By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (Retired)

Continuing my series on Greatness.

If you have been reading this thread of mine about greatness, I just want to mention that not all of my brushes with famous people have resulted in my being amazed that I had photographed someone of note. More often than not I was aware of their stature. After all, I had been privileged to photograph every US President from Ike to Bill Clinton, as well as a couple of Popes and any number of noted show biz celebrities. It's the nature of this job and it's one of the perks of the profession.

I am an aficionado of 1940's to1950's big band swing music. I used to play the trombone in my high school marching band but I never had an ounce of musical talent. Nonetheless, I always loved good swing and jazz music, and as a youth I amassed quite a collection of 78's and then 45's and 33 and 1/3's of all of the masters of that genre.

So, you can imagine how delighted I was to come into the office one day to find that I was assigned to get pictures of my number one favorite; the greatest swing musician of all time, Benny Goodman. When I was stationed overseas while in the service, I asked my parents to ship my swing records over to Italy and I wore out all of my Goodman records with constant use.

So on that propitious day, I arrived at Mr. Goodman's NY City apartment, laden with cameras and light stands, ready to do my part in memorializing my idol. Our reporter was already seated on the Goodman's couch, having begun his interview. I set up my lights as the interview proceeded and plunked myself on the floor, at the feet of the master.

Normally, I don't really listen too intently during an interview because I want my concentration to be on expression and focus. But, in this case, I opened up that part of my brain to allow some speech comprehension to trickle in. Goodman was explaining that in his advancing years he had stopped doing jazz and was now concentrating on writing classical music for the clarinet.

Hmmm. While jazz was my thing, I knew that anything that the great Goodman played on his clarinet would certainly thrill me.

Whenever I would shoot an interview, such as this, I always tried to be a fly on the wall, and intrude as little as possible in the interview. I would shoot a few frames, then move as surreptitiously as possible to another angle. And, knowing that the paper would use only one or two shots, when I felt that I had enough of a selection from which the editor could choose, I would fold up my gear and tiptoe out of the room towards my next assignment. If the subject looked up as I left, I would wave goodbye and mumble a quiet "Thank you" in appreciation, and that was it. I never took it upon myself to intrude on the writer's domain by offering any comments. I never asked for autographs. I always felt that to be unprofessional. I had come onto the scene, done my job, and nothing more was required of me.

But, not this time. After I packed away my tools, I sat in a nearby chair and drank in the words that my master was laying before us. When the interview was done and the reporter said his good byes, I walked over to Benny Goodman and for the first time in my career I spoke up.

"Mr. Goodman, I am a huge fan of your swing music. I just want to thank you for all of the hours upon hours of pure enjoyment that you have given me over the years."

He mumbled something unintelligible and walked out of the room.

I was stunned. I couldn't believe what had just happened. For the first time in my career, I had broken my own rule and spoke up to give homage to someone I admired, only to have him turn away from the compliment so brusquely. I was crushed. I said as much to the reporter as we stood on the street. He told me not to take it to heart. It seemed that the great musician always handled compliments badly. It had nothing to do with me.

Ah, well, I never really got over that snub. I never again broke my long standing rule about speaking. I still, to this day, delight in playing Benny Goodman swing on the CD's that I have burned.

But, it would have been nice to have heard him say a simple "Thank you."

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Dick Kraus




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