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Welcome to Music of the Big Band Era

On these pages, The Muse Of Music explores music of the Big Band era, the time when Swing Was Kingmusic that was popular in the United States and Great Britain in the 1930s and 40s. Here The Muse demonstrates that the Big Band Era may be gone, but it is certainly not forgotten.

About Sing Sing Sing

You're listening to the first few minutes of a phenomenal twelve minute rendition of Sing Sing Sing, one of the greatest jazz performances of all time.

This historic performance is only one of a number of brilliant tunes recorded live at one of the most famous jazz concerts of all time, which occurred on January 16, 1938, at Carnegie Hall, New York. Participating were Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton on the vibes, Harry James on the trumpet, Gene Krupa on drums, and other jazz greats, a total of fifteen of the best. Sorry, we haven't the time now to go into the specifics of what happened that night; they were on and it was magic.

  • Explore Benny Goodman and this historic performance at Carnegie Hall. Did you know that he wrote and played classical music as well? Learn about his life and about his life in music. Visit the Wikipedia web page on Benny Goodman: click here.
  • Read Benny Goodman's bio, see quotes, and achievements. Visit the Official Web Site of Benny Goodman, King of Swing (operated by the Estate of Benny Goodman): click here.


about Gone but not forgotten

Gone But Not Forgotten is the place at Electricka's web site where The Muse Of Music celebrates the bygone eras of so-called "popular" music, music dating from the first half of the twentieth century, with the emphasis on music of the Two World Wars and the Big Band Era of the 30's and 40's. The Muse remembers the people who created and played the music and the those who listened to it live.

The Muse suggests that you visit Gone But Not Forgotten before you proceed with Music Of The Big Band Era. After that, return here and continue your journey to the Big Band Era.

When you finish exploring Music Of the Big Band Era, continue your journey back in time. Explore another Gone But Not Forgotten era:

about the big band era

The Big Band Era grew out of Prohibition, the period between 1920 and 1933 when alcohol was deemed unfit for a more moral America. It grew out of the aftermath of the First World War, when America woke to the fact that life was cheap and short. It grew out of Dixieland and Jazz, out of the Charleston and the Big Apple, out the Roaring 20s and the Great Crash of '29.

Most cars were painted black, but now people were hungry to shuffle off the gloom of deep depression, to shed the drudgery of the old days and the old ways. People hoped that finally life would take a rosier for turn, even if it wasn't rosy yet.

People had been too nice for a long time, had toed the line. Now they secretly wanted to be "naughty but nice." Movies and books like Jane Russell in The Outlaw and Farrell's Studs Lonnigan made them wonder privately about what more was out there. But people were too embarrassed to talk about it. They were almost ready to put a toe in the water, to live a little again, to take a few risks, a few baby steps, but not quite. People knew they couldn't just keep marking time to the same old drumbeat, but what else was there?

Teenagers born of the 20s showed them what to do and how to do it. Not looking backward or forward—not looking at all—they sought an outlet for an hormonal exuberance that was ready to breathe free. They found their outlet in music that had an energy equal to their own.

Somehow, everything gelled all at once. The answer burst seemingly from nowhere when the Big Bands came suddenly on the scene, trumpets and trombones blaring, base drum pounding. The Bands had something new and different to say. They gave the kids what they needed: the dance music was frenetic enough; the smooth, breast-to-breast slow music was slow and romantic enough.

Everyone now had the answer, even without asking the question. Overnight the Big Bands were on podiums everywhere and the teens were out in front on the dance floor. They went well together; they went wild together. Did another war lay just ahead? Who knew? So what? So long as the bands played on, the teens jitterbugged.

About success

In those days, personnel arrangements among the music makers tended to be exclusive and long-lasting. Most vocalists worked for the band as employees; so did arrangers and instrumentalists, although some band leaders wrote their own arrangements and most played a solo instrument. Each band tended to play its own kinds of songs and had a style and sound all its own. As a result of all this, each band had a personality of its own and a loyal following among its larger audience.

Because Swing bands were usually formed by a bandleader who had a particular sound in mind, the personality and tastes of the band exactly mirrored those of the leader, who was very definitely the man in command. Success came hard in this business and called for a leader with a tight fist. If the sound was right and band was run well, success might follow. Because the man in command was the man in control, most bands were named after their leader.

In some cases, a band was a family enterprise. The Dorsey band is a good example of what can happen when two strong-willed bandleaders wield a baton of equal length. The band was established jointly by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey but it broke up when the two family members went their separate ways because of personality differences. Two bands were subsequently formed, each named after its own leader.

These band names were brand names. They were shibboleths, rubrics of their time: Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Ellington, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Cab Calloway, Les Brownthe list goes on and on.

The nature of the Swing industry changed rapidly. New bands with new hits and new hits from old bands arrived on the scene faster than you could say Jack Robinson. Glen Miller introduced three top tunes in one year. It wasn't long before even England was humming their melodies and dancing to their tunes. Those 10-inch shellac 78s were spreading like wildfire.

Why did it succeed so brilliantly? The music had just enough energy, just enough self-control. It was not merely an undisciplined outpouring; it was good music in and of itself, with drive, catchy tunes, structure, balance, variety, novel and interesting sounds that blended, and everything else needed to constitute a genre. It was the right musical formula at the right time.

The lyrics meant something, too; they said things that needed to be said, things that mirrored and interpreted the spirit of the times. A lyric had merit by itself; it stated something worth knowing, worth feeling; it told a story. And the vocalists pronounced their "r's." Lyrics were pronounced clearly so you could understand them; they made sense—and you could take away a message worth remembering without feeling the least bit lectured.

more about the big band era

Explore the music of the Big Band Era. Follow the rise, decline, an revival of the Big Bands. See other highlights of this feature on the pages that follow: click here.

—Page 1, 2, 3



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