Big Band Music/The Jazz Era

Robert Russell By Robert Russell, 11th Nov 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Music>Genres

The music of the big band era produced was both pop music but it was also also artistically and musically creative. The big band era produced numerous sorts of bands, from the bluesy style of Count Basie to the sophisticated compositions of Duke Ellington. The intention of this article is simply to introduce those readers who are unfamiliar big band music to four of the major figures of the genre..

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington (1899-1974) is considered by jazz critics, such as Leonard Feather, the definitive jazz composer. Before Ellington, jazz was generally regarded as dance music. After Ellington, jazz was considered serious music. He recorded eight records in 1924. His big break came when King Oliver passed down the opportunity to be the house band at Harlem's famous Cotton Club and suggested Ellington take his place. Ellington was the house band at the Cotton Club from 1932 to 1942. The club's weekly radio broadcasts helped Ellington to gain a national following. He had a number of hits in the 1940s including Take the 'A' Train and Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me.

Count Basie

Count Basie (1904-1984) studied music and piano with his mother and with Harlem ragtime piano players. He was steeped in the Kansas City blues tradition although his connection to Kansas City was by happenstance. Basie joined Bennie Moten's band for a couple years and then formed his own band in 1935 with some of Moten's best musicians. The legendary music producer John Hammond discovered Basie and took him to New York City to record and perform. The first hit records were produced in 1938 and the Basie band quickly became one of the most big bands in the 1940s. His hits included The Mad Boogie in 1946 and One O'Clock Boogie in 1947.

Glenn Miller

Glenn Miller (1904-1944) was the most successful big band leader in the 1940s. He had seventeen top ten hits in 1939 including Moon Love. He had thirty one top ten hits in 1940 including Chattanooga Choo Choo. He moved to New York City in 1928 to work as a session musician. He began recording under his own name in 1935 and had a hit record with Solo Hop. All of the songs were intricately arranged with little or no room for improvisations. This led some jazz critics to dismiss the band as a pop band rather then serious jazz band. Miller disappeared on a flight from London to Paris in 1944 during WW II.

Benny Goodman

Benny Goodman (1909-1986) was dubbed the King of Swing. Goodman, who was white, was one of the first big band leaders to lead a racially integrated band. Goodman began playing the clarinet at the age of ten. At the age of 16 Goodman joined a California-based jazz band. He moved to New York City in 1929 to work as a freelance musician. In 1934 he formed a band to play on NBC's popular radio show called Let's Dance. The radio broadcast, constant touring, and hit records made Goodman one of the major big bands of the swing era.


Big Band Leaders, Ellington, Jazz, Swing

Meet the author

author avatar Robert Russell
I play guitar professionally in a Cajun/zydeco band named Creole Stomp. We are a nationally touring band that have been together ten years. I also have a PhD in philosophy.

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author avatar Songbird B
16th Nov 2011 (#)

Great article about some of our Jazz giants, Robert.. Thanks for sharing this..

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author avatar Robert Russell
16th Nov 2011 (#)

Thanks. It is always nice to hear from fellow musicians. I appreciate it.

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
16th Nov 2011 (#)

You saved my favorite for last; Benny Goodman

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