Saturday, April 18, 2015

YouTubing: Big Bands in the 1960s

The fading of the big band scene after World War II had as much to do with economics as with changing musical styles. It simply became too expensive to record and tour with such large groups of musicians. Although some lovers of the form kept gamely at it, they never had an easy go of it. Quincy Jones (pictured above with his big band in 1960) toured Europe with an incredible outfit at the start of the Sixties, but nearly went broke doing so:

We had the best jazz band in the planet, and yet we were literally starving. That's when I discovered that there was music, and there was the music business. If I were to survive, I would have to learn the difference between the two.

Here is a wonderful set that Jones and his band performed on German television in 1960:

It is noteworthy that Jones's band was both racially integrated AND gender-integrated (featuring Patti Bown on piano and Melba Liston on trombone). One cound not count on this being the case, even as late as the Sixties. For example, this exhilarating 1964 performance by Woody Herman's Swingin' Herd reveals an all-male, all-white band. I wouldn't want to be too hard on Herman about this - he employed black musicians at other times. Nonetheless, it makes a striking contrast to Jones's group:

Even though the make-up of the Herd seems a little old-fashioned in the ways noted, musically this is top-notch, with such great performers as saxophonist Sal Nistico, trombonist Phil Wilson, drummer Jake Hanna, and trumpeter Bill Chase in peak form.

Woody Herman

By the 1960s, Herman's was one of the four major jazz orchestras on the road, along with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Stan Kenton. Other leaders, like Les Brown, Harry James, and Benny Goodman, put together bands and toured intermittently, but these were the big four, who were consistently working and recording.

Quincy Jones - Live in '60 (Jazz Icons)
Jazz Icons: Woody Herman Live in '64

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