Big band

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A big band is a type of musical ensemble that originated in the United States and is associated with jazz and the Swing Era typically consisting of percussion, brass, and woodwind instruments totalling approximately 12 to 25 musicians. The terms jazz band, jazz ensemble, jazz orchestra, stage band, society band, and dance band may describe this type of ensemble in particular contexts.

A standard big band consists of two horn sections: saxophones, and brass, which includes trumpets, and trombones and a rhythm section that includes guitar (originally acoustic), acoustic bass or electric bass, drums, and piano). Some big bands use additional instruments, such as various woodwinds, horns, tuba and percussion. Big bands can also include a string section that includes violins, as well as violas, and 'celli. In the early 1920s, big bands were an outgrowth of the ragtime ensemble with the addition of saxophones, which was becoming the instrumentation used in vaudeville theatre orchestras. Big bands, as they ultimately evolved, of usually ten pieces or so began to rise in prominence during the 1920s "jazz age". One notable exception, the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, contained more than 20 musicians, but it was not until the early 1930s that bands with 13 or more musicians became commonplace. With the advent of network radio in the mid-to late 1920s big bands became the predominant force in popular music. Most of these bands did not include much improvisation, as jazz was still primarily identified with smaller bands of perhaps seven or eight pieces or less. Initially their main provenance was in the ballrooms of large hotels where their sole purpose was to provide music for dancing as well as in dancehalls generally found in larger cities. By the end of the 1920s, as radio became more and more popular, bands were beginning to add more higher-caliber jazz influenced musicians and as a result featured more and more improvised soloing. With the onset of the Great Depression, radio became an even more important factor in their popularity, because of the decline in audience attendance in ballrooms and hotels and the severe decline in the record business that was also a result of the bad economic conditions. This confluence of events, (the rise of network radio and worsening economic conditions) in conjunction with musicians "crossing over" between what was styles of "sweet" (non-jazz) dance music and "hot" (improvised) jazz music brought about the rise of virtuoso bandleaders such as Benny Goodman, some of whom achieved great fame and celebrity as performing and recording artists. With the advent of motion pictures including sound in the late 1920s, big bands could easily be exploited in films and as such, Hollywood movies became important engines of creating popular music, and as the big bands began to dominate the music business, Hollywood motion picture producers were quick to capitalize on their popularity. Big bands began appearing in movies in the 1930s and continued to do so into the 1960s. Many films made in the early 1940s that featured big bands were made for the sole purpose of putting the biggest popular music stars of the day on screen, with little regard for storyline or plot.

Swing music as musical style began in the 1920s and slowly but steadily rose in popularity through the early 1930s. Duke Ellington's popular song It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing) with lyrics by Irving Mills (1931), states it makes no difference if it's sweet or hot and was perhaps prophetic, as it was during that period that the style was incubating and as the bands grew to larger than eight or nine musicians they needed written arrangements for their songs. In late 1935, with the success of Goodman's band popularizing the style on a scale as yet unseen, big bands quickly rose to prominence playing swing music as the country slowly began recovering from the Depression. True to the song lyric, there was a considerable range of styles among the hundreds of popular bands. Swing bands were as the name implied the "hotter" (jazz influenced) bands and Sweet bands generally stayed more in line with the tradition of "salon" dance orchestras, but regardless of the path taken by bandleaders, many were very successful. By the late 1930s, even the leaders of the most conservative dance bands knew they had to have at least one or two exciting jazz soloists in their ranks to turn up the heat when it was necessary, and the opposite was true for the most die-hard "jazz" influenced hot big bands, in order to keep the dancers (and ballroom management) happy, who, along with fox-trots, wanted their share of waltzes, rhumbas, tangos, and the like to dance to.

Big bands began decline in popularity not long after the end of World War II in 1945. Jazz music itself had started undergoing its transition to Be-bop as early as 1941, which meant that musicians were thinking in terms of the freedom found in playing with small groups as opposed to playing in large bands whose music was predicated on written arrangements. As far as the audience was concerned, it has been surmised that younger veterans of the war, now again at home and in civilian life, were growing older, settling down and getting on with their lives getting married, beginning careers, starting families, etc.; and so the popular decline was taking place at the same time as when musicians were looking for other more inspiring outlets for their creativity. The American musicians union had imposed a ban on recording from mid-1942 until late 1944 over recording royalties to its members, and again later from December 1947 to December 1948, during and after which record companies began to look elsewhere for their rosters of artists. Amid the air of post-war conservatism, jazz as a musical style leaving swing bands behind and economic forces within the music industry dictating direction, vocalists as solo artists began to dominate the popular music business and the big bands and their leaders began facing a steep decline in the late 1940s, when many big bands broke up. However, during the years of their greatest popularity, essentially tagged the "swing era" from 1935-1946, the most notable bandleaders of "sweet" and "hot" bands had become major celebrities and so they were able to maintain their following to some extent longer than those not so famous. By the late 1940s, theaters that had continued featuring bands and stage acts in between movies through the war years had all but abandoned their band and live entertainment policies, and as the 1950s progressed, many suburban ballrooms were converted into bowling alleys and supermarkets.

As the big bands receded in general popularity, there were up and coming composers and arrangers who were very much a part of the big band tradition though, and many became bandleaders and integrated the performance of various styles of music not typically associated with swing with traditional big band instrumentation. After World War II many of the musicians who had been featured in the most popular bands before the war settled into lucrative careers freelancing in recording studios for movies and television as well as playing in studio orchestras and bands backing other artists on records. Many of them and remained employed that way well into the 1970s.

As decades progressed though, big band music tended to become identified more and more with the World War II years, although they had their ascent and even greatest peak in popularity by 1942 when the US was just beginning to get involved in the war. Even with recording forbidden by the musicians union during much of the war and the growing shortage of young musicians to fill the empty seats of others from the bands joining the armed forces, and gasoline rations limiting travel by the bands, personal appearances by big bands and their presence in movies raised millions of dollars in war bonds and magnified their popularity, not to mention that the big band format was still the driving force in popular music. Many fans of big band music young and old would often wonder if the big bands would ever "come back", a question that was even put to many retired bandleaders who were still alive and maybe even performing, such as Goodman who worked through the 1970s into the 1980s with his small groups as well as Artie Shaw who had quit the music business as a performing musician altogether in 1954. In the late 1990s, swing made a slight comeback in the US. In any event, a sustained resurgence has never happened to any great degree.

While jazz "combo" ensembles using up to approximately seven or maybe eight musicians are largely improvised, big band music is primarily crafted in advance by an arranger out of necessity because of the number of musicians in the band.


In the beginning, about 1920, the number and disposition of players was by no means standard, but by the 1950s had evolved into a de facto standard of 17-pieces, for which many commercial arrangements are available. This instrumentation consists of five saxophones (most often two altos, two tenors, and one baritone), four trumpets, four trombones (often including one bass trombone) and a four-piece rhythm section (composed of drums, acoustic bass or electric bass, piano and guitar).

However, variants to this instrumentation are common. From its beginning, when bands were made up of whatever was available in more cases than not, composers, arrangers, and bandleaders have used sections with more or fewer players, and additional instruments, such as valve trombone, baritone horn/euphonium (both of which are usually used in place of or with trombones), vibes, bass clarinet, French horn, tuba, banjo, accordion and strings (violin, viola, cello). Male and female vocalists have also joined big bands to perform particular arrangements. In recent years synthesizers and / or electronic keyboards have been added, often replacing the piano.

In the 1920s, a typical dance band may have included up to as many as three violins, and it became a commercial asset for violin players to market themselves as able to double on saxophone when the saxophone was coming into popular vogue. Clarinet players coming from a jazz or traditional background also were quick to embrace the commercial opportunities that were presented, and many early saxophone sections were as much a cross-over of converted violinists as they were of clarinet players who made the switch. By the 1930s it was just assumed that most (if not all) saxophone players played clarinet, and many arrangements from the period called upon any or all of the saxophone parts and whoever was playing them to switch over to clarinet, bass clarinet or another size saxophone for some period of time. Saxophone "doubling" now might mean being called upon to play any other woodwind instrument, such as flute, piccolo, clarinet, bass clarinet as well as soprano sax.

"Doubling" in the brass section is generally confined to trumpet players being occasionally called upon to play flugelhorn. Some trombone players who started as trumpet players might exclusively play valve trombone and many trombonists also play the valve trombone. Often however, brass section players are called upon to utilize a variety of mutes that completely change the timbre (sound texture) of the instruments.

As for the rhythm section, the 1920s rhythm sections included banjo and tuba. By the mid-1930s the guitar had replaced the banjo, and Double bass had replaced the tuba. The electric guitar eventually came to replace the hollow-body acoustic guitar used into big bands as a result of two of its pioneers, Eddie Durham and Charlie Christian who were both chiefly identified with the big bands of Count Basie and Benny Goodman. Many guitarists still prefer to use an amplified hollow-body electric guitar when playing in a big band. electric instruments including electric bass are often used in rhythm sections now as are electric pianos and synthesizers. Many bandleaders have also made the conscious decision to omit the guitar altogether in many big bands. Latin or other auxiliary percussion instruments may also be added, such as cowbells, conga drums, bongo drums, tambourines, triangles, vibraphone, marimba, etc.

History and style[edit]

Paul Whiteman and his orchestra in 1921

Beginning in the mid-1920s, big bands came to dominate popular music. These bands typically played standard Tin Pan Alley popular tunes with some sort of "ragged" (jazz-influenced) "time" and rhythm applied to them. It was characterized by loud melodies, the presence of a string section, and a fair amount of improvisation. Typical of the genre were such popular artists as Paul Whiteman, Ted Lewis, Harry Reser, Leo Reisman, Abe Lyman, Nat Shilkret, George Olsen, Ben Bernie, Bob Haring, Ben Selvin, Earl Burtnett, Gus Arnheim, Henry Halstead, Rudy Vallée, Jean Goldkette, Glen Gray, Isham Jones, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Sam Lanin, James Last, Vincent Lopez, Ben Pollack, Shep Fields, Fred Waring, and "all-girl" bands such as "Helen Lewis and Her All-Girl Jazz Syncopators." Being popular music, much of it was unabashedly commercial and had nothing remotely to do with jazz, other than the manner in which it was played. But some bands often featured first-rate jazz musicians-—for example, Paul Whiteman employed Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer. Clarinetist Benny Goodman had been in demand since the 1920s and had participated on over 700 recordings led by others before he made his first records for Victor in 1935.

Toward the mid 1920s big band instrumentation underwent a fundamental change that ever since not very much as changed. Since then it has just merely expanded. Most standard popular orchestrations ("stocks") published in the early 1920s included parts for Flute, Clarinet, Eb Alto Saxophone, C Melody Saxophone, one or maybe two Trumpets, Trombone, Violins A-B, possibly Viola (or Violin C), Cello, Banjo, Tuba, Drums and Piano. As time went on, parts for Bb Tenor Saxophone were included as alternate parts for the C Melody Saxophone. By 1926-1928, the instrumentation had changed to 1st. Sax. (Eb Alto), 2nd. Sax. (Bb Tenor), 3rd. Sax. (Eb Alto), two (or three) trumpets and one (or two) trombones. By the end of the decade a fourth saxophone part was being included, and depending on the arranger or publisher the fourth saxophone might have been a part for either tenor or baritone sax. Rhythm section parts didn't change, and by then publishers and arrangers had for the most part omitted parts for the Flute, Clarinet, Violas and 'Celli. This "Tin Pan Alley" instrumentation established by New York popular music publishers contrasted with one of the most important series of orchestrations of the era, the Melrose Syncopation Series published by Melrose Brothers Music, Inc. out of Chicago. Brothers Walter and Charlie Melrose were leading song publishers based in Chicago at the time Chicago was in its "Chicago style" jazz heyday. From 1925 onward, most of the Melrose "stocks" were arranged for clarinet, two or three saxes (alto, tenor and maybe "third" alto), two trumpets, one trombone, violin, piano, tuba, bass, drums. Unlike the Tin Pan Alley arrangements, the Melrose Syncopation Series was unabashedly jazz oriented, as opposed to the Vaudeville/Broadway song-style of the New York songwriters / publishers.

Partially due to the advent of network radio in 1924, the increasing popularity of jazz during the 1920s impacted the landscape of popular music by tending to make it louder, and giving more space to improvised soloing. White musicians such as, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and Hoagy Carmichael led the way. The two major centers in this development were first Chicago and later New York City. In the first, a sophisticated approach to arranging predominated, originally in the work of Don Redman for the Fletcher Henderson band, and Charlie Spivak and His Orchestra. Some big ensembles, like the Joe "King" Oliver outfit played a kind of half arranged, half improvised jazz, often relying on “head” arrangements. Other great bands, like the one of Luis Russell became a vehicle for Louis Armstrong. There the whole arrangement had to promote all the possibilities of the star, although they often contained very good musicians, like Henry "Red" Allen, J. C. Higginbotham and Charlie Holmes. Others such as Alvino Rey grew popular with shows in New York City and then toured the country sharing their hit songs and new musical styles.

Radio and movies[edit]

Earl "Fatha" Hines became the star of Chicago with his Grand Terrace Cafe band and began to broadcast live from The Grand Terrace nightly coast-to-coast across America. Meanwhile, in Kansas City and across the Southwest, an earthier, bluesier style was developed by such bandleaders as Benny 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 was a major factor in gaining notice and fame for Benny Goodman, known as the “King of Swing”. Soon, others challenged him, and “the battles of the bands” became a staple at theater performances featuring many groups on one bill.

Big bands also began to appear in movies in the 1930s right on through to the 1960s. Shep Fields and his orchestra appeared in The Big Broadcast of 1938 for Paramount Pictures while accompanying the actor Bob Hope in the 1930s. Alvino Rey and His Orchestra were featured in films through RKO Pictures during their peak in the early 1940s, such as Sing Your Worries Away.[3] Fictionalized biographical films of Glenn Miller, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, and others were made in the 1950s, as nostalgic tributes to the glory years.

Rise and fall of swing[edit]

Swing music began in the 1920s, distinguished by a more supple feel than the more literal 4/4 of earlier jazz and a walking bassWalter Page is often credited with developing this, though isolated earlier examples exist (e.g., by 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 very popular big bands during the same period.[4][5][6]

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, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman, 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, Toni Arden and Ken Curtis with Shep Fields and Peggy Lee with Benny Goodman. Some bands were "society bands" that relied on strong ensembles but little on soloists or vocalists, such as the bands of Guy Lombardo and Paul Whiteman.[citation needed]

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), some musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines fronted their own bands, while others, like Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver, lapsed into obscurity.

The major African American bands of the 1930s included, apart from the bands led by Ellington, Hines and Calloway, were those of Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford, and Chick Webb.

Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Shep Fields and, later, Glenn Miller far eclipsed other bands in popularity from the middle of the decade. Also popular was the Casa Loma Orchestra and Benny Goodman’s early band.

During World War II Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine led bands whose soloists figured as the early performers of Bebop. For a few years after the war, Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton led Bebop-oriented big bands.

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 whenever they could. They were knowledgeable and often biased toward their favorite bands and songs, and sometimes worshipful of the famous soloists and vocalists. Many bands toured the country in grueling one-night stands to reach out to their fans. Traveling conditions and lodging were often difficult, in part due to segregation in most parts of the United States, and the personnel often had to perform on little sleep and food. Apart from the star soloists, many personnel received low wages and would abandon the tour and go home if bookings fell through. Personal problems and intra-band discord could affect the playing of the group. Drinking and addictions were common. Turnover was frequent in many bands, and top musicians were often lured away to better contracts if one bandleader felt like "raiding" another musician's band. Sometimes bandstands were too small, public address systems inadequate, pianos out of tune. Successful bandleaders dealt with all these hazards of touring to hold their bands together—some with rigid discipline (Glenn Miller), some with canny psychology (Duke Ellington). And, for the more musically inclined bandleaders there was always the never ending dilemma of what of their musical soul they would have to sacrifice in order to play the music they wanted. For other bandleaders, all that was important to them was pleasing the crowd with little attention paid to how commercial or corny their product was that they were selling every night on the bandstand. At the height of the swing / big band era craze there was no shortage of bandleaders involved in the business strictly for the purpose of making money, and lots of it. Not to mention, there were always the record company A&R executives making it known to all of their label artists that they would be happy to get another band or bandleader to make a record of what they thought would be the next biggest hit if a bandleader dared to push back in the name of their own musical principles.

Big bands played a major role in lifting morale during World War II. Many band members were drafted into the military in non-musical circumstances. Being in their early to mid-20s, they were the perfect age to be carrying a gun. Bandleader Glenn Miller at age 38 and too old to be drafted, disbanded his big band and enlisted in the US Army, where from late 1942-1944 he led a hand-picked band of other Army Air Forces musicians broadcasting war bond rallies over radio and entertaining troops at bases in the US. In June of 1944 Miller and his musicians were transported to the UK charged with radio broadcasting and live appearances duties for troops stationed in the UK. Capt. Miller and The American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Force also prerecorded numerous radio broadcasts in BBC recording studios that were then over-dubbed with anti-fascist announcements in German and beamed into Nazi Germany as Allied propaganda. Always wanting to be closer to the front lines to put on concerts for troops whenever and however possible, Miller received orders to proceed to Paris with the band in early December 1944. In 15 December, 1944, Major Glenn Miller lost his life while flying en route to Paris days before the band was to follow. It was not until the rest of Miller's aggregation arrived in Paris three days later that anyone realized that Miller and the two other officers he was flying with never made it. In the US, many bands suffered from the loss of personnel and the quality of available musicians declined during the war years, while it the salaries for the available musicians skyrocketed. A recording ban from an ill-timed recording strike in 1942 worsened the situation. Vocalists began to strike out on their own and by the end of the war, swing was giving way to less danceable music including bebop. Many of the great swing bands broke up as tastes changed.

The ultimate result of the strike was an increased focus on vocalists and a corresponding diminished focus on musicians. This event, more than any other, marked the beginning of the end of the big band era, with bandleaders at the helm of the music business. With the recording strike over with in November, 1944 bands flocked to the recording studios to return to making records, but the activity was short-lived. Attendance at venues was beginning to slide, and taxes imposed on entertainment during the war were not rescinded when the war ended in 1945. Band member salaries stayed high with the end of the war, and making matters worse, inflation was rampant in the USA and people fearing of the return of hard times of the pre-war Depression years again cut back on frivolous entertainment as they had after the collapse of the economy in 1930. While there had always been a certain number of solo artist singers such as Bing Crosby, until that point it was the big bands and the leaders who ran them that dominated the music business. The December, 1946 issue of Metronome Magazine had the banner "Obituary In Rhythm" as its cover story, and revealed in its pages that twelve major bandleaders announced their intentions to breakup their bands that month or soon after the new year.

Since 1945[edit]

As jazz evolved and expanded in new directions, major band performances of note did occur from the 1950s to the 1970s. Noteworthy performers included: Billy Eckstine (the Pioneers of Be-Bop), Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Gil Evans, Stan Kenton, Johnny Richards, Sun Ra, Gary MacFarland, Charles Mingus, Oliver Nelson, Carla Bley, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass, Sam Rivers, Don Ellis, Toshiko Akiyoshi – Lew Tabackin Big Band, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Anthony Braxton.

As for the major bandleaders of the swing era, only Duke Ellington went on until his death in 1974 without ever disbanding and re-forming his band. In the early 1950s, Count Basie disbanded and worked with a sextet for a few years before reforming his big band, whose fame possibly matched or surpassed the band he led during the glory years of 1935-46. Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Woody Herman tried short stints as Disc Jockeys in the late 1940s but re-assembled shortly after. The casinos of Las Vegas kept James busy, where he could work as much as he wanted and also be out of the spotlight of New York and Hollywood. Herman reformed at the end of 1947 with his famed "Second Herd", but that band lasted only a year; unfortunately its existence coincided with the second recording ban. Herman reformed in 1953 and came and went with "Herds" so numerous they stopped being assigned numbers until his death in 1987. Of his contemporaries however, Herman was never content to sit still and each successive "Herd" was as thrilling and contemporary as anyone still out on what was left of the circuit. Jimmy Dorsey lingered on then ultimately gave up his band and joined his brother's. "The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Jimmy Dorsey" lasted until 1956. Tommy Dorsey died unexpectedly in November, 1956 and barely seven months later Jimmy died of lung cancer in June, 1957. Already diagnosed with the cancer that would ultimately take his life, shortly before Tommy's death, Jimmy assembled a pick-up band and made a record of the old pop standard tune So Rare. Playing it with a "loose" beat reminiscent of other 1950's groups then popular, the elder Dorsey deliberately set out to imitate Earl Bostic who had idolized him. Shortly after the recording was made, Jimmy played a test pressing for his younger brother Tommy who thought it was the worst record Jimmy ever made after hearing it. It ended up being the biggest hit record Jimmy ever had, surpassing all of hits he had in the early 1940s; Jimmy was awarded his gold record in the hospital just a few weeks before his death. Artie Shaw, long critical of the music business and possessing a wide-ranging intellect and a curiosity with books, literature and a desire to write his own, set aside his clarinet and any thoughts of leading a band or making records ever again in 1954. Shaw withheld many recordings he made of his last "Grammercy 5" Sextet from 1954 and finally released them in the late 1980s, where they were met with critical acclaim 30 years after the fact. Benny Goodman, who had broken up his big band at the end of 1946 returned later in 1947 with a new band organized along bop lines, but his audiences were disappointed with what he was offering (and he was never particularly 'at home' with the new approach either). From 1948 until his death Goodman would assemble numerous bands, but only for specific tours or engagements. The days of a full-time "Benny Goodman Orchestra" going wherever the work would take them from week to week were long over. His last important engagement, for the benefit of PBS was taped in New York in November 1985. If not together "full-time" he kept that band together and rehearsing for their limited number of engagements, all of which were dedicated to Fletcher Henderson, until his sudden death in June, 1986.

Ockbrook Big Band at Pride Park Stadium

Later bandleaders pioneered the performance of various Brazilian and Afro-Cuban styles with the traditional big band instrumentation, and big bands led by arranger Gil Evans, saxophonist John Coltrane (on the album Ascension from 1965) and electric bassist 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, swing made a comeback in the US. The Lindy Hop has taken hold on both coasts, and many younger people took an interest in big band styles again. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis is the resident orchestra of Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC). The JALC Orchestra currently tours internationally, promoting the big band sound.

African "Afrobeat" big bands have existed from 1970 to the present when Fela Kuti of Nigeria, fused big band jazz with Yoruba tribal rhythms, highlife, and American James Brown funk. As of 2008 there are over 40 working afrobeat big bands[7] including Dele Sosimi, Antibalas, Chopteeth, Femi Kuti, and Seun Kuti.

Calloway performed an original shortened big band version in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers.

Big band arrangements[edit]

In contrast to jazz "combos," in which musical performances are largely improvised, big band music is primarily crafted in advance by an arranger. Typical big band arrangements of the swing period follow a strophic form, with the same phrase and harmonic structure repeated several times. Each iteration, or chorus, most commonly follows Twelve-bar blues form or Thirty-two-bar (AABA) song form. The first chorus of an arrangement typically introduces the melody, and is followed by subsequent choruses of development, which may take the form of improvised solos, written soli sections, and shout choruses. An arrangement's first melodic statement is often preceded by an introduction, which may be only a few measures or up to a full chorus in length. Many arrangements additionally contain an interlude, often similar in content to the introduction, inserted between some or all choruses. Other embellishments to the form can include modulations and cadential extensions.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Becker, Howard S. "The Culture of ... [and] Careers in ... a Deviant Group: the Dance Musician", in his Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviants (New York: Free Press, 1966, cop. 1963), p. [79]-119. N.B.: The results are of a study undertaken in 1948-1949.
  • William Russo, Composing for the Jazz Orchestra University of Chicago Press, Library of Congress no. 61-8642
  • George T. Simon, The Big Bands, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1967, Library of Congress no. 67-26643
  • White, Mark. The Observer's Book of Big Bands: Describing American, British, and European Big Bands, Their Music and Their Musicians [and their vocalists], in The Observer's Series, no. 77. London: F. Warne, 1978. ISBN 0-7232-1589-8