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A big band is a type of musical ensemble of jazz music that usually consists of ten or more musicians with four sections: saxophones, trumpets, trombones, and a rhythm section. Big bands originated during the early 1910s and dominated jazz in the early 1940s when swing was most popular. The term "big band" is also used to describe a genre of music, although this was not the only style of music played by big bands.
Big bands started as accompaniment for dancing. In contrast to the typical jazz emphasis on improvisation, big bands relied on written compositions and arrangements. They gave a greater role to bandleaders, arrangers, and sections of instruments rather than soloists.
Big bands have four sections: trumpets, trombones, saxophones, and a rhythm section of guitar, piano, double bass, and drums.The division in early big bands was likely to be two or three trumpets, one or two trombones, three saxophones, and a rhythm section. In 1930, big bands usually consisted of three trumpets, three trombones, three saxophones, and a rhythm section of four instruments. Guitar replaced the banjo, and double bass replaced the tuba. In the 1940s, Stan Kenton's band and Woody Herman's band used up to five trumpets, four trombones (three tenor, one bass trombone), five saxophones (two alto saxophones, two tenor saxophones, one baritone saxophone), and a rhythm section. An exception is Duke Ellington, who at one time used six trumpets. While most big bands dropped the previously common jazz clarinet from their arrangements (other than the clarinet-led orchestras of Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman), many Duke Ellington songs had clarinet parts, often replacing or doubling one of the tenor saxophone parts; more rarely, Ellington would substitute baritone sax for bass clarinet, such as in "Ase's Death" from Swinging Suites. Boyd Raeburn drew from symphony orchestras by adding flute, French horn, violin, and timpani to his band.
Twenty-first century big bands can be considerably larger than their predecessors, exceeding 20 players, with some European bands using 29 instruments and some reaching 50.
Typical big band arrangements from the swing era were written in strophic form with the same phrase and chord structure repeated several times.Each iteration, or chorus, commonly follows twelve bar blues form or thirty-two-bar (AABA) song form. The first chorus of an arrangement introduces the melody and is followed by choruses of development. This development may take the form of improvised solos, written solo sections, and "shout choruses".
An arrangement's first chorus is sometimes preceded by an introduction, which may be as short as a few measures or may extend to chorus of its own. Many arrangements contain an interlude, often similar in content to the introduction, inserted between some or all choruses. Other methods of embellishing the form include modulations and cadential extensions.
Some big ensembles, like King Oliver's, played music that was half-arranged, half-improvised, often relying on head arrangements. A head arrangement is a piece of music that is formed by band members during rehearsal. p.31They experiment, often with one player coming up with a simple musical figure leading to development within the same section and then further expansion by other sections, with the entire band then memorizing the way they are going to perform the piece, without writing it on sheet music. During the 1930s, Count Basie's band often used head arrangements, as Basie said, "we just sort of start it off and the others fall in." Head arrangements were more common during the period of the 1930s because there was less turnover in personnel, giving the band members more time to rehearse. :
Before 1910, social dance in America was dominated by steps such as the waltz and polka. As jazz migrated from its New Orleans origin to Chicago and New York City, energetic, suggestive dances traveled with it. During the next decades, ballrooms filled with people doing the jitterbug and Lindy Hop. The dance duo Vernon and Irene Castle popularized the foxtrot while accompanied by the Europe Society Orchestra led by James Reese Europe.
One of the first bands to accompany the new rhythms was led by a drummer, Art Hickman, in San Francisco in 1916. Hickman's arranger, Ferde Grofé, wrote arrangements in which he divided the jazz orchestra into sections that combined in various ways. This intermingling of sections became a defining characteristic of big bands. In 1919, Paul Whiteman hired Grofé to use similar techniques for his band. Whiteman was educated in classical music, and he called his new band's music symphonic jazz. The methods of dance bands marked a step away from New Orleans jazz. With the exception of Jelly Roll Morton, who continued playing in the New Orleans style, bandleaders paid attention to the demand for dance music and created their own big bands.They incorporated elements of Broadway, Tin Pan Alley, ragtime, and vaudeville.
Duke Ellington led his band at the Cotton Club in Harlem. Fletcher Henderson's career started when he was persuaded to audition for a job at Club Alabam in New York City, which eventually turned into a job as bandleader at the Roseland Ballroom. At these venues, which themselves gained notoriety, bandleaders and arrangers played a greater role than they had before. Hickman relied on Ferde Grofé, Whiteman on Bill Challis. Henderson and arranger Don Redman followed the template of King Oliver, but as the 1920s progressed they moved away from the New Orleans format and transformed jazz. They were assisted by a band full of talent: Coleman Hawkins on tenor saxophone, Louis Armstrong on cornet, and multi-instrumentalist Benny Carter, whose career lasted into the 1990s.
Swing music began appearing in the early 1930s and was distinguished by a more supple feel than the more literal 4
4 of early jazz. Walter Page is often credited with developing the walking bass, though earlier examples exist, such as Wellman Braud on Ellington's Washington Wabble from 1927.
This type of music flourished through the early 1930s, although there was little mass audience for it until around 1936. Up until that time, it was viewed with ridicule and looked upon as a curiosity. After 1935, big bands rose to prominence playing swing music and held a major role in defining swing as a distinctive style. Western swing musicians also formed popular big bands during the same period.
There was a considerable range of styles among the hundreds of popular bands. Many of the better known bands reflected the individuality of the bandleader, the lead arranger, and the personnel. Count Basie played a relaxed, propulsive swing, Bob Crosby more of a dixieland style, Benny Goodman a hard driving swing, and Duke Ellington's compositions were varied and sophisticated. Many bands featured strong instrumentalists whose sounds dominated, such as the clarinets of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, the trombone of Jack Teagarden, the trumpet of Harry James, the drums of Gene Krupa, and the vibes of Lionel Hampton. The popularity of many of the major bands was amplified by star vocalists, such as Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey, Helen O'Connell and Bob Eberly with Jimmy Dorsey, Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb, Billie Holiday and Jimmy Rushing with Count Basie, Dick Haymes and Helen Forrest with Harry James, Doris Day with Les Brown, and Peggy Lee with Benny Goodman. Some bands were "society bands" which relied on strong ensembles but little on soloists or vocalists, such as the bands of Guy Lombardo and Paul Whiteman.
By this time the big band was such a dominant force in jazz that the older generation found they either had to adapt to it or simply retire. With no market for small-group recordings (made worse by a Depression-era industry reluctant to take risks), musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines led their own bands, while others, like Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver, lapsed into obscurity.
The major "black" bands of the 1930s included, apart from Ellington's, Hines's and Calloway's, those of Jimmie Lunceford, Chick Webb, and Count Basie. The "white" bands of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Shep Fields and, later, Glenn Miller were more popular than their "black" counterparts from the middle of the decade. Bridging the gap to white audiences in the mid-1930s was the Casa Loma Orchestra and Benny Goodman's early band.
White teenagers and young adults were the principal fans of the big bands in the late 1930s and early 1940s. They danced to recordings and the radio and attended live concerts. They were knowledgeable and often biased toward their favorite bands and songs, and sometimes worshipful of famous soloists and vocalists. Many bands toured the country in grueling one-night stands. Traveling conditions and lodging were difficult, in part due to segregation in most parts of the United States, and the personnel often had to perform having had little sleep and food. Apart from the star soloists, many musicians received low wages and would abandon the tour if bookings disappeared. Personal problems and band discord affected the group. Drinking and addiction were common. Turnover was frequent, and top soloists were lured by more lucrative contracts. Sometimes bandstands were too small, public address systems inadequate, pianos out of tune. Bandleaders dealt with these obstacles through rigid discipline (Glenn Miller) and canny psychology (Duke Ellington).
Big bands uplifted morale during World War II. Many musicians served in the military and toured with USO troupes at the front, with Glenn Miller losing his life while traveling between shows. Many bands suffered from the loss of personnel and quality declined at home during the war years. The 1942–44 musicians' strike worsened the situation. Vocalists began to strike out on their own. By the end of the war, swing was giving way to less danceable music, such as bebop. Many of the great swing bands broke up, as the times and tastes changed.
Although big bands are identified with the swing era, they continued to exist after those decades, though the music they played was often different from swing. Bandleader Charlie Barnet's recording of "Cherokee" in 1942 and "The Moose" in 1943 have been called the beginning of the bop era. Woody Herman's first band, nicknamed the First Herd, borrowed from progressive jazz, while the Second Herd emphasized the saxophone section of three tenors and one baritone. In the 1950s, Stan Kenton referred to his band's music as "progressive jazz", "modern", and "new music". He created his band as a vehicle for his compositions. Kenton pushed the boundaries of big bands by combining clashing elements and by hiring arrangers whose ideas about music conflicted. This expansive eclecticism characterized much of jazz after World War II. During the 1960s and '70s, Sun Ra and his Arketstra took big bands further out. Ra's eclectic music was played by a roster of musicians from ten to thirty and was presented as theater, with costumes, dancers, and special effects.
As jazz was expanded during the 1950s through the 1970s, the Basie and Ellington bands were still around, as were bands led by Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Earl Hines, Les Brown, Clark Terry, and Doc Severinsen. Progressive bands were led by Dizzy Gillespie, Gil Evans, Carla Bley, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin, Don Ellis, and Anthony Braxton.
In the 1960s and 1970s, big band rock became popular by integrating such musical ingredients as progressive rock experimentation, jazz fusion, and the horn choirs often used in blues and soul music, with some of the most prominent groups including Chicago; Blood, Sweat and Tears; Tower of Power; and, from Canada, Lighthouse. The genre was gradually absorbed into mainstream pop rock and the jazz rock sector.
Other bandleaders used Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music with big band instrumentation, and big bands led by arranger Gil Evans, saxophonist John Coltrane (on the album Ascension from 1965) and bass guitarist Jaco Pastorius introduced cool jazz, free jazz and jazz fusion, respectively, to the big band domain. Modern big bands can be found playing all styles of jazz music. Some large contemporary European jazz ensembles play mostly avant-garde jazz using the instrumentation of the big bands. Examples include the Vienna Art Orchestra, founded in 1977, and the Italian Instabile Orchestra, active in the 1990s.
In the late 1990s, there was a swing revival in the U.S. The Lindy Hop became popular again and young people took an interest in big band styles again.
Big bands maintained a presence on American television, particularly through the late-night talk show, which has historically used big bands as house accompaniment. Typically the most prominent shows with the earliest time slots and largest audiences have bigger bands with horn sections while those in later time slots go with smaller, leaner ensembles.
Many college and university music departments offer jazz programs and feature big band courses in improvisation, composition, arranging, and studio recording, featuring performances by 18 to 20 piece big bands.
During the 1930s, Earl Hines and his band broadcast from the Grand Terrace in Chicago every night across America.In Kansas City and across the Southwest, an earthier, bluesier style was developed by such bandleaders as Bennie Moten and, later, by Jay McShann and Jesse Stone. Big band remotes on the major radio networks spread the music from ballrooms and clubs across the country during the 1930s and 1940s, with remote broadcasts from jazz clubs continuing into the 1950s on NBC's Monitor . Radio increased the fame of Benny Goodman, the "Pied Piper of Swing". Others challenged him, and battle of the bands became a regular feature of theater performances.
Gloria Parker had a radio program on which she conducted the largest all-girl orchestra led by a female. She led her Swingphony while playing marimba. Phil Spitalny, a native of Ukraine, led a 22-piece female orchestra known as Phil Spitalny and His Hour of Charm Orchestra, named for his radio show, The Hour of Charm , during the 1930s and 1940s. Other female bands were led by trumpeter B. A. Rolfe, Anna Mae Winburn, and Ina Ray Hutton.
Big Bands began to appear in movies in the 1930s through the 1960s, though cameos by bandleaders were often stiff and incidental to the plot. Fictionalized biographical films of Glenn Miller, Gene Krupa, and Benny Goodman were made in the 1950s.
The bands led by Helen Lewis, Ben Bernie, and Roger Wolfe Kahn's band were filmed by Lee de Forest in his Phonofilm sound-on-film process in 1925, in three short films which are in the Library of Congress film collection.
William James "Count" Basie was an American jazz pianist, organist, bandleader, and composer. In 1935, he formed the Count Basie Orchestra, and in 1936 took them to Chicago for a long engagement and their first recording. He led the group for almost 50 years, creating innovations like the use of two "split" tenor saxophones, emphasizing the rhythm section, riffing with a big band, using arrangers to broaden their sound, and others. Many musicians came to prominence under his direction, including the tenor saxophonists Lester Young and Herschel Evans, the guitarist Freddie Green, trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry "Sweets" Edison, plunger trombonist Al Grey, and singers Jimmy Rushing, Helen Humes, Thelma Carpenter, and Joe Williams.
Swing music is a form of jazz that developed in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s. The name came from the emphasis on the off–beat, or weaker pulse. Swing bands usually featured soloists who would improvise on the melody over the arrangement. The danceable swing style of big bands and bandleaders such as Benny Goodman was the dominant form of American popular music from 1935 to 1946, known as the swing era. The verb "to swing" is also used as a term of praise for playing that has a strong groove or drive. Notable musicians of the swing era include Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Harry James, Lionel Hampton, Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw.
James Fletcher Hamilton Henderson was an American pianist, bandleader, arranger and composer, important in the development of big band jazz and swing music. He was one of the most prolific black musical arrangers and, along with Duke Ellington, is considered one of the most influential arrangers and bandleaders in jazz history. Henderson's influence was vast. He helped bridge the gap between the Dixieland and the swing eras. He was often known as "Smack" Henderson.
James Melvin Lunceford was an American jazz alto saxophonist and bandleader in the swing era.
The swing era was the period (1933–1947) when big band swing music was the most popular music in the United States. Though this was its most popular period, the music had actually been around since the late 1920s and early 1930s, being played by black bands led by such artists as Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, Bennie Moten, Cab Calloway, Earl Hines, and Fletcher Henderson, and white bands from the 1920s led by the likes of Jean Goldkette, Russ Morgan and Isham Jones. An early milestone in the era was from "the King of Swing" Benny Goodman's performance at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles on August 21, 1935, bringing the music to the rest of the country. The 1930s also became the era of other great soloists: the tenor saxophonists Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Lester Young; the alto saxophonists Benny Carter and Johnny Hodges; the drummers Chick Webb, Gene Krupa, Jo Jones and Sid Catlett; the pianists Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson; the trumpeters Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Bunny Berigan, and Rex Stewart.
The Mills Blue Rhythm Band was an American big band of the 1930s.
Wilbur Dorsey "Buck" Clayton was an American jazz trumpeter who was a member of Count Basie's orchestra. His principal influence was Louis Armstrong, first hearing the record "Confessin' That I Love You" as he passed by a shop window.
The Count Basie Orchestra is a 16 to 18 piece big band, one of the most prominent jazz performing groups of the swing era, founded by Count Basie in 1935 and recording regularly from 1936. Despite a brief disbandment at the beginning of the 1950s, the band survived long past the Big Band era itself and the death of Basie in 1984. It continues under the direction of trumpeter Scotty Barnhart.
Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band, or simply The Big Phat Band, is an 18-piece jazz orchestra that combines the big band swing of the 1930s and 1940s with contemporary music such as funk and jazz fusion. The band is led by Gordon Goodwin, who arranges, composes, plays piano and saxophone. Since its origin, the Big Phat Band has received several Grammy Awards and many Grammy nominations.
Jerry Gray was an American violinist, arranger, composer, and leader of swing dance orchestras bearing his name. He is widely known for his work with popular music during the Swing era. His name is inextricably linked to two of the most famous bandleaders of the time, Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller. Gray, along with Bill Finegan, wrote many of Miller's arrangements during the late 1930s and early 1940s. In the latter part of Gray's career, his orchestra served as the house band at the Venetian Room of the Fairmont Hotel, Dallas.
Benny Morton was a jazz trombonist most associated with the swing genre.
The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert by Benny Goodman, Columbia Records catalogue item SL-160, is a two-disc LP of swing and jazz music recorded at Carnegie Hall in New York City on January 16, 1938. First issued in 1950, the landmark recording captured the premiere performance given by a big band in the famed concert venue. The event has been described as "the single most important jazz or popular music concert in history: jazz's 'coming out' party to the world of 'respectable' music." Both critical and public reception of the performances was outstanding.
Edward Emanuel Barefield was an American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist and arranger most noteworthy for his work with Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington. Barefield's musical career included work as an arranger of the ABC Orchestra and for the "Endorsed by Dorsey: program on WOR. He also appeared in several films. He married performer Connie Harris.
Murray McEachern was a Canadian jazz trombonist and alto saxophonist born in Toronto, perhaps best known for having played trombone for Benny Goodman from 1936 to 1937. McEachern is equally remembered for playing both the trombone and alto saxophone for the Casa Loma Orchestra from 1937 to 1941.
Orchestral jazz is a jazz genre that developed in New York City in the 1920s. Early innovators of the genre, such as Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington, include some of the most highly regarded musicians, composers, and arrangers in all of jazz history. The fusion of jazz's rhythmic and instrumental characteristics with the scale and structure of an orchestra, made orchestral jazz distinct from the musical genres that preceded its emergence. Its development contributed both to the popularization of jazz, as well as the critical legitimization of jazz as an art form.
Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia 1933–1944 is a box set 10-disc compilation of the complete known studio master recordings, plus alternate takes, of Billie Holiday during the time period indicated, released in 2001 on Columbia/Legacy, CXK 85470. Designed like an album of 78s, the medium in which these recordings initially appeared, the 10.5" × 12" box includes 230 tracks, a 116-page booklet with extensive photos, a song list, discography, essays by Michael Brooks, Gary Giddins, and Farah Jasmine Griffin, and an insert of appreciations for Holiday from a diversity of figures including Tony Bennett, Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithfull, B.B. King, Abbey Lincoln, Jill Scott, and Lucinda Williams. At the 44th Grammy Awards on February 27, 2002, the box set won the Grammy Award for Best Historical Album of the previous year.
Ellington '55 is an album by American pianist, composer and bandleader Duke Ellington recorded for the Capitol label in 1953 and 1954 and released in 1955. The album features the Ellington Orchestra's performances of popular big band compositions and was reissued on CD with two bonus tracks in 1999.
William George Ramsay is an American jazz saxophonist and band leader based in Seattle. In 1997, he was inducted into the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame, the top of eight Golden Ear Award categories presented annually since 1990 by the Earshot Jazz Society of Seattle. Ramsay performs on all the primary saxophones – soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone – as well as clarinet, and bass clarinet.
A Study in Frustration: The Fletcher Henderson Story is a box set compilation surveying studio recordings of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra from 1923 to 1938, released in 1961 on Columbia Records, CXK 85470. It initially appeared as a four-album set produced by Frank Driggs and assembled by John Hammond, both of whom also wrote the liner notes. The set was part of a Thesaurus of Classic Jazz series on Columbia which included King of the Delta Blues Singers also worked on by Hammond and Driggs and released in 1961, the first album reissue of songs by blues legend Robert Johnson.
Big Boss Band is the 1990 studio album of George Benson on Warner Bros. featuring the Count Basie Orchestra. This is Benson's second consecutive album which returns to his jazz roots after his successful pop career in the 1980s, and also his debut as sole producer of an album. The genre is mainly big band swing with some Michel Legrand and R&B thrown in.