Swing and Big Band

The 1930s in terms of jazz was ruled by swing big bands. With this new genre, the soloists in the big band were as famous as the band leaders. The “Big Bands” were composed of many different players, especially in the brass and reed section. The brass section often included three to five trumpets, and three or four trombones. The reed section included two altos, two tenors, and a bari saxophone. In some instances, players would double on clarinet.  Benny Goodman, however, just played clarinet as he was the band leader.

The rhythm section was comprised of bass, drums, piano, and sometimes guitar and vibes. Lionel Hampton was about the only player in that time that played vibes.

The big guys in promoting the large jazz band were leaders Count Basie, Cab Calloway, the Dorsey brothers Tommy and Jimmy, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Fletcher Henderson, and Earl Hines. Louis Armstrong also continued to move jazz forward as he moved his Dixieland style into the big band era.

Big bands were popular because people could easily dance to their music.  It was the “swing” feel that made people want to dance to the music. Nightly radio broadcasts across America played this style of music. Many big bands played in the Hotel Pennsylvania’s Cafe Rouge which broadcast the live performances. Glenn Miller created a famous tune in the 1940s “Pennsylvania 6-5000” which was the phone number for the venue.

Now, even though this was a “big band” sound, it gave its musicians an opportunity to “solo” and improvise in melodic or thematic ways.  Some of the best soloists included Lester Young, Johnny Hodges, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman.

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