As newspapers struggle through a recession at a time of media tumult, Stowe Boyd writes:
The Big Band era is coming to an end, and while some oldsters are going to keep on listening to Count Basie and Duke Ellington, most of us are moving on to rock and roll. Many of the players will find new gigs, experiment with new musical forms, but some won’t. Some will retire, open bars, or find something else to do. Zell and Tierney may have to take their losses and find something else to invest in. David Carr may have to start blogging for the Huffington Post, or run for office.
His comparison with the death of the Big Band era is more apt than he states.
You could say Big Bands were killed by rock and roll, but that would really miss the point (and be at least a decade off the mark). Big Bands were killed as much as anything by hubris, greed and technological efficiency, not to mention changes in society’s musical taste and needs.
The musicians strike of the 1940s opened the door to smaller combos filled with non-union musicians. Not only where these combos more nimble, they were playing new kinds of music (such as country and rhythm and blues), driven by better technology for amplifying their music. By the time the strike ended in 1944, the new musical forms had not yet gained in popular demand, but the trajectory was set. Hank Williams would break through in 1947. Louis Jordan dominated R&B charts from the early 1940s through the end of the decade, setting the stage for the birth of Rock and Roll.
Of course, the oldsters who clung to the golden era of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman saw no value in hick or race music. To them, it was all a fad whose time would pass. These wild sounds weren’t polished or sophisticated. This wasn’t quality music. The public would return to its senses and soon demand those big band sounds again. Sort of sounds like journalists attitudes toward bloggers, doesn’t it? (Interestingly, Goodman made a fine switch to small combo music, and he recorded some of the first jazz to feature lead guitar, employing the pioneer Charlie Christian).
Note that music didn’t die with the Big Bands, nor did it really diminish in quality. It fact, some of the greatest music of human history was created in the second half of the 20th Century. The music that came after was, to the discerning ear, no better nor worse than the stuff gathering dust on scratchy 78s. It was just different.
The same will be said of journalism fifty years hence.
For old-time sake, here’s Big Band music at its best: Goodman’s band playing the Louis Prima-penned, “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
UPDATE: Ur, um, is this video really “Sing, Sing, Sing”? Nobody’s called me on it, but upon reflection — the “Sing, Sing, Sing” melody is not any part of this performance. What it does have is elements of “Christopher Columbus,” which was incorporated into Goodman’s version of “Sing, Sing, Sing.” But “Sing, Sing, Sing” was eight (studio version) to 12 minutes long (the famous “Live at Carnegie Hall” performance, which is without a doubt the single greatest achievement of recorded music history. At least, I say so. More here.
(Boyd link via Jack Lail)