been recorded by such artists as Perry Como, Nelson Eddy, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Louis Armstrong, The Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder, and The Supremes.]

Does performing with the Symphony alter your basic style?

Playing with the Symphony does not alter our playing style, but it sure alters the playing style of the Symphony. They love playing with us because of this fact. It gives them a chance to sound like a studio-recording orchestra, and a chance to play music they do not usually play.

In a previous conversation, you mentioned providing music for a recent production entitled I'll Be Home for Christmas at First Christian Church in Johnson City. Please tell us about that experience.

I'll Be Home For Christmas was set in 1941 and featured a Big Band, with Big Band music. We played to five sell-out audiences, so I guess it was a success. The church has a wonderful choir and a great director, Mike Imboden. The play featured several soloists, favorite Christmas carols, and songs such as "Fum, Fum, Fum," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Carol of the Bells." Before the play started, the band played Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade" and "Tuxedo Junction," Tommy Dorsey's "Getting Sentimental Over You," Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" and "White Christmas."

Have you provided music for any other theatrical productions?

We don't usually do theatrical productions. Too much structure.

For many years, you played for a New Year's Eve dance. Where was that?

Yes, for many years we played a New Year's Eve party at the AFG Lodge on Boone Lake in Kingsport for the Pandora Dance Club. We also played for the dance club's get-togethers about eight times a year — that was a blast. The dancers loved it, and so did we. It gave me a chance to try new arrangements. But the end came when AFG told the dance club they were selling the lodge, and we would have to move. The dance club was never the same after that, and so it faded away.

Your Big Band swing orchestra played for the recent New Year's Eve dance in the Lincoln Ballroom in the elegantly restored 1920s-era Gen. Francis Marion Hotel in Marion, Va.

Yes, last year we played with a small group at the hotel's New Year's Eve party, and this year they wanted the full band.

Tell us about your upbringing and education.

I was born and raised in Bristol; graduated Tennessee High School (class of 1949); and studied piano at Virginia Intermont College under Dr. Ralph Ostoff and at Sullins College under Dr. Clifford Loomis. I attended East Tennessee State University when it was called East Tennessee State College. I went (to ETSC) for 10 years taking night classes; when I finally enrolled during the day, I was in a couple of classes with my oldest daughter, Barbara. I don't know whether she was embarrassed or not, but she made better grades than me. We were both music majors, and she is now a music teacher at Rock Springs Elementary School in Kingsport.

Are any of your other children involved in music?

My son is one of the finest musicians I have ever known, and my youngest daughter is the organist at her church. My middle daughter is a registered nurse.

Was anyone else in your family involved in music?

All my brothers and sisters were musicians. My baby brother has a degree in music from ETSU, and I have several nieces and nephews who were music majors, but my parents couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.

Have you ever had a career outside of music?

I had my own business, a music store, in Kingsport for 27 years. If a playing engagement — such as a road trip with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra — was offered to me, my wife ran the store while I was gone, which was a lot. I retired in 1993 from the store, but continued playing music.

What instruments do you play? Do you play by ear or read music?

I played trumpet in high school, but have always been a pianist, and that is my training. I play both by ear and read music.

Please discuss your experience in recording.

I have recorded many things with many people. My orchestra has a CD of Big Band music that is a pretty good recording. It was made at Classic Recording Studios in Bristol at nine o'clock on a Sunday morning several years ago — it was the only time I could get them all together! The recording has sold well, but we did not make it for that purpose. We made the recording because we are all getting old, and someday our grandkids will ask, "Wonder what granddaddy's band sounded like?" Now they know.

How did you develop your style?

My style of playing is based mostly on the Big Band era, although I listen to many pianists. My first love is classical music, and my favorite composer for piano is Chopin. Also, in my opinion, the greatest jazz piano player who ever lived was a nearly blind black musician named Art Tatum. No one before or since has come close to his playing. He has always been my hero.

How long have you been performing? With whose bands? Please tell us about those experiences.

When I was in high school, we formed a band called the Serenaders. My first job with a "name" band was with Johnny Long. After that, in the early 1960s, I traveled with the Glenn Miller Band under the direction of Ray McKinley, the Tommy Dorsey Band under the direction of Buddy Morrow, the Sammy Kaye Orchestra, Les and Larry Elgart, the Guy Lombardo Orchestra under the direction of Art Mooney, the Nelson Riddle Orchestra under the direction of Chris Riddle, and hundreds of singers such as Frank Sinatra, Jr., Patty Page, Carol Lawrence, Rosemary Clooney, Ray Eberly, and a lot that I can't remember.

When did you travel with the Southern Fried Jazz Band?

The Southern Fried Jazz Band is based in Charlotte, N.C. and is under the direction of an old friend of mine, a fine trumpet player named Don Eisaman (spelling of last name is correct). His stage name is Don Edwards, and he is the last living member of the "Rat Pack Orchestra" that played for Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin in Las Vegas. The band consists of some of the finest musicians I have ever worked with, and plays Dixieland Jazz. We have flown all over the United States doing these concerts, and the people love it. I have traveled about 20 states in the last two years doing community concerts with this band, and it always brings the house down.

I hate leaving my wife as we don't have that much time left together (according to statistics), so last year I took her on one tour. We flew to Memphis, got with the rest of the band in two big vans, and started driving and doing concerts. We played in Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, and New Mexico. Now she understands what I have been doing for the last 50 years. She told me she was glad she went with me, but to never ask her again. Living out of a suitcase is no fun.

How many performances do you do per year?

I do about 100 performances a year, but I plan on slowing down after this year.

In what types of venues have you performed over the years? bars and clubs? convention centers? historic hotels?

I have played in every venue you can name — bars, nightclubs, concerts, strip clubs, dog shows, weddings, churches, and funerals, but mostly dances. I once drove to Houston, Texas and played with Charlie Spivak for one hour; the other two bands in the convention center were Woody Herman and Duke Ellington. We also drove once to Tallahassee, Florida and did a one-hour concert at a college there, and drove back to Kingsport. I am too old to do that now, and also I hope I am a little smarter.

What drew you to jazz and/or swing?

The freedom of playing swing and jazz drew me to this type of music. Although my first love is classical music, playing jazz and swing gives me the freedom to express myself through music; both my feelings toward the song I am playing at the time, and also the freedom to express my feelings toward the audience.

How has the music scene in your genre changed over the years?

Music is in the worst shape now that I can remember. When Elvis Presley came along in the 1950s, most of the musicians my age were aghast at the way it was accepted by the public; this type of music required no talent and no (professional) training. Along came more rock-and-roll with the same musical requirements — no talent, no training — and the music put many musicians out of work permanently. Now there is rap, which I can't describe. I don't even consider it music, but the stuff is sure selling. Now Elvis seems quite tame, and I actually enjoy some of his music. By the way, I have played with several fine musicians who traveled with Elvis because, believe it or not, Elvis loved Big Bands.

Have you been involved with any of the jazz festivals in our area?

Yes, I have performed for the Kingsport Jazz Festival, the Highlands Jazz Festival in Abingdon, and the Tri-Cities Jazz Fest at ETSU.

After all these years, do you still have to practice and/or rehearse what you're going to play?

Whether I practice or not depends on what I am expected to play. Some of the jazz tunes I am not familiar with, so I have to look them over several times. I still practice the Chopin ?tudes, Hanon finger exercises, and anything else that is too hard for me to play the first time.

How would you describe your favorite type of jazz? (Modern? Progressive? Improvisational or structured?)

My favorite type of jazz would have to be improvisational, based on standard tunes. Bebop is not my favorite, but sometimes I have to play it anyway. It can be very difficult, and some of the Bebop players are super fine musicians.

Do you ever get together privately with other musicians to just jam?

I haven't been to a jam session since 1957.

Do you do jazz interpretations of popular songs?


Who is your favorite composer of popular music?

That would be either Jerome Kern or Victor Young.

Do you have a favorite song?

I have several favorite songs, but cannot name one that tops them all. If I had to pick one, it would be "All The Things You Are" by Jerome Kern. It is a great song.

Do you still write or arrange music? If so, what inspires you? Do you use computer software or staff paper?

I still do many arrangements for groups of musicians. I have arranged all the music for my band, written with the full knowledge of the abilities of my musicians. I use a blank piece of score paper, and copy the arrangements by hand using an ink manuscript pen. I have computer software that can write beautiful copy, but I can do it faster by hand. I am still trying to figure out my toaster, so the computer is foreign to me. [Editor's Note: Goodwin is too modest; he had no problem corresponding with us via email.]

In addition to awards from the Kingsport Arts Council, have you received any other honors related to your musical career?

I was honored by Indiana University for some musical arrangements I did for them, and Milligan College named me a "Statesman of Jazz."

What do you consider the highlight(s) of your musical career?

I have had many highlights, but I treasure the concerts with the Symphony more than any.

Can you elaborate? Some people would wonder how that could possibly compare with playing with bands such as Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Sinatra, etc.

The travels I did with all the Big Bands became hard work, but the Symphony concerts are with musicians who play because they love what they do. Symphony players (I am speaking of local Symphonies) are the worst paid musicians, and they perform the most beautiful music ever written. That is why I consider it a great honor to be able to write for the local Symphony and to perform with them with my band. We have also done concerts with the Western Piedmont Symphony and the Maryville Symphony. They were all very enjoyable, and my band members always wear clean shirts when we perform with a Symphony — just kidding.

Upcoming concerts
Goodwin's History with the Symphony
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Recognized as one of East Tennessee's "Statesmen of Jazz," Goodwin replies," I am a piano player who grew up during the Big Band era." Photo courtesy of WETS-FM.