One of the most incredible aspects of watching a Big Band perform is hearing songs take on different personalities and shades based on arrangement styles and bandleaders. Each Big Band has a distinct style that is a reflection of the bandleader, arranger and individual players involved. To get you all properly amped up for the Revive Da Live Big Band GURU Tribute show next week, we thought we would take a quick walk down memory lane to understand a bit of the history of the Big Band and its most famous early bandleaders.
For Duke Ellington, the Big Band provided an ideal musical landscape for soloists to show off their individual voice within a larger group of underlying voices. For this reason, Ellington’s soloists stayed with him for many years. Ellington also let opposing voices create dissonant sounds within the piece to create musical tension and excitement.
Benny Goodman, who launched the Swing Era and Big Bands into the mainstream with his hit “Sing Sing Sing,” had a driving lively swing that was boombastic and showy.
Count Basie’s orchestra featured the use of two tenor players, a first in band arrangements, and a propelling swing that featured Basie’s contrapuntual piano playing. His most famous song “April in Paris” featured the famous “one more time” tag. Check out this old archive BBC carton footage set to Basie.
Chick Webb was a drummer and bandleader. In 1931 his band became house band at the Savoy Ballroom in 1931. In 1935, he began featuring a young teenage vocalist who went by the name of Ella Fitzgerald. The Ella and Chick Webb years allow a rare glimpse into the evolving talent of Ella before her career reaching the massive proportions of today. Check out an account of the Big Band Music Battle that happened famously at Savoy in January of 1938 here.
Compiled by Nora Ritchie