One of at least seven entirely different compilations that brandish the word "Essential" in their titles, this double-disc anthology of 40 classic swing performances actually does convey the essence of Benny Goodman, and is therefore highly recommended. The recordings, most of them cut in the Victor and Columbia studios between 1934 and 1945, are laid out in four exacting categories of ten tracks apiece. A tribute to Goodman's big-band arrangers pays homage to Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Edgar Sampson, Jimmy Mundy, George Bassman, Deane Kincaide, Spud Murphy, Eddie Sauter and Mel Powell. A "Visit to Tin Pan Alley" salutes songwriters George & Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, Richard Whiting, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter and Vernon Duke. The superb lineup of vocalists includes Helen Ward, Martha Tilton, Mildred Bailey, Helen Forrest and Peggy Lee. Goodman's small groups, from trios to septets, are well represented here. Starting with the cardinal players Teddy Wilson, Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton, the potent third segment of the album gradually ushers in such brilliant improvisers as Charlie Christian, Red Norvo, Cootie Williams, Georgie Auld, Johnny Guarnieri and Count Basie. This marvelous double album closes with ten examples of Goodman performing in front of live audiences. These radio broadcast airchecks document the manner in which most people in North America heard Goodman on a regular basis. Perhaps the best of these is the final track; an exciting five-and-a-half minute version of Fats Waller's "Stealin' Apples" performed on the roof of the Hotel Astor in New York City. This swinging performance demonstrates exactly why Benny Goodman was so popular before, during and after the Second World War.