Ghost band

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For the Rancid song, see Indestructible (Rancid album).

A ghost band is, in the case of big band jazz, a band that performs under the original name of a deceased leader. In the case of rock, under a relaxed definition, it is a band that performs under the name of the original band whose founders are either deceased or have left the band. Use of the phrase may refer to a repertory jazz ensemble, such as a Dixieland band, with a longstanding, historic name. But in the strictest sense, a ghost band is connected in some way to a deceased leader.

Dance bands & jazz[edit]

The Glenn Miller Orchestra has been performing for seventy of the seventy-two years since Glenn Miller went missing. In dance band and big band jazz idioms, ghost bands typically perform the repertoire of the original band. Exceptions, however, include the Mingus Big Band, which performs and records new works in the creative spirit of its founder, Charles Mingus. The examples of Miller and Mingus are, in a sense, the same because both are striving to preserve the original models.

The estates of some notable band leaders, such as those of Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson, specifically forbid ghost bands in their names.[1]

Popular Music[edit]

In Classic Rock/Pop/R&B, the definition of a ghost band may refer to groups composed of musicians from newer generations & perhaps owned or led offstage by a secondary founding member who may perform, or may not even perform with the group as is the case with Blood, Sweat & Tears & The Platters. Many Classic Rock/Pop acts still tour with musicians who were in the last stages of their success and weren't founding, crucial or irreplaceable members of those acts, such as Little River Band. Other acts such as The Grass Roots, The Guess Who, The Temptations and others are now led by a drummer, bassist or other background rhythm musician or backing vocalist who had little to do with the unique original sound vs a lead instrumentalist or lead vocalist who made the sound identifiable to fans. These acts typically play at festivals, casinos, cruise ships, clubs, theaters and small venues, typically billed with other similar acts in "oldies packages", and are essentially tribute acts in all but name only.

In a different example, The Mahavishnu Project regards itself as a unique ghost band, devoted not completely to a former band, but also to the early-1970s jazz-rock fusion phenomena. In a strict sense, this type of band could be described as a tribute or repertory ensemble except that they use part of the original band name and play some of the original band's music.

Origin of the phrase[edit]

Gene Lees, Woody Herman's biographer, and several other sources attribute the coining of the phrase to Woody Herman, who used it to refer to successors of dance bands from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.[2]

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra is a ghost band with a twist: the name is new, but the band is closely identified as being the legacy of The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, and like the Mingus Band, is producing new works. Thad Jones, who had once been a trumpeter with the Count Basie Orchestra, led Count Basie's ghost band with critical acclaim.[3]

Types of ghost bands[edit]

Ghost bands fall into three categories: (i) authorized, (ii) unauthorized, and (iii) unspecified. Authorized ghost bands fall into two sub-categories: (a) authorized under the will of the decedent and (b) authorized by agreement with the heirs, successors, and assigns to the rights of the name. Unauthorized ghost bands are those that exist in the face of opposition, or those that prevail in a legal challenge. Unspecified ghost bands subsist with no preference or will given. In this case, more than one band might subsist, and even remain unopposed if money is not an issue.

Ghost bands often do not have full access to unpublished, original music arrangements. In lieu of ghost bands, some leaders have opted to bestow their music and papers to academic institutions, in some cases, to music schools devoted to research, restoration, and repertory studies, and in other cases, to alma maters.


The phrase, "ghost band," sometimes is viewed as an underhanded way of saying that the ensemble is not the "real McCoy." Not being the "real McCoy" does not automatically mean "inferior." The pool of current musicians in the U.S., Europe, Russia, and the like, is strong. And ghost bands in the recording studios might be composed of high-caliber musicians that would have otherwise been (a) unwilling to tour full-time, back in the day or (b) too expensive or (c) both. Willingness to embrace the phrase is mixed. Legacy bands — those that have grown new, distinct identities and have generated new works — value their roots; but they also appreciate recognition for their contributions to the art. From a branding perspective, some repertory big bands, such as the Glenn Miller Orchestra, embrace the phrase as a statement of commitment to the preservation of the original sound.

Notable ghost bands[edit]


Classic Rock, R&B & Pop

Related musical terminology[edit]

  • Tribute band — Tribute bands can also be ghost bands. Three fundamental distinctions: (1) tribute bands can play music of living artists, (2) tribute bands can be a one-time concert or recording by any group of musicians, and (3) tribute bands can showcase other subjects, such as a particular composer or arranger. This category can also refer to ad hoc groups that appear occasionally with a big-name leader, a number of star soloists and arrangers from the big-band era. Leaders who did this included Illinois Jacquet, Gerry Mulligan, and Louis Bellson.
  • Cover band — Cover bands can also be ghost bands. A distinction is that cover bands can play music of living artists and are usually not confined to one artist.

See also[edit]

  • Zombie strip, a comic strip continued by one or more artists and/or authors after the death or retirement of its original creator(s)


  1. ^ Jazz: the first 100 years, Volume 1, by Henry Martin & Keith Waters (2006), Thomson/Shirmer, pg. 370 OCLC 60842736
  2. ^ Sounds of Hot Jazz Stay Warm: Harry James Band to Play at the Mission, by Benjamin Epstein, Los Angeles Times, July 18, 1996
  3. ^ Jazz A–Z, by Peter Clayton & Peter Gammond, Guinness Superlatives (1986) OCLC 15353474