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1920's-1930's: The Birth of Big Bands

by ThatWriterWoman 2 years ago in history
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My favourite musical era

History

I'll always believe that the 1920's was the birth of flexible musical creation. Artists began to strip away rules and take inspiration from all sources to form new, exciting sounds that, perhaps for the first time, made people feel so elated that had no choice but to get up and dance!

Swing music has origins in dance orchestra and old jazz. The change in style began with a 'call and response' style of writing, usually between trumpet and reed sections which backed up a soloist. This caused music to change into a more 'flowing' style, which eventually lead to the addition of a 'swing' tempo.

Arguably the creators of swing; Louis Armstrong (Trumpet) and Earl Hines (Piano) began to form swing in the late 1920's. Armstrong's work centred around soloists playing over an orchestra while Hines' work centred around changing the tempo of jazz and dance to create a smooth yet disjointed feeling, with an added 'swing'. Alongside this movement, blues music began to inspire swing through the use of extended and improvised solos.

When radio began to spread this new music like wildfire, swing expanded and several 'big bands' vaulted into popularity. One of these, which you may have heard of, but likely heard is: The Benny Goodman Orchestra. This group took the Earl Hines Orchestra's style through sharing and arranger, and improved upon it.

'Sing, Sing, Sing' by the Benny Goodman Orchestra -

This music speaks for itself. However, I will give you some pointers on what to listen out for;

  • The build up of music; using drums to stack tension
  • Call and response style, a callback to old jazz
  • The separation of soloists and the orchestra
  • 'Swinging' tempo (tata-ta tata-ta)
  • Long solo's which lack some direction, a callback to old blues

And thus, swing was born! Big Bands, Big Music, Big Statements and a lot of dancing!

Why?

I think the music reflects the state that the society is in. It doesn't suggest the state. I think the poets and musicians and artists are of the age - not only do they lead the age on, but they also reflect that age ~ John Lennon

In order to understand how and why music theory began to reform in the 1920's-1930's, a look at how and why the western world was changing must be reviewed.

Directly after a world war, a pandemic and an economic crisis, 1920 arrived seeing those young people who survived realise what was truly important; love, health, and comfort. A 'celebration' of life and a disregard for old rules emerged alongside jazz 'flappers' and clubs.

The 'golden era' for this new feeling was late 1920's to early 1930's, a time after war and before more economic and political difficulty. During this time, musicians were free to experiment. Social changes made it possible to pioneer new sounds and, eventually, new styles all together!

Personal Opinion

The 'big band era' was far from perfect. Segregation meant that the blues used within new music was widely overlooked or falsely claimed entirely. Musicians with real skill were brushed aside in favour of white counterparts or black musicians forced to change their public image to fit within what others deemed 'appropriate'.

However, I believe this movement saw in an expressive new way of thinking. An early glimpse perhaps, at what would happen in the western world after world war two. The most public statement from this came from Benny Goodman again, who performed jazz with a fully integrated orchestra at Carnegie Hall. This solidified both a new way of thinking socially, and a new way to enjoy jazz; as an artful listen, not the noise of late night clubs.

After this era, music moved toward the classic 'forties' sound many know and love. A little more civilised perhaps but all the pointers from earlier still apply; just give some Glenn Miller a listen:

Similarities:

  • The build up of music
  • Call and response style
  • The separation of soloists and the orchestra
  • 'Swinging' tempo (tata-ta tata-ta)
  • Long solo sections

So the style continues! Better than ever!

However, I must admit, seeing how artists got to the final result is wonderful to see!

Extra Songs!

Here are some more wonderful things to listen to and enjoy:

Cab Calloway performs 'Minnie the Moocher' - Effortlessly executing rapid tempo changes typical of blues and jazz of the 1930's

Louis Armstrong performs 'Dinah' in 1933 in Copenhagen; before his later worldwide fame and recordings - Fantastic trumpet solo atop call and response background orchestral arrangements, a perfect example of what the era was known for!

Count Basie Orchestra playing 'The Bugle Blues' - Music hints toward a more muted 40's sound yet maintains the rough and ready atmosphere via tempo changes and solos.

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About the author

ThatWriterWoman

An aspiring female writer from the UK, 23. Twitter: https://twitter.com/ThatWriterWoman

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