Big Band Style Overview
Big Band Music Description
Should be used to describe recordings by a large orchestra which feature brass sections with multiple trumpets and trombones and a large reed section. A feature is that whole sections (the brass, the reeds) often play some parts of the tune in unison while leaving room for soloists at certain times. This style of orchestra began to be developed in the early 1920s by prominent dance band leaders such as Paul Whiteman and Fletcher Henderson, but the majority of 1920s dance bands were smaller groups and did not play in the "big band" style. It was not until 1929/30 or so that the majority of dance bands adopted this configuration (examples are the Casa Loma Orchestra, Mills Blue Rhthm Band, Duke Ellington's Orchestra) and big bands became the norm from the mid-1930s onwards. This style should be use sparingly before about 1930 as while there were other orchestras recorded similar to those led by Whiteman and Henderson (already mentioned) the majority of 1920s dance bands are not "big bands". From the 1930s onwards this style can be applied to recordings by any large orchestra. There were both jazz big bands (such as Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Jimmy Lunceford, Count Basie, etc.) and "sweet" big bands (such as Freddy Martin, Sammy Kaye, and Guy Lombardo's Royal Canadians). This style is often linked to the "swing" style (as in "big bands of the swing era") but it is better to avoid use the big band and swing tags together as they do not mean exactly the same thing. In reality not all swing groups were big bands, and some big bands featured small groups made up of star musicians from the larger orchestra (Benny Goodman Trio/Quartet/Sextet, Tommy Dorsey's Clambake Seven, Artie Shaw's Gramercy Five, etc.) and it is these smaller groups which played in the "swing" style. A useful distinction is that big band recordings feature large amounts of section work (notably the brass and/or the reeds) while smaller "swing" groups were more about featured soloists backed by a rhythm section. The big band style was most prominent during the 1930s and 1940s but was still very popular up into the 1950s and many big band style recordings continued to be made during the 1960s and later.