History of Big Bands

Hickman_Orch_Action_ShotWhen someone mentions big bands the first thought is often the period from 1935 to 1945, referred to as the “Swing Era.” Big bands or orchestras that played ragtime or other types of syncopated popular music for dancing have been around since the late 19th century. The history of the bands from the “swing era” goes back at least this far. James Reese Europe’s Clef Club Orchestra is probably the earliest of the popular dance orchestras that provided the blue print for the evolution of the big dance (jazz) band of the 1920’s. Europe’s group did not play jazz, but a ragtime version of syncopated music./h7>

History of the Big Bands - Episode 1

The recordings on this podcast represent the best in popular syncopated dance music from this period. The only group here that, in any way, might have represented authentic New Orleans music is the ODJB. Although Europe and Wilbur Sweatman were African American, they were not from New Orleans. One of the great tragedies in jazz research is that we have no jazz recordings of African-American musicians from New Orleans prior to 1921.
CompositionArtistYear
Castle House RagJames Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra1914
The Chicken WalkSix Brown Brothers1916
I’d Love to Fall Asleep….Benson Orchestra of Chicago1920
Rose RoomArt Hickman Orchestra1919
Livery Stable BluesThe Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB)1917
Slide Kelly SlideWilbur Sweatman Orchestra1919
Japanese SandmanPaul Whiteman Orchestra1920
WhisperingPaul Whiteman Orchestra1920

History of the Big Bands - Episode 2

Many of the great big bands from this period were located in Chicago, but New York was quickly going to become the center for this music. By 1923 pianist Fletcher Henderson had one of the most popular African American dance bands in New York. Both Fletcher and his chief arranger and saxophonist, Don Redman, began to tinker with the stock arrangements they were buying from the large publishing companies. By 1924 Redman and Henderson had established an original sound---one that captured the energy and sound of New Orleans collective improvisation, yet was largely written out for the musicians. This was also the year that Henderson hired a young cornet play from New Orleans that he had met in Chicago by the name of Louis Armstrong. For 9 months in late 1924 through 1925 Armstrong lived in New York and performed with the Henderson Orchestra. Armstrong’s presence in the Henderson Orchestra, and for that matter, the city of New York, changed jazz forever. The Henderson Orchestra, with the Redman arrangements, set the blueprint for big band jazz in the next decade.
CompositionArtistYear
Stomp OffErskine Tate1926
The Memphis Maybe ManDoc Cook Dreamland Orchestra1924
Dicty BluesFletcher Henderson Orchestra1923
Oh BabyDixie Stompers (Fletcher Henderson)1928
CopenhagenFletcher Henderson Orchestra1924
Sugar Foot StompFletcher Henderson Orchestra1925