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Rabshakeh

Big Bands of 1965-1979

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Posted (edited)

I wanted to open up a discussion of the working big bands of the period 1965 (when the Jones/Lewis band began) to the end of the 1970s. Specifically those in the "bop" space, as opposed to the continuing Ellington / Basie axes. I am not including studio big bands put together by record labels like CTI or Verve for one offs.

As a person who grew up in the late 90s, I had never really thought about bop big bands being a thing later than Kenton / Herman (save for some hold out examples of success like Gillespie's). However, it is clear from being on this site and hearing reminisces that in fact they very much did continue to be a thing. In fact there does appear to have been a strong revival of big bands that occured in the late 1960s, at precisely the point in time when I would have least expected it and wider market trends would have seemed economically least supportive.

I am thinking about Mel Lewis / Thad Jones, Toshiyuki Miyama, Kenny Clarke / Francy Boland, Maynard Ferguson, Toshiko Akiyoshi / Lew Tabackin, Buddy Rich and various others. 

From this site, it seems like those groups were very well loved at the time; the records were reasonable or big sellers, and were regarded as important (and continue to be favourites here); and that the groups created their own ecosystems of talent, with many of the younger players of the 70s first being recognised playing with this or that big band, as had been the case in earlier generations. Some of the groups, like Ferguson's and Miyama's also have some successful experiments with electric instruments, which to my ears sound great.

Obviously, these groups are not all of a type. Clarke/Boland is a rag tag group of emigres and Europeans, Buddy Rich is collecting a cheque in Las Vegas. But there does appear to have been an impressive flowering at this time.

All of this seems to have left a big mark on this forum, but less on the history books. By the 80s they seem to be gone. 

So:

What are the theories as to the reasons (musical, social and economic) for the sudden re-emergence of artistically successful working big bands at this time? Why did they disappear at around the point that the bop revival gains steam in the press? 

For the more experienced members, what are your recollections of these groups (seeing and hearing them) and how they stood out against the wider musical backdrop of the period?

What are your favourite records that were released by these groups?

Edited by Rabshakeh

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There was this whole "The Big Bands are Coming Back" hype that began at least by the late 1960s if not the early 1970s.  It of course never came true.

The hype was probably exacerbated by things like the early-70s The Swing Era box set, with hi-fi/stereo recreations or earlier records, all they way down to the soloists playing transcribed solos from the original 78s.  Somebody must have bought this thing, considering all the copies I've stumbled over in thrift stores and record store dollar bins through the years.

I have wondered if the few working bands at the time were able to capitalize on the TBBACB hype, and the degrees to which their existence/success was a cause or effect.  

The economics of the (small) resurgence always puzzled me.  I know that some of those bands played as a labor of love on Monday nights, when most musicians had a free night.  They made their money elsewhere.  

 

 

 

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Jazz education began to reap dividends in terms of younger audiences and potential players. Working bands still played dances. Horn bands. Working bands could begin to get clinic gigs. Kenton almost lived on that shit, but still played dances and concerts. Buddy Rich could rely on his contacts to always get gigs that always paid. 

"Swing Bands" never really "came back", but there's still gigs for the ghost bands. Still.

"Big Bands" never really went away because it's a thing unto itself, section, ensemble, writing and playing charts.

And for a quick minute in 1966, Pacific Jazz had three big bands under contract - Gerald Wilson, Don Ellis, and Buddy Rich. 

Also note that Woody Herman was pretty popular in the early 1960s, had a great modern band, check out the Mosaic Select, then transitioned into a sort of soul/rock bag with varying degrees of results, and then had another resurgence in the early-mid 1970s with  his Fantasy records.

There's a lot of histories and currents at play within this idiom, and if you can still find a real big band, it's still quite the treat. Good luck on that one, though. It's a different time and the dance feel has been bred out of too many player. 

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Just now, JSngry said:

And for a quick minute in 1966, Pacific Jazz had three big bands under contract - Gerald Wilson, Don Ellis, and Buddy Rich.

I was just gonna mention/ask about Gerald Wilson. Don’t have my Mosaic notes in front of me (cuz I’m at work), but was his a ‘working’ band? I didn’t get the sense that those were studio-only assemblages — though I know the personnel did vary from record to record, at least some (Tolliver on this date, Hutcherson on another, etc…)

Anyway, his was the first name I thought of.

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They worked around L. A., clubs and such. Not a road band, but they worked. 

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Here are some other Big Bands active in that period.

Rob McConnell Boss Brass

Nat Pierce / Frank Capp Big band

Blue Wisp Big Band

Tom Talbert Big Band

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Any that recorded?  I’d love to discover some tasty releases that haven’t ever been on my radar before. :excited:

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And then there was Gil Evans... 

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Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, JSngry said:

Jazz education began to reap dividends in terms of younger audiences and potential players. Working bands still played dances. Horn bands. Working bands could begin to get clinic gigs. Kenton almost lived on that shit, but still played dances and concerts. Buddy Rich could rely on his contacts to always get gigs that always paid. 

"Swing Bands" never really "came back", but there's still gigs for the ghost bands. Still.

"Big Bands" never really went away because it's a thing unto itself, section, ensemble, writing and playing charts.

And for a quick minute in 1966, Pacific Jazz had three big bands under contract - Gerald Wilson, Don Ellis, and Buddy Rich. 

But why did it suddenly flower at that point. Post 1965, when jazz is collapsing sales-wise would seem to be the worst time to launch a precarious and expensive big band. Let alone for studios to suddenly have multiple big bands on their books. Equally, why did it suddenly stop? 

Edited by Rabshakeh

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Just now, Rabshakeh said:

But why did it suddenly flower at that point. Post 1965, when jazz is collapsing sales-wise would seem to be the worst time to launch a precarious and expensive big band. Equally, why did it suddenly stop? 

Critical mass. The younger listening base had grow, the Top 40 horn bands were popular, the repertoire got updated, existing leaders, new leaders, enough older fans of the idiom we're still out there, all that came together and created a nice window of 20 or so years.

And then people died. Ghost bands are always a tough proposition, especially ones that don't want to deal strictly in nostalgia.

Also, electronics. There was a period where Weather Report was essentially a big band in terms of what was going on in the music 

But yeah, in 1970, all these people were alive and had viable bands (or were about to): Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Jones/Lewis, Maynard Ferguson, Don Ellis, Gil Evans...who else?

By 1990, only Maynard and Mel Lewis (barely) were alive, and newcomer Toshiko Akioshi had moved to New York and only sometimes had a band.

Same as anything else - death, economics, and evolution.

But there were also good bands like Harry James and Les Brown that were in the idiom's ecosystem. In fact, it was Harry James who backed Buddy Rich's band. It took money to keep a band going, not just for players, but for arrangers and their copyists, uniforms, transportation, you name it, money. It wasn't for nothing that Boosey & Hawkes(?) was fanning the fire of the "big bands are back" movement, because whatever equipment you need for a band, fronts, lights, mutes, stands, cases, whatever, the had it for sale all day long. 

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2 hours ago, Teasing the Korean said:

There was this whole "The Big Bands are Coming Back" hype that began at least by the late 1960s if not the early 1970s.  It of course never came true.

 

7 minutes ago, JSngry said:

It took money to keep a band going, not just for players, but for arrangers and their copyists, uniforms, transportation, you name it, money. It wasn't for nothing that Boosey & Hawkes(?) was fanning the fire of the "big bands are back" movement, because whatever equipment you need for a band, fronts, lights, mutes, stands, cases, whatever, the had it for sale all day long. 

Was this an actual marketing effort then? Like the Young Lions would be? Or was The Big Bands Are Back just an impression that people got, fed by the music press?

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One more thing - a lot of people liked it, both to listen to and to play it. It's a collective effort and a communal experience, at least when done right. 

2 minutes ago, Rabshakeh said:

 

Was this an actual marketing effort then? Like the Young Lions would be? Or was The Big Bands Are Back just an impression that people got, fed by the music press?

I never saw it at an overt level except from that one equipment vendor, but it had long been a standing joke(?) in the business since... they went away. And once they actually showed a bit of a resurgence in interest, I have no doubt that any booking agent and talent manager worth their salt did not have the phrase at the ready, whether the act actually was or was not relevant to the implied nostalgia in play. 

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2 hours ago, Peter Friedman said:

Here are some other Big Bands active in that period.

Rob McConnell Boss Brass

Nat Pierce / Frank Capp Big band

Blue Wisp Big Band

Tom Talbert Big Band

Agreed and all here well represented

I would also name for that period

Bob Florence Limited Edition

Lew Anderson BB

Steve Barduhn (1977)

Bill Holman

+ some european big bands

 

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Look at Maynard Ferguson for an example of how the whole thing evolved. Fist a star with Kenton, then leader of a band that evolved into a real working unit that was arguably at it's zenith when Maynard folded it for personal and financial reasons  ca. 1965-66, after which he went to India and blissed out. When he returned it was to England, where he put together a really nice UK band that made its way over here and got popular.

And then, he wanted to get bigger, changed his musical direction, had a few genuine "hits" which kept him as a viable +enough) commercial attraction, even as his road bands got smaller and smaller. He never did not play the hits, but it seems like he always had a band and a tour for them (as opposed to non-stop work, another chance in the business)

He kept going in some form or fashion until 2006.

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Posted (edited)

Here's something I wrote for NPR's Take Five series about 10 years ago.  (My original title was "That Seventies Big Band," but they changed it.)

That '70s Swing: Big Bands And Bell Bottoms

It's something I've long wanted to do a Night Lights show about.

Edited by ghost of miles

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33 minutes ago, JSngry said:

Er. Thanks. 

9 minutes ago, ghost of miles said:

Here's something I wrote for NPR's Take Five series about 10 years ago.  (My original title was "That Seventies Big Band," but they changed it.)

That '70s Swing: Big Bands And Bell Bottoms

It's something I've long wanted to do a Night Lights show about.

Thank you. This is good stuff. 

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And now, laptops and tablets 

Hell, cats have fakebooks on their phones now

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Posted (edited)

16 hours ago, Rabshakeh said:

Was this an actual marketing effort then? Like the Young Lions would be? Or was The Big Bands Are Back just an impression that people got, fed by the music press?

Throughout the 1970s, and as late as 1984 - I remember the specific conversation from 1984 - I often heard middle-aged Americans say, word-for-word, "The big bands are coming back," almost in a brainwashed, Manchurian Candidate sort of manner.  Whether it was a marketing campaign or a mind-control experiment by Chinese assets, I don't know.

Edited by Teasing the Korean

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50 minutes ago, Teasing the Korean said:

Throughout the 1970s, and as late as 1984 - I remember the specific conversation from 1984 - I often heard middle-aged Americans say, word-for-word, "The big bands are coming back," almost in a brainwashed, Manchurian Candidate sort of manner.  Whether it was a marketing campaign or a mind-control experiment by Chinese assets, I don't know.

Interesting. Electric Bath by the Don Ellis Orchestra triggers neurolinguistic programming. They never did find who killed Jimmy Hoffa.

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They never left, they just reached, what do they call it, there maximum potential in a time that more or less passed them by.

Show rooms - we had a Fairmont hotel in Dallas. The Venetian Room, and like all such places, they brought in name acts like Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald, act of the ilk, and they al had shows, they all had books, and they all used big bands, until the oil crisis and other such economic disruptions hit all aspects of the entertainment economy.

Same thing for stuff like Ice Capades and Disney On Ice, and all that, rodeos even, those used to be gigs for live musicians. Readers and section players, big band or rodeo band, ggs. Not now.

Music schools turning out more players than there could possibly be work for, all sorts of local rehearsal bands spring up, some with their own books, many without, but all of them big bands, playing once a week at some public venue or private location. And Seabreeze records was there for them: https://www.discogs.com/label/317957-Sea-Breeze-Records?sort=year&sort_order=desc

But there's not enough gigs for all these people, there wasn't then and there damn sure isn't now. Between economy and technology, the big bands never went away, they just moved to a different country, and then died a natural death, except for the few who died but are kept alive as ghosts.

And there are ghosts!!!,

Glenn Miller got gigs: https://glennmillerorchestra.com/

Tommy Dorsey still will book a gig: https://www.buddymorrowproductions.com/index.html

as will as Artie Shaw: https://www.artieshaworchestra.com/home

Basie got gigs booked: https://www.thecountbasieorchestra.com/

Buddy Rich got gigs: https://thebuddyrichband.com/upcoming-gigs

Looks like you can still hire Woody Herman, maybe: https://inter-jazz.com/web/artists/the-woody-herman-orchestra/

Mike Vax has a bunch of bands for hire, including Stan Kenton: https://www.mikevaxmusic.com/sklo/

and of course, what Thad & Mel, then just Mel, and now, whoever it is (Jim McNeely?) , they're still there: https://www.vanguardjazzorchestra.com/

The church we went to for a while had a "jazz band". Of course. They had charts, so there's a market.

And if you wand a Don Ellis band, here's your book. Of course you gotta pay: https://www.uncjazzpress.com/category-s/161.htm

and Gil Evans can definitely be had: https://www.gilevansproject.com/

 

 

And oh yeah - The Texas Instruments (yeah, the people who make the calculators:) Jazz Band: Now the Texins Jazz band and hell yeah, they got gigs: https://texinsjazz.com/index.html

The group formed in the summer of 1986, sparked by an ad placed in a TI company newspaper. The band quickly reached a sustainable level and has remained active since its inception. Almost everyone played in high school and/or college and is glad to have an outlet to continue to study and play jazz. The band rehearses every Tuesday night at Richland College in Dallas, Texas. The concerts are normally geared more toward performance type events rather than dance band jobs, but the group can cover many types of events.

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I've never even heard of Seabreeze. Is it a vanity imprint for school and university bands?

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Maybe, I'm not sure. But those mostly aren't student bands. they're organized big bands that play god knows where.

The biggest change in the idiom is that it's no longer primarily and ongoing occupation. It's something that people do because they did in high school and maybe college, and now they want to keep playing in a big band. It's almost like a softball league.

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I'm surprised at the lack of reminisces in this thread. Given how often groups like the Clarke Boland group show up in discussions, I had assumed that there would be lots of happy memories of seeing the big groups in this era.

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After gradually easing further into this world, I am getting an understanding of the reason that people are perhaps not that interested in discussing these records.

The thread was largely inspired by a recent trip to Minneapolis, where records by Maynard Ferguson and Don Ellis seemed to be mainstays of the second hand bin ecosystem. I don't really know these records or this period.

The fact is that equal occupants of those bins were Richie Cole and 70s Phil Woods. I guess it is a similar concept, in ways. Those are records that excite very few people in 2022.

Anyway, Boland / Clarke and Jones / Lewis are recent tweaks to my listening habits that are here to stay. Perhaps that's the high water mark for this era of big band music.

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