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 King—music 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
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
- 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):
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
Most cars were painted black, but now people were hungry to shuffle off
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
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:
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.
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 Brown—the 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
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
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
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: