History of the Big Bands


When most people think of big band jazz, they might think of the Swing music of the 1930s. But really, swing was an evolution of earlier big bands.

Back in 1920s America, the essence of what we would call a modern big band began to take shape. Their style was slow and romantic. They were known as the "sweet" bands.

Among the 10-25 musicians in the group you'd find the typical saxophones, brass, & piano. But they also relied heavily on string instruments to give them their trademark sound.

Rise of Swing

Moving into the '30s, things began to change. Bands emerged without string sections. They way they played was harder, faster, looser. It was fun. It was easy to dance to. This was swing.

Some popular artists of the time include:

Swing's upbeat style turned out to be exactly what the country needed. America left the hardship of the Great Depression only to be thrust into World War II. Young men went off to war, and big bands went with them. Bands would play at USO shows in every theater of combat. For the troops, this bit of home played a big part in raising morale.

The Modern Era

As the times changed, so did American tastes, as well as jazz as a whole. Styles like the more player-centric bebop gained popularity. Meanwhile, swing fell by the wayside.

Of course, big bands are far from dead. You can still see and hear plenty around even today--mostly in high schools, colleges and universities. Even so, big band music has become linked to those early days of the 20th century.


©2011 Steve Ward. All rights reserved.