A big band is a type of musical ensemble that originated in the United States and is associated with jazz and the Swing Era typically consisting of rhythm, brass, and woodwind instruments totalling approximately 12 to 25 musicians. Whew, glad we got that sorted out of the way.
Jazz began in New Orleans in the early 1900′s. Steamboats using the Mississippi helped spread the sound of jazz as many of the New Orleans jazz bands performed as entertainment on the boats. In the 1920′s, the music of jazz began developing into a big band format combining elements of ragtime, black spirituals, blues, and European music. Some of the more popular early big bands included band members that would become future jazz stars and future big bandleaders such as Coleman Hawkins, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Red Allen, Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, and John Kirby.
When the depression hit the U.S. in 1929 the entire music business suddenly failed. The decline in record sales, coupled with the closure of speakeasies and jazz clubs after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, forced many jazz musicians to move to New York or other highly populated cities and seek work at dancing venues in large ballrooms. Swing bands played a large part in people’s lives in the late 30′s as people tried to shake off the depression by dancing and while records and radio made swing music widely available, this mediated music soon inspired fans’ the desire to experience their favorite swing live.
Big Bands still hold a special place in the hearts of many as it is a positive and optimistic music and an inspiration during one of the more difficult periods of American History. No person living at the time was not touched in some deep way by it as it helped guide them through the Great Depression, World War II and the post-war recession. Swing music fulfilled the yearning for a sentimental, romantic escape from the mundane and at the same time was appreciated for its excitement and even as fine art.
Today more than fifty years later the sounds of swing band music can be heard and one of the most exciting big bands is The Toronto All-Star Big Band. They revive the spirit, style and sound of 1930s and ’40s and are performing at the Old Mill Toronto Dance Hall with tributes to Glen Miller on September 7th, Benny Goodman on October 5th, and Tommy Dorsey on November 23rd.
Remember, “It Don’t Mean a Thing, If It Ain’t Got That Swing”!