Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Getting With the Beat

by Connie Cortright

Tommy Dorsey Band
Last week we started a discussion of music during the 30s, but I left you hanging with the fact that it was important for communities to be entertained by big band music at the band shells built by the WPA project across the country. Today I'd like to describe what big band music was all about to anyone who might not know. Of course, words can't really describe what music is...

As you can see from the picture, this type of music usually used 12-25 instrumentalists. It covered several types of instruments: brass -- trumpets and trombones; woodwinds -- saxophones and clarinets; stringed instruments -- violin, guitar, bass, and piano. I guess that's why they called it big band music. It was very common to have different sections of the orchestra break out into solos during a song. Often the bands also included vocalists.

Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee
Big bands started out playing jazz in the early 30s, but later developed into more of a swing tempo. By the 40s they played swing entirely. Different bands had the reputation for different types of music. Bob Crosby played dixieland style while Benny Goodman played hard driving swing.

Before 1935, the bands mostly played in local venues trying to hit the big time. They would play one-night stands, touring the country, going from town to town for concerts that didn't pay much. It was a hard life and often led to drinking and addictions.

The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra started out this way. In 1935 the stress of touring across the country led to a disagreement between the brothers causing them to split into two bands. The Tommy Dorsey Band went on the road separately and made it to the big time in the early 40s by recording some top 10 hits.

During World War II, several big bands toured with the USO lifting the morale of the troops fighting on foreign soil. When the soldiers returned home, the swinging rhythm of big band music stayed popular until into the late 50s.

Click here if you want to listen to a sample of music:  You Tube - Best of Big Band

Information taken from Wikipedia - Big Band and Tommy Dorsey - Biography

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