What is a Big Band?
A "Big Band" is a large jazz or popular ensemble that dominated American popular music of the period 1935-45. Typically, a rhythm section of piano, upright bass, drums and guitar accompanies five saxophones (two altos, two tenors, and one baritone, who also double on clarinet and flute) three or four trumpets, three or four trombones. A male or female vocalist frequently performs with such groups. These ensembles, now often called stage bands have enjoyed a considerable revival in high schools and colleges in recent decades. The big cities have also seen an increase of big bands performing for a variety of venues.
The Vaudeville Show (1870-1930)...
There was nothing like a good Vaudeville Show! Popular from 1870-1930, American Vaudeville shows or revues consisted of classical and popular music, singers, instrumentalists, dancers, acrobats, comedians, animal tricks and a variety of other unique acts. The "Polite" Vaudeville Shows were the most popular established by Benjamin Keith in the 1880's.. He maintained a "fixed policy of cleanliness and order" providing only family friendly entertainment. He and others built a network of Vaudeville Theaters across the United States emulating European Palaces with ornate detail and sophistication. For quite some time, the shows would repeat all day long, so one could stop in at anytime to catch a performance.
The Vaudeville Show slowly blended with the silent movies of the day interspersing the movies with live variety acts. The movies also required live musical accompaniment for effect. As the "talking pictures" began in 1927, the movies became more prominent in the theaters and the live variety shows slowly faded away. Interestingly, the early days of television adopted a "vaudeville" type of format with a blossoming of numerous "variety" shows. Even with today's modern music shows we see remnants from the days of vaudeville. The variety show lives on!
Great American Music: 1800’s - 1950...
Stephen Foster (1826-1864) considered to be the “Father of American Popular Music.” He wrote over 200 songs. Some familiar titles include;
Old Folks at Home
My Old Kentucky Home
Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair
Old Black Joe
1860 - 1900
Songs of the Civil War and Negro Spirituals very prominent. The Vaudeville Shows begin. John Philipp Sousa became King of the Marches. Scott Joplin wrote ragtime music. Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. Guglielmo Marconi invented radio.
Popular Songs; Many of Stephen Foster’s songs were popular. In addition; When Johnny Comes Marching Home, The Flying Trapeze, The Little Brown Jug, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silver Threads Among The Gold, Away In A Manger, Rock-a-bye-Baby, There’s a Tavern In The Town, The Stars and Stripes Forever, The Washington Post March, After The Ball Is Over, Maple Leaf Rag, When You Were Sweet Sixteen.
George M. Cohen became a major star on Broadway and prolific song writer. Irving Berlin became a major composer. Enrico Caruso became a recording superstar with his powerful tenor voice.
Popular Songs; A Bird in a Gilded Cage, Bill Bailey-Won’t You Please Come Home?, Give My Regards To Broadway, Yankee Doodle Boy, Wait ‘Til The Sun Shines, Nellie, You’re A Grand Old Flag, Harrigan, Take Me Out To The Ball Game, By The Light Of The Silvery Moon, Let Me Call You Sweetheart, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Moonlight Bay, Danny Boy, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, For Me and My Gal, Swanee.
Prohibition became law and actually fueled the music industry. Louis Armstrong began his rise to fame. George Gershwin composed “Rhapsody In Blue.” The WSM Barn Dance Radio Show became The Grand Ole Opry. The phonograph became common place in American Homes. “Showboat” opened on Broadway becoming one of the greatest musicals of all time. The first talking picture, “The Jazz Singer”, staring Al Jolson premiered in 1927. The “Charleston” was the dance rage. Early signs of the Big Band Era appear.
Popular Songs; I’ll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time (also popular in the 40’s), April Showers, Second Hand Rose, Carolina In The Morning, California, Here I Come, Does The Spearmint Lose It’s Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight, Five Foot Two Eyes of Blue, I’m Sitting On Top of The World, Sweet Georgia Brown, When The Red Red Robin, I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover, Ol’ Man River, Without a Song.
1930’s and 40’s
The Great Depression begins. The Big Band Era begins. Such rising stars as Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Harry James, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Les Brown, Guy Lombardo, Paul Whiteman and many others. Also great vocalist like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Dick Haymes, Doris Day and The Andrew’s Sisters. America entered WWII in 1942. Many of the great musicians played for the troops overseas.
Popular Songs; Body and Soul, Embraceable You, I Got Rhythm, All of Me, Dancing In The Dark, April In Paris, I’m Getting Sentimental Over You, Night and Day, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Stormy Weather, Anything Goes, Blue Moon, Deep Purple, I Only Have Eyes For You, Begin The Beguine, Cheek To Cheek, Lullaby of Broadway, Summertime, Stompin At The Savoy, The Way You Look Tonight, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Jeepers Creepers, Beer Barrel Polka, God Bless America, Over The Rainbow, Fools Rush In, The Nearness of You, This Is My Country, You Are My Sunshine, The Anniversary Waltz, Deep In The Heart of Texas, Chattanooga Choo Choo, I’ve Got a Gal In Kalamazoo, String of Pearls, Let’s Dance, White Cliffs of Dover, Be Careful It’s My Heart, White Christmas, In The Mood, Don’t Fence Me In, Sentimental Journey, Rum and Coca Cola, It’s A Grand Night For Singing, Ole Buttermilk Sky, Tennessee Waltz, Some Enchanted Evening.
The Great American Songbook...
The Great American Songbook is a list of the best, most important and most influential American popular songs of the 20th century principally from Broadway Theater, musical theater, and Hollywood musical film, from the 1920s to 1960, including dozens of songs of enduring popularity. The Great American Songbook became (and remains) a vital part of the repertoire of jazz musicians.