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The Big Band Era And The Rise
In Popularity Of Big Band Music

Big Band Era Ends Rapidly

You read about how it began, now read about how it came to an untimely end. The AFM recording strike and the ASCAP / BMI war were two dramatic events in Big Band era jazz history.

•  Full story and 1942 Article

The Benny Goodman Orchestra early in the Big Band era
The History Of Jazz Music - World Overview
Jazz Radio Audio
The live feed of our Tuesday jazz music radio show streaming online at 4:00 PM Pacific with a focus on the history of jazz music and jazz music that swings from the 1930s to today.

Our Jazz Radio Show Info Page
The sordid history of our jazz music radio show, est. 1985. Lends credence to the theory that FCC radio deregulation survival may be linked to narcissistically twisted disorders.

History Of Jazz Part 1
Early hot jazz bands, the hotel dance bands and the history of jazz music leading up to the Big Band era.

History Of Jazz Part II
The role of economics, early recording technology, and radio relative to jazz history and the Big Band era.

The Recording Ban Of 1942
Scans of a 1942 Down Beat magazine article detailing one of the most devastating events of the Big Band era; the James Petrillo / AFM recording ban.

Webb Cuts Basie At The Savoy
Another of the many jazz magazine articles on the site detailing big events in jazz history. This piece recounts the Count Basie vs. Chick Webb big band music Battle Of Swing held at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom in January of 1938.

In Part I of our look at the history of jazz music leading up to the Big Band era we discussed some of the early big bands, hotel bands, and advances and evolutions in jazz music that helped set the stage for its rise in popularity. This part of the discussion will attempt to provide an overview of the many external factors outside of the music itself that not only set the stage for the Big Band era to occur but also helped increase and sustain the approbation of jazz in the public's eye.

The Big Band era is generally regarded as having occurred between the years 1935 and 1945. It was the only time in history that the popularity of jazz music eclipsed all other forms of music in the U.S. Rightly or wrongly the appearance of Benny Goodman and his big band at the Palomar in Los Angeles in August of 1935 is often referred to as the official start of the Swing era. While Benny Goodman undoubtedly had a great big band, it should be clear by now that his may not have been the "best" or even most original big band playing hot jazz music at the time. Just as Benny Goodman did not start, conceive, or bring to fruition the Big Band era on his own, so no one incident can be cited as its genesis. Rather many circumstances, incidents, conditions, and inventions seemed to all work together and should be taken into account when viewing its conception.

On the morning of "Black Thursday," October 24th, 1929, a great sell off on the New York Stock Exchange occurred triggering panic by investors. While the market bounced back a bit that afternoon, on the ensuing Monday and Tuesday it plummeted again and soon America was in the midst of the Great Depression. On December 11th, 1931 The New York Bank of the United States collapsed. These incidents helped bring to an end the prosperity, frivolity, and gaiety of the roaring 20's. Money began to get extremely tough to come by. The public was not able to afford to go out and see live music performed or buy records. Work was hard to find for everyone let alone musicians. Record sales were at an all time low. Many talented players worked the studios of radio networks and stations or were hidden in the confines of the few "sweet" dance orchestras able to stay afloat. Enter the free entertainment world of radio.

In the 1930s radio became a household appliance. It is estimated that by 1935, the number of homes with radios was nearly 23 million, the total audience around 91 million. This was the "Golden Age Of Radio" when shows like "The Shadow," "Amos & Andy," "Tarzan," "Fibber McGee And Molly," and "The Lone Ranger" were at peak popularity. Studio musicians made their money as background instrumentalists both for shows and commercials. Radio executives had learned in the 1920s that music shows were also successful. However, as far as nationally broadcast music shows in the years preceding 1934, dance and "sweet" bands still dominated the airwaves. The general public was still only dimly aware of the great black jazz orchestras. Benny Goodman's Let's Dance broadcasts, which aired regularly in 1934, were one of the first such weekly live radio broadcasts of hot jazz music to be aired by a national network on a steady, reoccurring basis.

Given the economic conditions of the time it may be surprising that during this period advances in recording technology, and in particular the microphone, were changing the way Americans could hear recorded music and radio broadcasts. The ribbon or "velocity" microphone was introduced by RCA in 1931, as the model 44A, and became one of the most widely used microphones in vocal recording. Many bands today hoping to achieve a more authentic "vintage" sound still use the 44A. Another advance in recording sound came in 1933 when RCA introduced the 77A, cardioid pattern, dual ribbon microphone. These advances in sound enabled subtle nuances in both playing and singing to be amplified for the first time and made for better live broadcasts. Up until these advances vocalists were required to get up and belt out a song with many of the subtleties in inflection and voice tone being lost.

Advances in the discs that music was recorded on were being worked on and experimented with during the Great Depression as well. By the late 1930s a limited use of vinyl resin to replace shellac pointed the way to quieter records. Lacquer-coated aluminum discs also came into use in the recording process. These had a quieter surface and for the first time allowed immediate playback in the studio for auditioning purposes. This enabled both engineers and musicians the ability to instantly make adjustments of microphone or personnel placement, further refining their recordings. These advances in disc recording, being honed during the Great Depression, had significant impact on the quality of recorded music during the Big Band era. However in the early 1930s these advances were still in their infancy. Live radio broadcasts of music with the new microphones were nearly as good, quality-wise, (assuming the reception was clear) as personally owned recordings, and certainly much more affordable.

In 1933 Homer Capehart sold the Simplex record changer mechanism to the Wurlitzer Company. The jukebox was to become an important tool in the popularity and accessibility of big band swing music, and by the late 1930s one could find them located in speakeasies, ice cream parlors, and even drugstores. The jukebox was at least part of the reason record sales began to show a tremendous increase toward the end of the decade.

The disc jockey, a term not used until about 1940, was also to become a significant factor in getting music out to the public. At first the large U.S. radio networks were against the idea. In the early 1930s they sternly reiterated their policies in a memorandum discouraging the use of recordings in network broadcasts. But the records were already spinning on local programs. Los Angeles radio man Al Jarvis was playing records and talking about them on a successful program called "The World's Largest Make Believe Ballroom." Jarvis and his program were very popular on KFWB in the small Los Angeles radio market in the early 1930s. Originally a junior assistant at KFWB, Martin Block, who had moved to New York, borrowed the same concept during the breaks in the high profile Bruno-Hauptman trial on network radio and was met with great success in 1935. Although often controversial to the musician's union, to jazz writers, to music fans and to musicians themselves, these record jockeys, as they were called, were soon entertaining listeners with discs all over the country through the medium of radio.

While the youth of 30 years later could listen to thousands of stations catering to many genres of music; such was not the case nationally in the early 1930s. Hot jazz in a big band format was instead spreading in popularity through college age kids at Ivy League colleges like Yale. The Casa Loma Orchestra was a favorite of the kids there. In New York a new dance known as the Lindy Hop (named after Charles Lindbergh's famous Trans-Atlantic flight) was catching on with teens in ballrooms like the Alhambra, the Renaissance, and the Savoy where some of its most significant adaptations occurred. Kids from a new generation were searching for their own identity, searching for excitement, searching for something to call their own, and searching for the opposite sex. Jazz music through its evolution into swing and these new and energetic dances offered the whole package. Although the swing phenomena spread slowly and in small pockets at first, national publicity through radio and publications was about to assist in propelling jazz to the pinnacle of its popularity.

Benny Goodman's Let's Dance broadcasts first aired in December of 1934. His was the final of several music features of the night making it a late broadcast on the East Coast. Most high school and college students, who were more apt to like hot jazz music, needed to be up early for school and did not hear these broadcasts. The subsequent U.S. tour by Goodman ending in California in which Benny Goodman was booked following his Let's Dance broadcasts was largely unsuccessful until he hit the West Coast. The band was met with a tremendous amount of ambivalence and even scorn throughout the Midwest. The reason was the 3-hour time difference of his live broadcasts, between coasts, had enabled many of the youth out West to be tuned in nightly. They were ready and eager to greet and meet the band bringing them this new hot jazz music.

The tour culminated with Goodman's performance at the Palomar in L.A. Although Oakland turnouts were said to have been good and crowds enthusiastic, the band was not expecting what they were met with in Southern California. What seemed to be the end of the road for the Benny Goodman big band suddenly became the beginning of a new era in American music history when the kids that night, in the summer of 1935, heard the band launch into a hot jazz number and began crowding around the bandstand cheering and encouraging the group.

With the headlines talking about the success of the Benny Goodman big band in California, magazines like Down Beat and Metronome began to print more articles about the music. John Hammond, while known to most for his savvy in discovering artists like Count Basie and Billie Holiday, was writing about big bands in Down Beat as early as 1935. By 1936, when Benny Goodman was performing just blocks away from the magazine's Chicago offices, articles about the band filled its issues. Jazz in the form of big band swing was now beginning to sweep the nation.

Soon live radio remotes were regularly featuring this new swing music coast to coast as nearly all the major hotels in large cities had a "wire," as it was called, meaning a line installed for broadcast transmission. Jukeboxes were blaring, kids were dancing, record jockeys were spinning discs and talking about them and the Big Band era had arrived.

Anita O’Day Biography
Not your typical big band “canary” Anita’s voice was heard soaring over the brassy bands of Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton during the Swing era. She later released a number of fine swinging albums for Norman Granz on his Clef, Norgran and Verve record labels. She died 11-23-06 at 87.

Ray Charles Biography
Known as "The Genius" Ray Charles recorded a wide variety of music but got his start playing big band music and jazz. He passed away 6-10-04.

Barney Kessel Biography
The jazz guitar great died May 6th, 2004 and left behind a vast body of recorded jazz work.

Benny Carter Biography
Benny Carter was one of the greatest arrangers and jazz musicians the genre has ever known. This extensive biography spans the entire lengthy career of the jazz legend.

Billy May Biography
The trumpeter, bandleader, composer and arranger died Jan. 22, 2004. May wrote many Swing era classics for Glenn Miller and Charlie Barnet and later for Sinatra and Nat Cole.

Count Basie Biography
Our biography of Count Basie traces the career of "the kid from Red Bank" through Kansas City and into the later stages of his life as a bandleader.

5-05 Jazz Joint Jump Radio Play
A full months worth of jazz radio air play from the Jazz Joint in May of 2005. Includes recording months, years, titles and record labels.

4-05 Jazz Joint Jump Radio Play
April's jazz radio playlists include artists, song and release titles, labels and dates. A miniature discography of jazz that swings as recorded in April.

3-05 Jazz Joint Jump Radio Play
March jazz radio playlists that include artists, song and release titles, and labels. Some dates are also included.

November 2003 Jazz Radio Play
Three weeks worth of swing radio playlists including topical music of, and recordings done in, the month of November throughout jazz history.

Swing Radio Air Play 10-04-03
An early autumn radio show with jazz music by Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Laverne Butler and more.

Big Band Radio Air Play 5-31-03
A Benny Goodman 5-30 birthday tribute; features on the Andy Kirk and Bobby Sherwood big bands; a Peggy Lee May birthday set.

Big Band Radio Air Play 5-24-03
Commemorates the occasion of Artie Shaw's 93rd Birthday.

Current Jazz Joint Jump Playlists
Click the link above to enter our Web Forum for playlists from December of 2005 to the present.

All material 2003 Jeff Parker adapted from the bibliography list at right except where DB or Metronome magazines are recognized. We encourage you to visit your local library or  book-store for a wealth of information on Jazz history.
Rust, Brian. The Dance Bands. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House 1972
Dale, Rodney.
The World Of Jazz. Edison, NJ: Chartwell Books 1996
Fordham, John.
JAZZ. New York, NY: Dorling Kindersley 1993
Schuller, Gunther.
The Swing Era. NY, NY: Oxford University Press 1989
Simon, George T.,
The Big Bands. New York, NY: Schirmer Books 1981
Feather, Leonard,
The Encyclopedia Of Jazz. NY, NY: Horizon Press 1960
Lord, Tom,
The Jazz Discography. Vancouver, Can.: Lord Music Refer. Inc 1992
Web www.swingmusic.net
www.allmusic.com www.downbeat.com

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